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.

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.”

(Continued)

 

Lorenz has worked closely with knitters and weavers in Peru to create sustainable supply chains that meet local needs. As a part of these efforts, CAMPO supports a nonprofit in Cusco called Fair Play that has started a Chaska, a program which identifies and supports high-potential young girls living in poverty and provides them with funds, as well as coaching and support, through middle and high school, and then a university education.

CAMPO is also working with several groups to manufacture its product line. The core group is Millmachas, a small business based in Lima that helps to train additional knitters and weavers and teach more quality standards.

The second is a group of ladies living in the outskirts of Arequipa, in a very poor town. They are all single mothers searching for different opportunities for income, says Lorenz. They know how to knit and the work schedule and environment with CAMPO is one that allows them to watch their kids while they work.

Finally, notes Lorenz, the appliqué on the inner sleeve of each CAMPO sweater is made by the oldest form of weaving, called backstrap weaving. “All of our appliqué are made by lovely ladies in Ocongate, a small town three hours outside of Cusco. They are made by hand and placed on the inner wrist as a reminder of where our products are coming from.”

For now, the teams in Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa are working on a contractor basis, Lorenz explains. CAMPO places orders with them and they are paid based on the quantity they produce. However, Lorenz is looking into expanding and hiring full-time knitters and designers in Peru.

In the meantime, the local CAMPO team consists of six part-time interns who are students at the UW–Madison, as well as Lorenz’s family.

So far CAMPO has been entirely self-financed, notes Lorenz. Her goal for the Kickstarter campaign is to reach $20,000 in funding, of which 100% will go toward getting CAMPO off the ground.

“We will be expanding our workshop space in Lima, purchasing yarn, and taking inventory on hand so that we can start operating as an e-commerce retailer very soon,” Lorenz states. “Following the Kickstarter, we will do a round of friends and family funding, and then depending on where we are at, we will consider talking to investors.”

To learn more about CAMPO, visit campoalpaca.com, or visit their Kickstarter page at e.fnd.to/campoapparel.

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.