I’m an outdoor person who’s philosophically agrarian. Sweat, dirty hands, long days, wet feet, working before sunup and after dark, perpetually expanding to do lists; they all make sense to me. So why am I in the clothing business?
When we started raising llamas, my vision was to use them as pack animals for wilderness packing. As I set about this process I had no interest in their fiber and did not see any connection. Twenty years later when I had the opportunity to wear a llama vest, it occurred to me that the fiber was every bit as relevant to my lifestyle and business plan as were our strong, correct llamas carrying loads in the backcountry.
The product’s superior performance was instantly obvious to me just as it was to family, friends, and clients who wore it and helped compile the list of advantages. Just as obvious was the fact that if this product was going to come to market, I was going to have to do it. My knowledge of llamas, my daily need for versatile protection, and my agrarian background combined to give the beginning platform of perspective necessary to see both the potential of the clothing and the pitfalls of starting such a business. Beginning production gave me an expanded view that amplified both the potential and the pitfalls:
-Our initial sales directly to the public were very encouraging and established there was a sector of the population that was looking for better performance, better quality, better philosophy. They were looking for our product.
-Retailers were disconnected from this market segment and focused on the mainstream customer cultured by corporate marketing. The certainty of brand recognition, corporate promotion, low cost, and short garment life were more important than the quality, performance, and longevity our product offered in direct contrast to their inventories.
-Corporate manufacturers were not interested in the llama fiber market. It simply is not scalable; not enough llamas, hence not enough fiber, only small batch processing and manufacturing is available, production costs are too high, the product challenges what they currently offer, etc.
Lacking the capital necessary to properly promote the clothing, it looked like Altiplano would be a marginal hobby pursuit that would at best idle along. Then two significant players entered the clothing industry: “Sustainability” and “Fair Trade”. These are naturally strong aspects of Altiplano’s products and philosophy. They combine with product performance to provide a very compelling profile for today’s clothing buyer. Consumers have recognized the need to limit consumption and discourage exploitation of people and resources. Additionally, their strong move to online buying gives us a detour around the brick and mortar retailers’ reluctance to embrace our product and tell its story.
We have launched this new website that tells the Altiplano story regarding performance, sustainability, fair trade, and accountability. Ours is a complex story with many facets and its telling takes time. For our visitors and customers we hope the story is compelling enough to keep you coming back for further exploration of our website, interaction on social media, personally spreading the story, and ultimately using our products. We look forward to developing this type of relationship.