How Arnold Palmer changed how we value alpacas

How Arnold Palmer changed how we value alpacas

Arnold Palmer may well have single-handedly changed how we view alpacas, the lovable sheep-like creatures from South America.

As Palmer's army of fans grew, so, too, did interest in the alpaca-fiber cardigans that he wore. In fact, Palmer had such fashion influence in the late 1950s and early '60s, that he signed a licensing deal with Robert Bruce Clothing to produce sweaters with his umbrella logo on them. Palmer also had a hand in designing some of the looks. Since he liked -- and still likes -- bright colors, importers had to source more white alpaca fiber than ever so that it could be dyed, according to Modern Farmer.

The massive demand for the Palmer cardigan forced Peruvian alpaca farmers to favor the light-colored versions of the animal, a complete change in how the market had worked before Palmer. Darker-haired alpacas used to be the standard, with nine in 10 alpacas sporting a dark coat. Because of Palmer, breeders and farmers adjusted, turning the white-fiber alpaca population from just a tenth of all alpacas into 90 percent of it. That's still the case now, with white alpaca fiber selling at a 25 percent premium over any other color.

The Bruce company stopped making the Palmer cardigans some 15 years later, in part, because the demand for their sweaters and other companies' versions of them drove up the price for alpaca fiber by a factor of 10. However, Palmer wrote in his memoir that he still has some of the original alpaca sweaters in his possession.


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