BY Annie Waterman | November 8, 2012
A sure-footed business venture
Inga Alpaca Trading Company’s story began 12 years ago, when Javier Herrera's father-in-law decided to convert his cattle farm into an alpaca farm. Situated along the western ridges of the Ecuadorian Andes at 11,000 feet above sea level, Inga Alpaca is recognized for their top-quality 100 percent alpaca wool skeins, woven fabrics, knits and accessories. To attain a high-level of craftsmanship, they continue to work with the most skilled artisans throughout the country and produce the finest alpaca with social and environmental values at their core.
This past August, I met Javier Herrera at Artisan Resource, a production-sourcing venue for artisan craft producers within the New York International Gift Show, where he was exhibiting his gorgeous goods for the very first time. I was interested in hearing more about this business venture and particularly curious to know more about the Andean mountains, as it is one of the largest suppliers of alpaca yarn and knit goods in the country. In Ecuador, there are approximately 8,000 alpacas and Inga Alpaca Trading Co. owns more than nine hundred.
When Javier speaks about why there is so little competition among alpaca fiber producers in Ecuador he explains, “Alpacas in our country have never been bred for industrial purposes, therefore there are few compared to the herds in Peru or Bolivia. The remaining alpacas belong to various indigenous communities, primarily in the provinces of Chimborazo and Tungurahua. As far as to why the breeding of alpacas in Ecuador is not as popular as our neighboring countries, I can only say that it probably has to do with our historical roots. During the Incan expansion, the territory now called Ecuador was the last to be conquered, therefore Incan traditions where not as deeply rooted when the Spaniards came along.”
He adds, “It was only recently that the government and several nonprofit organizations have viewed alpaca breeding as a source of economic livelihood for indigenous families with very low or non-existent incomes."
Over the years, Inga Alpaca’s herd has continued to grow along with their dreams and visions for the future. Javier states, “Alpacas live off the land, on a self sustaining, free-range farm. Unlike lambs, alpacas do not erode the terrain and their manure is a nutritious fertilizer. Therefore, they are really healthy for the soil."
They now manufacture 100 percent pure alpaca yarn as well as knitted goods. All harvested fiber is carefully picked and selected-there are no additives or blends-and a green operation is used for processing. All colors are natural and they don’t harm their land with any fertilizers or chemicals. The animals feed entirely off of the pastures and no additional food is given. This family business sees the rearing of their animals a well as the care of the communities as a priority. They are working with two women’s groups who live in the highlands, with the aim of preserving traditional techniques that date back to the Incan empire.
Javier adds, “Due to migration and economical problems, these techniques are disappearing. Many of the knitters are too old to work and their sons, who know about the process, don’t want to knit anymore. They would rather migrate to the cities in order to find more lucrative employment opportunities.”
Inga Alpaca Trading Co. continues to innovate and has received a lot of recognition for their 100 percent alpaca fleece filled vests and comforters, which are the first of its kind. “These products have been popular for alpaca’s thermal and light weight characteristics. Alpaca fleece has air pockets and is hypoallergenic. After one year of trial and error, we came up with the first sample of an alpaca fleece filled comforter. After its success, we thought about other applications and the idea for vests and jackets came up.”
By attending Artisan Resource, Javier believes it gave his family business a clearer vision for the direction in which they want to go. Javier adds, “We definitely want to be known as the number one manufacturer of top quality alpaca goods in Ecuador and to compete with Peruvian producers of 100 percent guaranteed organic alpaca yarn. In the process of achieving this commercial goal, we absolutely plan on keeping our social responsibility central to our mission.”
For more information, please visit http://ingaalpaca.com.