Robbin Martinelli’s co-workers do not whistle while they work. They hum. She describes them as sweet, shy and rare. These co-workers are alpacas.
Martinelli and her husband, Jay, own Smith Mountain Lake Farm and Alpacas and their store U.S. Alpaca Company. There are 4,000 alpaca farms in the U.S., but Martinelli said their farm is the only one that does it all — breeding, going from fiber to fashion, offering farm tours and mentoring future alpaca farmers.
It is part of the couple’s mission to educate everyone they meet about the animals. “Alpacas cannot be artificially inseminated, so the males must sing to the females,” Martinelli said. “It’s his rhythmic braying that causes her into ovulation. They sing to each other. Moms and babies sing to each other. They hum all day.”
The Martinelli family is getting ready for the seventh annual Alpaca Fashion and Jewelry Show on March 24 at The Westlake. They see it as another opportunity to educate the community about alpacas, how much the industry has grown in the country and the growth potential that still exists.
“For the very first time in the history of the United States Olympic team, American alpaca fiber is being used in the sweaters,” Martinelli said. “Why is that important? Alpacas are rare. There are only four million of them in the world, and Peru has three million of them.”
Ralph Lauren designed the Olympic uniforms for Team USA. The sweaters were a 70 percent/30 percent blend of wool and alpaca fiber, respectively. Martinelli said Lauren wanted to use a higher percentage of alpaca, but doing so was cost-prohibitive.
“We are phenomenal breeders of quality,” Martinelli said. “So, while alpacas are running in the wild in South America and being round up once a year and sheared. The U.S. has strict breeding programs to create some of the most desirable and highest quality alpaca fiber in the world.”
Alpaca fiber is half the weight of wool, three times warmer and seven times stronger, Martinelli said. It has a silk and luster to it, and while light and airy it keeps those that wear it warm, as well as cool. It is far superior to cashmere and far superior than wool, she said.
“Alpaca is the golden fleece,” Martinelli said. “It’s the fiber of royalty. During Christmas you saw Kate Middleton wearing an alpaca hat, Meghan Markle wearing an alpaca coat. It will be alpaca that brings back the textile industry to the United States.”
The Martinelli family already makes products from their alpaca fiber, including Pachmana Pillows. “We make one of the healthiest pillows in the U.S,” Martinelli said.
The fashion show on March 24 will highlight some of Martinelli’s designs. Right now, she is unable to
“The fashion show is where we launch our new designs; there is a custom jewelry show and an elegant lunch,” Martinelli said. “It’s also a huge fundraiser for charities in the area.”
Nearly two dozen charities will benefit from the event.
Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at usalpacacompany.com or at the U.S. Alpaca Company store in Westlake Commons near Westlake Corner.