Hope everyone is staying warm this chilly winter season!
Today we're introducing our friends at Shupaca, a husband and wife tandem making beautiful alpaca wool blankets and scarves in Ecuador. We asked Lori to share their story of how design helped reinvigorate a tradition of alpaca wool products and the artisans who make them.
Both you and your husband founded Shupaca. Can you tell me some of the backstory on how you started your company?
Lori: We are both design professionals with trained backgrounds in architecture and share the same passion for creativity and design. When the recession hit in 2008, architecture was one of the first industries to suffer. We took this as an opportunity to backpack across South America, explore different cultures and learn the Spanish language. We were lucky enough to learn the ropes beginning in Ecuador (ironically where we now source a large portion of our products) and finding our way through Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Columbia. In the midst of returning home and our budget completely exhausted, we remembered a great material we had found on our travels... Alpaca! With no background in business we decided to do just that, start a business. Scrounging up money from odd jobs and some help from family we were able to begin the new adventure. We had found another great outlet for utilizing our design skills towards creating modernized fashion and the home textiles products you see today.
Shupaca products are made by skilled artisans in Ecuador using traditional methods of weaving alpaca wool into blankets and clothing. What is the process of extracting, producing, and dying the wool?
The material is created in a similar process as most "wool" products. The alpacas are sheared once a year which also gives them a chance to cool in the warmer months. The fibers are collected, cleaned and spun into the yarn. The majority of the colors are natural, produced from plants and local fruits and vegetables.
How do you employ your artisans? Are there any specific stories you'd like to share about them?
One of our great joys is finding, designing and working with our artisans and growing personal relationships with them. Our artisans are not technically employees of ours since they have their own businesses, producing various items for sales at South American markets and so forth. We place orders with them as the demand for product calls for (which has been growing at an exponential rate!). One story was on our 3rd return to Ecuador, we came to learn that one of the artisan women that we work with was not only pregnant, but days away from giving birth. They asked Andrew if he could help name the baby, but when they asked Andrew to "help name the baby" (as he had misunderstood their Spanish) they were actually asking if they could name him Andrew. He said no as he wasn't sure how he could help name him. The boy was born and in traditional Ecuadorian style, the mother was to rest in bed for the first month. We had left to Peru to find more artisans, when we returned a month had past and the baby was named, "Andres". We recanted to the story to a close friend of ours from Peru, who quickly pointed out, that not only were we now responsible to the child (as is tradition) being given Andrew's Spanish name, he was more like the godfather! This was a great honor to us and an symbol of respect and emphasized the importance of the relationship we were able to build with them.
How does Shupaca empower employees and what fair trade practices do you follow?
Finally, where do you see Shupaca in the next five years?
That's a hard questions as five years ago we were living out of a back pack on a $20 a day budget for two people (though we do feel it was one of the greatest chapters of our lives). We do see an amazing potential with Shupaca and are going to take it as far as life will let us. We want to develop a workshop in Ecuador were we can give opportunity to even more artisans though with a communal feeling that is much more than just a workshop. We want it to be a place for the locals to enjoy with soccer fields, volleyball nets, cooking areas, etc. We would like to develop a bed and breakfast on site with an Alpaca farm so visitors can see first hand what we are doing and come to appreciate the culture and places that we have been so fortunate to be a part of.
Thank you so much, Lori, for taking the time to speak with us. We love working with you and your artisans! For more information about Shupaca and to shop their lovely alpaca wool products, click here.