Alpaca knits enterprise stays heat and comfortable in Steamboat

Katie Hayne (left) and Julia Hebard (right) model some of the latest styles from Alpaca Imports. The two bought the company in 2019. (Alpaca Imports / Courtesy)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – It’s easy to fall in love with the hand-knitted sweaters from Alpaca Imports.

But it wasn’t just the classic designs, the warm, cozy feel or the soft fabric that led Julia Hebard and Katie Hayne to buy the Steamboat Springs-based company in 2019. Hebard, who grew up in Steamboat, said it was more about the opportunity to continue longstanding relationships with partners in Peru and Nepal and to follow the kind of business practices that she believes will reward them in the future.

“I think the way businesses are run is changing,” said Hebard. “Beyond profits, there is growing emphasis on how companies affect the environment, the communities in which they operate and the people who work for them. Alpaca imports can make a difference by working with our partners to achieve our social and sustainable goals. “

The company, founded in 1995 by DeWayne Watson and Carol Applin – lifelong friends of Hebard’s parents – works directly with knitters and a Peruvian family business that has helped train, advise and promote sustainable economic independence for knitters.

“We could have gone to China like everyone else, but we decided to stay in Peru and continue knitting there because that is where alpaca comes from,” said Watson. “It has done and still does much-needed work for people. Knitting and weaving are part of their heritage. … We worked with cooperatives, we worked with family businesses that were 100% indigenous. They looked after everyone who kept them busy among them and it was just a very good experience where we made lifelong friends. It did it. “

The company is still a direct importer of fine hand-knitted products, including colorful sweaters, hats, mittens, gloves, scarves and throws, which Alpaca Imports sells wholesale.

Products are available locally from Christy Sports and Straightline Sports, as well as from retailers across the country. Alpaca Imports offers high-end pullovers with sweaters, zippers and cardigans made of alpaca wool that is light and warm.

“We work with really small businesses and developing countries to pay fair wages and get their products into the hands of consumers,” said Hebard. “It’s been really good for us so far, but 2020 was obviously a weird year.”

Hebard and Hayne were both part of Colorado State University’s Global Social and Sustainable MBA program. Hayne had completed the program a few years before Hebard, but the two developed a friendship after Hebard rented a room from her.

Hebard participated in the program from 2015 to 2016 before returning to Steamboat where she grew up. A few years later, Hayne received a text from her old friend.

“She wrote to me, ‘Hey, do you want to get into the alpaca business with me?” Hayne remembered. “I replied that sounds interesting.”

Two years later, Hayne is in charge of the company’s finances and operations, and Hebard is in charge of marketing and design.

“It’s a super small company and we do it all from my home,” said Hebard.

The company has weathered the ups and downs of COVID-19 for the past 12 months, including supply chain disruptions and uncertain outlook for ski resorts where most of Alpaca Imports’ retailers operate.

However, both partners are still optimistic about the future.

“It was a bit of a strange year just because not only we but everywhere closed in mid-March,” Hebard said. “It was crazy, but everyone is feeling pretty good about where things are going.

“We’ve talked to all of our customers who are feeling good about the future and I think it really helps that the vaccine is in sight and that people want to be out now. That’s what we’re really geared towards – this kind of active outdoor lifestyle. “

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