Badgers and alpacas are a perfect fit
From the mountains of Peru to Madison’s isthmus, startup CAMPO is giving fair-trade alpaca-fiber sweaters, hats, and scarves some unique Wisconsin flair.
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When UW–Madison alum Katie Lorenz traveled to Peru in 2014, she never realized she’d be returning with the seeds of an idea for a clothing line that married her discovery of alpaca-fiber clothing with her Badger roots.
Lorenz, a native of Chicago’s northwestern suburbs, graduated from UW–Madison’s School of Business in 2012 after majoring in marketing, management, and leadership. She intended to work as a management consultant within the retail and consumer products industries, and she’s lived out that goal since graduation as a retail and consumer consultant for Accenture, but she always had a long-term plan to work in nonprofits or as a social entrepreneur.
It was when Lorenz took that first solo journey to Peru for a month and a half that she fell in love with Peruvian culture and first came into contact with alpaca — a domesticated South American species similar to, but smaller than, a llama — and clothing made from their fibers.
“I bought tons of alpaca clothing and in the process met and got to know some of the ladies knitting the clothing,” says Lorenz. “I was inspired by what they were able to create, and the alpaca material was amazingly soft and comfy.”
Fast forward to January 2017. Lorenz was reading through old journals and came across a long series of passages about the alpaca clothing and accessories. “It took me back to walking the stalls at the markets, [seeing] all sorts of designs and colors, and, of course, alpacas! That’s when my a-ha moment hit. I thought, ‘We should have this in the USA! I bet with the right designs, people would love this stuff as much as I do.’”
That was the start of CAMPO, a certified fair trade startup that aims to sell high-quality Wisconsin gear made from Alpaca fiber.
Lorenz launched a Kickstarter campaign for CAMPO on May 1 that runs through May 20 seeking startup funds for the venture.
“CAMPO’s name came from combining the words cambio and positivo, which means positive change in Spanish,” explains Lorenz. “That’s the purpose of CAMPO — we aim to positively impact all those we work with, whether it be sustainable income, growth, and education in business, or new opportunities. I do attribute my desire to work this way to [my time at] UW–Madison. CAMPO is my version of the Wisconsin Idea. I believe we have the responsibility to use what we know to positively benefit society.”
Lorenz says pairing the alpaca-fiber clothing with the Badgers was an easy decision. While this die-hard Badger fan was walking the markets in Cusco, Peru in 2014 she was searching for red and white items that she could wear to Badger games. However, she also saw a gap in the collegiate apparel market — a higher end, ethical option — that she knew she could fill.
Then there’s the alpaca fiber itself, which seemed like a perfect fit for Wisconsin weather.
Alpaca fiber is considered one of the finest knitting materials because of its soft, durable, hypoallergenic, and luxurious qualities. It’s wool, but it’s not itchy, says Lorenz, and it’s softer than cashmere. Even better, it’s naturally breathable and lightweight because the alpacas’ fiber structure is hollow, allowing air to pass through, and it’s also thermoregulating, meaning the fiber structure maintains the wearer’s body temperature.
CAMPO will be selling sweaters, hats, scarfs, blankets, and more with Wisconsin-themed collegiate and neutral apparel lines. Lorenz notes the products strike a balance between Badger pride and everyday wear. CAMPO is also designing a high-end women’s wear alpaca line, and she’s already fielded inquiries about designing a line for the University of Illinois, too, but is still weighing her options about which school to partner with next.
What really excites Lorenz though are the stories and personalities she’s met along the way. Elena, for example, is one of the Peruvian weavers CAMPO is working with. “[She’s] one of the kindest people I have ever met,” notes Lorenz. “She doesn’t have much, but what she does have she gives — to family, friends, and for whatever reason even a random traveler like me. She’s incredibly happy and loving, but the opportunity for her daughter to learn and work in an international business is an experience that is meaningful to them both.”
According to Lorenz, many Peruvians with the skills to make clothes already make clothing for sale in Peru. “It’s a very oversaturated market, and also one where they cannot charge much for their work,” Lorenz states. “Working with CAMPO, we can increase what they are being paid, making for a more sustainable lifestyle.”