Born and raised in Peru, Elizabeth Gels spent her life around the animals. It was after she’d moved to the US, met her husband, and traveled back home with him that the idea for their business really began to bloom. In December of 2006 Alpaca Boutique was born. Since then, Elizabeth has dedicated her time to growing her business and providing Alpaca-based products of the highest quality possible.
What was the inspiration behind the Alpaca Boutique?
Alpaca is in my roots. I was born and raised in Peru where Alpacas are known to have originated. As a child I learned to appreciate and respect the Alpaca as a symbol of the Andes.
I moved to the United States in the late 90’s to attend Boston University where I received my MBA. While in Boston, I met my husband Dean who is originally from Ohio. When we travelled to Peru, Dean saw Alpacas for the first time and was fascinated by these animals and their unique fiber. I explained that Alpaca wool was a natural product that was eco-friendly, beautiful to look at, extremely soft, as well as warm and lightweight. My husband and I began developing the idea of building a business that brings extraordinary value to people. The Alpaca’s extraordinary characteristics convinced us that this was a unique fine fiber that would become consumers first choice in luxurious and comfortable wear. All they needed to do was try it and they would love it.
What separates your business from the competition?
The products featured in Alpaca Boutique are manufactured with the highest quality yarns. We only carry 100% Baby Alpaca, Royal Alpaca and Suri Alpaca yarns. Our manufacturers select the finest Alpaca fiber and use skilled labor to produce fashionable garments. They have been in the Alpaca yarn and clothing industry for more than half a century. In Alpaca Boutique, we offer products that have been produced using state-of-the-art technology with hand finished details. We also offer 100% handmade products by skilled artisans who have been in the art of fashion for many generations. All our exclusive products are of the highest quality in the industry.
We are committed to fair trade conditions. Our manufacturers are primarily located in Peru, where they contribute to the local economies and preserve a tradition of thousands of years. We have personally inspected several of their manufacturing locations and observed their dedication to high quality standards as well as good working conditions. Our partners comply with fair trade practices by taking care of their employees, hiring only adults and ensuring the environment is eco-friendly. The alpacas that supply the luxurious fiber are well maintained to ensure their protection and future preservation.
What makes Alpaca clothing unique?
Alpaca is comparable to Cashmere when it comes to comfort – with both fibers having a low micron count, however, there is no itching with Alpaca. As compared to Cashmere, Alpaca is incredibly soft and possesses extraordinary shine and texture. The Alpaca Fiber has many unique qualities that make it far superior to other wools:
- Alpaca contains microscopic air pockets that provide excellent thermal insulation making it amazingly warm.
- Alpaca fiber is so strong and durable that the resulting apparel is long-lasting and wear resistant.
- Alpaca maintains its appearance over time and pills less than Cashmere.
- Alpaca is much more resistant to wrinkles and traction than other wools.
- Alpaca is lighter in weight than any other wool.
- Alpaca’s natural colors range from white to black with up to 22 shades of gray or brown in between.
There is minimal lanolin in Alpaca making it nearly hypoallergenic unlike most wool.
- Alpaca has great water absorption qualities.
- Alpacas are rare and only found in a few areas in the world – while goats and sheep that are the sources of Cashmere are common and plentiful most everywhere in the world.
How has your business grown since it launched at the end of 2006?
We launched Alpaca Boutique at the end of December 2006. From 2007 to 2008, we experienced over 100% growth in revenue. In October 2008 we redesigned the site with a focus on user-friendly search, product discovery and site navigation. The new web site was more attractive and fashionable with better product pictures and the ability to mouse-over images to view in detail the quality of the alpaca fiber. We believe the new site was a critical factor in our success.
How many products are generally listed on your website at one time?
Last season we started with about 350 products in our collection which included sweaters, outerwear, accessories, throws and teddy bears.
What goals do you hope to reach over the next year or so?
Our goal is to continue to improve our customers experience. We will keep providing excellent service, fast delivery, free shipping and secure shopping. We will focus on gathering customer feedback in the form of product reviews and surveys. Listening to our customers feedback is a top priority to us so that we can continue to improve our business over time.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial side or was this simply an opportunity that presented itself?
I found the entrepreneurial spirit in my family. My grandmother was a business woman who started from scratch and built a successful school for adult training and certification. Her life was an inspiration for me and other family members who successfully started their own businesses.
What was the hardest thing you had to face when you were getting started? Have you run into any bumps in the road after your business was launched? How did you handle those situations?
When getting started, the most difficult part was understanding the international side of our business. We had to become knowledgeable on import and tariffs laws. We had to travel to Peru (which we do often) to meet with vendors and begin the selection process. We were fortunate to meet great people with decades of experience exporting to the US (for us it was a little easier since I speak the local language).
Another difficult task was thinking through the best strategy for a niche market like Alpaca clothing. We needed to understand what it would mean to serve a niche market to develop a good marketing strategy and clear goals for the short and long term of our business.
What lessons has your business taught you?
The most important lesson we learned to date is the importance of conducting the “right” analysis and allowing the results to guide our actions. We try to avoid simply making decisions on our gut feelings. It has also proved to be critical to write a strategic plan, set up a financial model and base our decisions on data.