SHOP ONLINE: Meet Campo Alpaca
This post is sponsored by Campo Alpaca, however, all reviews and opinions about the company and product are based on my own personal experience.
I first met Katie Lorenz, owner and founder of Campo Alpaca, an online boutique featuring alpaca fiber clothing and accessories, over a decade ago through a 6-day intensive leadership development program called LeaderShape, which was offered through the Wisconsin School of Business (WSOB). Katie was attending as a participant, and me a facilitator.
We wound up being put in the same “family unit”, a small group of around 10 people, that stuck together for experiential and reflective learning opportunities throughout the week. Which means we spent a lot of time together and got to know each other better through that program.
Originally from Chicago, Katie is a die-hard Badger fan who graduated from UW-Madison in 2012. Her love for business started there, where she studied both marketing and entrepreneurship through the WSOB.
Compelled by a desire to help people and leave the world better than how she found it, Katie wanted to figure out a way to do that using her skills and strengths in both leadership and business.
Which is what led her to open Campo Alpaca in 2018.
Watching her company take off these past two years has been a joy. Particularly since I met her as a bright-eyed student who wanted to make a difference in the world.
Katie recently sent me a Wisconsin hoodie and headband from Campo Alpaca to try, and I became an instant fan of the product. Not just because it was designed by someone I know, which definitely makes it feel more special, but also because of the mission behind the brand and the quality of the craftsmanship.
As you know, I only recommend companies I know and love and products I myself have tried myself in order to provide an honest review.
The hoodie is handmade by artisans in Peru and very well constructed. It’s nice and warm like a sweater should be, however, even though it is a combination wool/alpaca fiber material, it isn’t overly hot or scratchy like many wool sweaters can be.
It also fits really well. I ordered a size XL, and while unisex, it isn’t over-sized like some hoodies tend to be. Nor is it too snug or fitted like many women’s XL hoodies are either. Which is a pet-peeve of mine.
It also comes in a few different colors, including salt & pepper (shown here), light gray, and dark gray. It is my new favorite hoodie for sure!
The headband was a bonus – especially now, when my hair is 6 weeks overdue for a haircut and in a strange place under quarantine.
Just like the sweater, it is well constructed and warm enough to cover my ears in the winter – yet light enough for everyday use throughout the other seasons as well. The red and white is a perfect accent to the hoodie with the red writing, but there are 8 different color options available!
You may be wondering what the heck alpaca fiber is, or what is so special about it. Plus, you’ve probably never even heard of Campo Alpaca, right?
So, I wanted to interview Katie to learn more about this start-up and its mission. Read more about Katie and her story, along with what makes this online clothing boutique special below.
What lead you to launch Campo Alpaca?
When social impact organizations started to become a thing, I found myself really interested in learning more about fair trade. A management consultant by day, I found myself in between jobs several years ago, and decided to use that time to travel around Peru for a couple of months.
In Peru, traditional clothiers will sit and knit together in plazas and open areas, socializing and making these gorgeous works of art. I was totally one of those annoying tourists that sits down with the locals, wanting to ask a ton of questions.
In talking with some of these artisans, I learned that each piece is truly a labor of love – yet they sell it for next to nothing. They might sell some pieces to middlemen who can turn around and sell it in larger markets, but with how much work goes into each garment, and what they get for them in return, it’s just not a sustainable living.
When I learned more about that, I just thought there was something that needed to be done. It was like an expensive hobby, not a living. Especially for women who needed something to do from home with kids to watch over.
That was the first time Campo was even an idea. I came home with tons of stuff from that trip. Everyone got alpaca something for Christmas that year. And they loved it! It felt good to give people gifts that helped support the people that I met in Peru.
Fast forward two years, and I was working in Santiago, Chile. I kept going back to Peru because there was just something there that kept pulling me back. To be honest, I wasn’t really feeling fulfilled in my other role and was starting to think of ways that I could be.
I wound up sketching out an idea for one of the original Campo sweaters back in 2014. It was red and white, of course. Honestly, it was just a doodle. Yet I sent it to some UW alumni for feedback. They confirmed that there was something to it. So, I continued to pursue this little idea of mine.
How long has Campo been in business?
There was definitely a time lag between that initial trip to Peru. I started researching the business idea in 2017 and registered Campo Alpaca as a company in 2018.
I initially tested out the idea with a Kickstarter campaign because I didn’t have an investor or anything and wanted to be sure there was really something there. The Kickstarter campaign raised $15,000 to start the company, which was double what I said we needed. So, there was definitely a positive response! Which was amazing.
It was also a huge learning experience for me because I had no idea what went into those sorts of campaigns. It was a lot of work. However, the company has been self-funded up until now since that initial fundraising effort really did help kick start the organization.
Tell us about Campo…what makes this business unique? What is uniquely different about your shop that sets you apart from online clothing vendors?
We have a few differentiators. The biggest, of course, is the alpaca fiber, which is not very well known in the United States. Alpaca fiber is awesome! It is known as a “super fiber” because it is more lightweight and warmer than Merino Wool, and softer and more sustainable than cashmere. It just doesn’t have the brand or name recognition yet.
From a collegiate perspective, we offer a different quality and design of products than what someone might find elsewhere, so we also fill a niche in that market. The handmade, alpaca-fiber Wisconsin gear is just more unique than other branded or licensed apparel. So that is another big difference.
I think another differentiator is that I truly believe business should be a force for good. Impact and positive change in the communities in which we work is very important. While yes, it is important to make money when you have a for-profit company, you also need to take care of the people who work for you.
Learning more about where our products come from is also just really interesting to me. There are so many products that just are not ethically made. Whereas, Campo items are not made in sweatshops. Nor are they made by people who are forced to live in slavery. Hopefully, it makes a customer feel good about their purchases since they are helping a developing community that doesn’t have what we have.
Who is your target customer? What is the demographic of Campo?
Alpaca fiber is a high-quality material, so it is definitely a bit more expensive. As a result, our customers tend to have more expendable income. However, our products are also made to last a lifetime. Not the crappy clothing options that fall apart after you wash them.
These are also timeless styles, so you can feel good about investing in them. Especially when you understand the mission and impact behind your purchase.
And obviously our biggest target audience is Badger fans. Most people get the Wisconsin brand sweater and then love it so much they come back for more.
Tell us the story behind the name…how did you come up with Campo? What does the name stand for or mean to you?
It actually took me awhile to get to the name. I did a bit of brainstorming and tried a few different combinations of things. I ultimately landed on Campo, which is the words “Cambio Positivo” combined and shortened. Cambio Positivio means “positive change” in Spanish.
Positive change is ultimately what this whole company stands for, so it seemed fitting. I added Alpaca to it since that is a key feature of our products and what makes us unique.
How do you balance running a business with your full-time job?
In short? I work A LOT. But when you are working on something you are super passionate about, it doesn’t really feel like work.
I am very organized and purposeful with my time. It’s definitely hard since I work pretty much all of the time. But I try to maintain a balance between the two. Even if it means just walking my dog in between jobs to give myself a bit of a breather.
How many employees do you have? And artisans do you work with?
My goal for Campo is definitely to grow so I can ultimately hire a team. Right now it’s just me, my mom, my aunt and a couple of interns who are running the organization. However, I’m currently participating in an accelerator program called GBeta. They are helping me analyze what I need in order to grow.
My mom is basically my COO. She handles all of the books, inventory and accounting – basically all of the things that I hate. My aunt also helps out by fulfilling orders from my basement. Because yes, I actually maintain inventory in my basement in Chicago. I buy product up front from the artisans we work with, so there are probably 15-20 bins full of stuff down there!
All of the money we made the previous year goes right back into the company.
We work with four groups of artisans in Peru right now. All are run by women. Some are smaller artist collectives. The folks that make our sweaters are a bit more established, like a family-run business.
Tell us why fair trade is important and how Campo is upholding those values?
In all honestly, I kind of hate the idea that “fair trade” even exists. It makes me mad that I get a gold star for paying people what they are worth for doing their jobs. That should just be the way it is. Period.
There are so many injustices happening in many markets. I try to shop fair trade and ethical companies myself because the environment will only change when consumers hold companies accountable for their business practices. Which includes treating people well, providing flexible work options, and offering fair pay.
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
Yes! We have regular apparel and accessories too, not just the Wisconsin themed merchandise. There is a nice selection of sweaters, beanies, headbands, scarves, socks and blankets available too.
We truly have something for everyone. Even adorable little Alpaca stuffies for the kiddos!
Socks are also a really big seller because they are a great gift option and an easy way to introduce alpaca fiber to others for a much cheaper price point. Socks pretty much work as a gift for anyone, but once people try ours, they must have them all.
Thank you Katie for the interview! And for the amazing Campo Alpaca hoodie and headband.
UW graduation was just this past weekend. If you still need an amazing gift for someone special in your life, check out Campo Alpaca!
You can take 10% off ANY ORDER using PROMO CODE: MadtownMomma!