For those of us with alpacas it is “the best of times” and it is “the worst of times” Apologies to Charles Dickens, but those statements really reflect the human dilemma experienced in an industry where your heart often controls your purse strings. “The worst of times” finds us in a world where “fair trade” is viewed by many as “free trade” and banks are called “cemeteries” due to practices where money goes in but never comes out again! Yes, funds for new businesses or expansion of existing ones are hard to find. But success stories are taking place and do change “the worst of times” to “the best of times”. This is one such story.
Three years ago four western Pennsylvania alpaca farms, WestPark Alpacas, Highland Alpaca, Star Weaver Farm, and Heaven’s Hill Alpacas, not unlike many other farms, saw that the future of our industry had to be in fiber. And as with other alpaca farms in the North American alpaca industry over the past two decades, these four farms had known success in lifestyle dreams realized, and had witnessed tremendous genetic improvements in their personal herds as their National awards demonstrated.
All well and good, but what was happening to the fleece? And not just the fleece on the frames of show string alpacas or in the fleece show boxes, but all the fleeces still on the backs of happily grazing alpacas at home on the farm, and all those fleeces stored for eons in lofts, garages, and basements. Certainly, successful projects by individual fiber enthusiasts to larger fiber cooperatives were happening with exciting results in yarn, socks, beautiful hand made clothing, and home décor items. But these four farms saw the need for a commercial fiber industry to make it “the best of times” for the North American alpaca farmer.
Cleveland, June 2008: During a lull at the National Alpaca Show, the owners of Heaven’s Hill Alpacas, Star Weaver Farm, Highland Alpaca, and WestPark Alpacas could be seen huddled around a table intent on creating a name for their new company. It would embrace the idea that it really didn’t take award winning fleeces to make a luxurious woven fabric. We believed that every alpaca in North America with just “middle of the road”, higher grade fleece of 26-28 microns could do it. The name decided on that day was American Alpaca Textiles. The Vision Statement and logo was another collaborative effort of the partnership that includes fiber expertise, business and graphic design talents, and a long standing commitment to the american alpaca industry. Our Vision Statement echoes the sentiments and dreams of AAT: American Alpaca Textiles, LLC is going global and green with commercially produced alpaca blended fabrics the world will sit, stand, and sleep on. A reputation for sustainability, elegance and durability will place AAT LLC as the frontrunner in the world market for alpaca blended fabrics using american alpaca fiber from the American alpaca farmer.
The learning curve was enormous and the first two years of product development had many disappointments and out and out failures. Even with partner Wini Labrecque’s incredible expertise in fiber, accompanied by the energy, passion, and creativity of the others, placing our trust in an outside commercial designer almost ended our vision before we began. Suffice to say, we sustained a large financial loss.
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Henry Ford. But the belief and passion in what we were trying to achieve did not diminish, rather we “upped the ante” and went into high gear by taking owner control of the process of fiber collection, sorting/grading, yarn production, weaving design and application. With a contract of exclusivity from Thistle Hill Weavers and a year of experimenting in design and proper fiber blends for end use, AAT’s decision making has aligned itself ever closer to the incredible fleece properties of the alpaca. This beautiful animal, like no other “steps gently” on the earth. AAT’s first collection of three fabric designs is called The Earth Collection and captures some of the beauty, strength and luxury that alpaca fiber offers the world when spun and woven with the quality and precision AAT demands.
MAPACA Jubilee 2011, the 2011National Alpaca Conference in Denver, and the Breeder’s Edge Auction at Double “O” Good Alpacas have all served as venues for the debut of The Earth Collection and our newest line of Venetian style woven alpaca carpets called “Terrain”. Our alpaca Terrain design invites the buyer to experience the feeling of luxury carpeting through their own “gentle steps”.
As this story continues for American Alpaca Textiles here in North America, our company is ever mindful of the magic, mystery and practicality woven together through thousands of years of human/alpaca relationship in South America. This relationship has indeed supplied the fabric for many lives, but it was not until 1947 that the commercial alpaca textile industry under the leadership of Frank Mitchell began in South America. There he created “the best of times” in a national industry that sixty-four years later continues to give value to the Peruvian alpaca. Here, just as in South American, in 2011 American Alpaca Textiles has begun a commercial alpaca textile industry with a focus on upholstery fabric, carpeting, and home décor items utilizing american sourced, spun and woven alpaca fiber blends. This, we believe, will go a long way to recreating “the best of times” for those of us with alpacas.
To discover more about us and what we are doing with american alpaca fiber, please visit our website at www.AmericanAlpacaTextiles.com, or call us at 724-421-6995.
About the Author: Jenny Lindsay and her partner Fay Steving own Highland Alpaca, a successful farm enterprise featuring sales, breeding, and birthing services. A native of Scotland, Jenny taught in higher education on three continents over a span of 37 years. The past seven years have seen her totally retired from teaching and redirecting her energy and endless passion for alpacas to the running of the farm, participation in the show circuit, and the start up of the new company, American Alpaca Textiles.
This article appears in the Winter Edition of American Livestock Magazine 2012