Wool is a natural, versatile fibre that has been used since ancient times because of its many properties. Just like human hair, wool fibres contain keratin and act as a natural insulator. Due to its structure, wool is extremely breathable and capable to absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture. Wool fabrics have greater bulk than other textiles because of the high crimp of their fibres, which helps preventing the loss of body heat by retaining the air in the small pockets within the fibres, thus keeping the body at an even temperature. This peculiarity has benefited those communities living in a desert environment such as the Bedouins and the Tuaregs, who use wool clothes to protect themselves from both extreme cold and heat.
Widely appreciated for its elasticity, wrinkle resistance and UV protection, wool is also a water-repellent material – which translates in the added ability of resisting dirt and stains. The quality of wool is determined by its fibre diameter, crimp, yield, color, and staple strength. Fibre diameter is the single most important feature that determines wool quality and price. Merino wool is considered the finest quality on the market because of the fine diameter, fine crimps and softness.
Originally coming from Spain, today Merino sheeps are bred in Australia, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand. While Merino wool is mainly employed to produce high-end garments, the coarser and less crimped wools obtained from other native or crossbred breeds are used for products such as carpets and blankets.
Schneider processes exclusively carefully selected fine wools ranging from 11 to 23 micron. Fuhrmann Argentina produces wool tops obtained from fibres ranging from 17.5 to 27 micron. Fuhrmann NZ offers greasy and scoured crossbred wool.
Cashmere wool is believed to originate from Kashmir, a region located in Southern Asia home to the namesake breed of goat. In order to better protect themselves against the cold weather, cashmere goats grow a double fleece in winter – while the outer layer is made of long and coarse hair, the undercoat is fine and exceptionally soft. At the end of winter, the downy fibres are collected or combed from the animals before undergoing a dehairing process that allows to separate the soft down from the coarse hair.
China, Mongolia, Iran and Afghanistan have become the major cashmere producers and exporters. In absence of a standard categorization, fibres are generally classified according to their origin. The bright white, 15.5-micron-fine fibres coming from China are the most sought after. The down from Mongolia is usually brown or light gray and slightly coarser (around 16.5 microns), whereas the cashmere wool from the Middle East comes in several hues ranging from white to dark brown and is typically shorter and even coarser (between 17 and 18.5 microns) than the others. The luxurious feel of cashmere makes it especially fit for the production of premium-quality garments as well as the manufacturing of resilient fabrics.
Obtained from the sericulture of silkworm larvae, silk is a natural protein-based fibre used in the textile industry. Silk’s signature smooth texture and sheen are due to the high refractive power of its fibres. Synonymous with ethereal elegance, silk is used to create gauzy and delicate fabrics such as chiffon, crepe de chine and taffeta.
Silk is one of the oldest fibres known to man. A Chinese legend credits its discovery to empress Leizu, the young bride of the Yellow Emperor, who conceived the idea of creating a weaving yarn from raw silk filaments the day a silk cocoon fell in her cup of tea and started unraveling in the hot liquid. Whether or not the legend holds true, it is certain that the earliest references to silk production place it in China and that the Chinese had a global monopoly on silk production for nearly 3 millennia. Initially reserved for the Chinese royal family, its use spread gradually throughout Asia, rapidly becoming a popular luxury fabric also in foreign countries thanks to its texture and characteristic luster.
Mulberry silk is produced by the bombyx mori silkworm, a cultivated worm which can no longer live on its own. This type of silk is named after the mulberry tree leaves, which constitutes it´s only food. Mulberry tree leaves are almost tannin free therefore this type of silk is particularly white, fine (around 11 microns) and brilliant.
Tussah means "wild" and refers to any silk other than Bombyx. The color of Tussah silk depends upon what the worms eat. The more tannin in the food source, the darker the silk will be. Tussah silk is coarser (around 18 to 20 microns) and it´s generally bleached to enhance it´s shine and whiteness.
For many centuries, Andean populations have relied on South American camelids – alpaca, llama, guanaco and vicuña – for food, transportation and protection. Held as sacred by the Incas, the presence of camelids has proved crucial for the subsistence of the indigenous people in the extreme environment of the Andean highlands as the animals’ soft, fine and heat-retaining fibres were used to craft heavy garments shielding the locals from the harsh climatic conditions.
In our constant quest to provide new and valuable fibres to our customers, Schneider Group has broadened its product offering to vicuña and other South American camelids.
A relative of the llama, the vicuña lives exclusively on the South American highlands and is the smallest and rarest wild camelid on the continent. In the ancient Inca society, its fine hair was regarded as the fibre of the Gods, worthy only of the emperor.
At 12.5 micron of diameter, vicuña fibres are incredibly fine and hard to obtain as each animal produces just a few grams of down annually. These animals have been often hunted in the past for their extremely valuable undercoat, so much that they even risked extinction.
Today, vicuña fibres can be collected in very limited quantities under the rigorous surveillance of CITES and the world production of dehaired wool barely reaches 5 tons per year.
Schneider Group trades vicuña fibres from Peru as well as from Argentina, the latter recognizable by their lighter color, finer diameter and longer length.
Regarded as the forefather of the llama and the alpaca, the guanaco is a wild breed of camelid living mostly in Southern Argentina (Patagonia).
Guanacos are protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and therefore their valuable wool can be legally traded only if backed by a proper CITES certificate. Second in fineness only to the vicuña, guanaco fibres have an average diameter of just 14.5 microns and are primarily used to make luxury fabrics.
Particularly appreciated for the density and quality of their fleece, alpacas have been domesticated for thousands of years. They are now the most populous breed among the four South American camelids with a total population of more than 4 million units – more than 80% of which can be found in southern Peru, where they are considered a national symbol.
Alpacas can be divided into two main breeds, the Huacayo and the Suri. Huacayas grow a fine, soft and curly fleece in more than twenty different nuances of white, cream, brown, grey and black. This breed outnumbers by far the Suri population, which represents only 10% of the total and is characterized by longer, shinier and silkier hair.
Llamas are larger than alpacas and vicuñas and one of the two domesticated breeds of South American camelids. Most llamas in South America are found in Bolivia, Peru and Northern Argentina, where they are raised for multiple purposes. Since Inca times, llamas have been used for transportation due to their size and strength as well as a source of nourishment for local communities.
Their coat comes in many shades of white, brown, gray and black and the fibres are employed extensively for clothing manufacturing and artisanal crafts. Llama fleece is dehaired following a mechanical process that removes coarser fibres to obtain a soft, shiny and long wool, especially prized today by the textile industry.
Camels have two coats, a long and hairy outer one and a soft and fine underfur which grows during winter to protect the animal from the extreme cold of the steppe. Similarly to cashmere the fibre is combed by hand and the fine down is separated from the guard hairs thru an accurate dehairing process. Camel hair is very warm, light and quite elastic. Each adult camel produces about 2.5 kilos of fibre between 16.5 and 21 microns.