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Loro Piana Buys High-Altitude Haven

Italian luxury fabric manufacturer Loro Piana has moved from breeding the animals it shears to acquiring the land they feed on.

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MILAN — Italian luxury fabric manufacturer Loro Piana has moved from breeding the animals it shears to acquiring the land they feed on.

This story first appeared in the June 10, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Loro Piana has purchased 2,000 hectares — an area about six times the size of New York’s Central Park — in Peru to preserve the vicuña.

“This animal offers the most beautiful fiber in the world,” said Sergio Loro Piana, co-chief executive officer, who described the project as “a dream come true, which will allow to further guarantee the species and the quantity and quality of the fiber produced.”

The newly purchased territory will be named after Franco Loro Piana, father of Sergio and co-ceo Pier Luigi Loro Piana. The family’s relationship with the land and surrounding communities spans more than 20 years. The company is the largest buyer and user of the vicuña, which it uses for shawls, sweaters and coats. Loro Piana declined to provide the amount invested.

“The fences cost more than the territory,” Sergio Loro Piana said. “The efforts in protecting the species, the investments in research and development, it’s all enormous compared to the economic return, which is to be seen in a very long term. We see it as a company mission to guarantee only the best materials and we never thought about this as a way to make money.”

Six vicuñas need to be sheared for one sweater and 35 for one coat. A hectare of pasture is needed for each animal, which produces no more than 250 gross grams of fiber at between 12 and 13 microns, compared with 14 or 15 of the best cashmere. The vicuña, which lives about 12 years, is “shaved” every two years. Loro Piana said one kilogram of vicuña costs 10 times more than the highest quality cashmere. Generally, the company uses the vicuña in its original cognac, dark corn color.

After years of being poached and illegally hunted, the vicuña, once sacred to the Incas, was in danger of extinction. There were only 5,000 animals in 1960. In 1967, the Pampa Galeras Natural Reserve was established to help bolster the population. Protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, since 1976 the number of vicuñas has grown to more than 150,000 in Peru alone. They live on the Cordilleras mountain range at altitudes of about 13,000 to 20,000 feet. The animal has proved a vital source of support for local people.

“These animals must be kept in their natural habitat and are a national resource,” Sergio Loro Piana said.

Their thick undercoat protects the animals from the harsh climate of the plateau and produces a fleece that gives knitwear and overcoats the most effective thermoregulation, he added.

Loro Piana has a history of being involved in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, China and Mongolia in order to stimulate and control production of the finest cashmere and wool, but this is its first such land venture. The company manufactures men’s, women’s, home furnishings and accessories collections in its own facilities, based outside Vercelli in northern Italy.

“Our dream is to be able to shave millions of vicuñas as at the times of the Incas,” Sergio Loro Piana said.

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