Campo Alpaca: Changing the World, One Stitch at a Time
Traveling through Peru, Katie Lorenz was impressed by the beauty and high quality of the garments that local craftspeople knitted from alpaca wool. But those garments were sold—often through third parties at tourist markets—for so little that the knitters and weavers weren’t earning what their work was truly worth. A desire to change this, through social entrepreneurship, led to her to found her fair-trade clothing company, Campo Alpaca.
She explains, “Alpaca clothing is a major export, and wherever you go in Peru, you can find it in tourist shops. An issue I discovered as I talked to the women, in particular, is that they would knit and weave all day, and then they would sell their work for close to nothing—or sell it to middlemen who sell it to other middlemen…. Needless to say, they were not making a whole lot of money for a lot of work put into creating garments that are so beautiful.”
CREATING A COMPANY THAT GIVES BACK
The rise of social entrepreneurship companies—for-profit companies that are committed to global citizenship and finding ways to give back to the communities they do business in—provided some models for what Lorenz wanted to do with Campo. Fast-forward a couple of years, and Campo is selling alpaca-wool garments, made in Peru, online. The company has created partnerships with women-run small businesses, collectives, and communities. Lorenz says, “These women are entrepreneurial, talented, and very motivated to create a better life for their children. Based on UN research, when women are able to have their own income, their families thrive and their communities thrive.”
She continues, “We’re working with the knitters and weavers—some of which are collectives or groups of women who are skilled at knitting, while others are small businesses in various areas of Cusco. And by going straight to the people who are creating the clothing, we’re able to sell their work in the United States and pay them a fair price…. Part of our mission is allowing them to do their craft and keep that way of life alive; another part is helping them build businesses…. Our goal is to be a force for good and benefit the communities where our products are made—to prove that you can have a profitable business without paying people less than what they’re worth.”
THE BADGER CONNECTION
Lorenz is an alumna of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and that school is significant in Campo’s story. She explains, “That was where the initial idea came from when I was walking around in the markets of Cusco. I’m a proud University of Wisconsin Badgers fan, so I was looking for things that were Badger colors—red and white—that I could wear to stay warm at football games. And then the idea developed of providing university-branded options that were a little higher-quality and also fair trade.”
The University of Wisconsin is also where Lorenz met Logan Cascia. These days, Cascia is a filmmaker; his company, Cascia Films, works with an array of clients but specializes in documentary sports features. Lorenz brought Cascia to Peru with her to film the video that she used on the Campo Kickstarter page.
Cascia continues, “The most exciting part for me was visiting remote villages, some of which we traveled to on horses…. I travel a lot, but to see this happening from the ground up and seeing how her employees and workers create these amazing garments was really awesome.”