June 12, 2012

Alpaca International Story ›   Fashion ›  

Alpaca Wool Warming Up Juneau Shoppers

Alpaca International owner Zia Boccaccio-Cotgreave brings her line of stylish alpaca wool products to downtown Juneau.

Boccaccio-Cotgreave had a vision when she was a little girl in Peru, of an alpaca silhouetted against a snow-capped mountain. This image now makes up the logo on her line of self-designed alpaca wool garments.

After moving to the United States, Boccaccio-Cotgreave got a job in the clothing world at a branch of the retailer Steilmann. She worked there 12 years until the shop closed.

Boccaccio-Cotgreave said it was then that she had a choice. “Find a new place to work, or start my own business,” Boccaccio-Cotgreave said. She decided to take the risk.

“This has been my American dream,” Boccaccio-Cotgreave said.

Boccaccio-Cotgreave founded Alpaca International in 2004. Three years later, she owns four locations in two countries — she also has shops in Maryland, Washington D.C., Utah and Cusco, Peru. Juneau is Boccaccio-Cotgreave’s most recent location.

She spent a month preparing the location on Admiral Way, next to the Harley Davidson shop and the Red Dog Saloon. The spot was in rough shape.

“I was told it was an eyesore,” Boccaccio-Cotgreave said.

Boccaccio-Cotgreave said she wanted her location to be separate from the main strip of shops on Franklin Street. Her hope to make her shop a year-round destination for visitors and Juneau locals shaped her decision.

Alpacas come in two types, the short-and curly-haired Huacaya and the long-haired Suri, according to the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association website goo.gl/Ip5tE. The 100- to 200-pound animal looks like a small llama and is part of the camelidae family. Its wool comes naturally in a variety of at least 20 colors, and combinations thereof.

“The animals themselves are absolutely beautiful,” Boccaccio-Cotgreave said. “They’re cuddly, they’re absolutely beautiful.” They were considered a staple of the Incan nobility in Peru, she said.

The Huacaya is the type best suited to woven fabrics, Boccaccio-Cotgreave. The Suri, which only appears every other generation, is used for its hide after death, she said.

Alpaca wool is environmentally friendly, Boccaccio-Cotgreave said, because the fabric can replace the warmth of two layers of another.

Alpaca wool is well suited for Juneau’s climate, Boccaccio-Cotgreave said. Though not her first example of the wool’s qualities, there was one standout.

“It is almost waterproof,” Boccaccio-Cotgreave said.

Boccaccio-Cotgreave said alpaca is “feather-weight,” however “the durability of alpaca, the sturdiness of the wool, a natural fiber, it is very tailor-made for the climate of Alaska.”

The fiber has “unusual thermal qualities” that hold in body heat and, as a hollow fiber, wicks moister and holds died colors for centuries,” Boccaccio-Cotgreave said.

The Peruvian designer also has plans to create wool pieces to meet the styles preferred by locals.

Boccaccio-Cotgreave is working the floor of her shop this summer gather ideas about local tastes.

“I noticed that hoods are really important here,” Boccaccio-Cotgreave said. “We are going to make a line that resonates with the lifestyle of Alaska.”

And though a wool, Boccaccio-Cotgreave said, alpaca is not itchy.

For all purposes it is a better investment than cashmere,” Boccaccio-Cotgreave said. Cashmere is simply more well known, she said – something Boccaccio-Cotgreave plans to remedy.

Boccaccio-Cotgreave owns her own label and her business manufactures its own garments, she said. She said she employs Peruvian craftsmen to decorate her clothing with stylized designs she created from patterns found of Peruvian pottery and textiles. “

Shawls, capes, coats and sweaters anchor Boccaccio-Cotgreave’s collection. She also carries alpaca hats, gloves and scarves.


Written by Russell Stigall of Juneau Empire