Zia Boccaccio, owner and Creative Director for Alpaca International, is proud to have received the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce 2012 Small Business of the Year Award. At the October awards event, Boccaccio commented, “As I stand here to receive the Small Business of the Year Award, I suddenly realized I was living the American Dream.”
The award signifies her amazing journey that started in the mountains of Peru. There, Boccaccio built a vertically integrated business which manages the South American Camelids, harvest their precious wool, and makes the lush garments. Alpaca International has since expanded to include stores in Annapolis, Washington D.C., Park City, Utah, and Juneau, Alaska, as well as her signature store in Peru.
She attributes her success to the passion she has for her work - creating an outstanding product which has become increasingly popular. Alpaca has become one of the leading fashion names in the area.
On November 2 , Alpaca joined forces with Koren Ray of Hobo (an Entrepreneur of the Year nominee) and Morgan Gerard Salon and Spa of West Annapolis to create the Second Annual Bay Theatre Fashion Show fundraiser benefiting the theatre. Boccaccio and Ray launched their outstanding fall and winter collections at the event. It was a truly winning combination.
Zia has been a long-time supporter of CASA for the past eight years. She has attended numerous CASAblanca galas and donated her glorious Alpaca capes to multiple CASA events.
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
Zia Boccaccio, Owner and Creative Director, Alpaca International, Annapolis
How She Got Started
Zia Boccaccio, a native of Cuzco, Peru, easily remembers the first time she became interested in alpacas. She was 6 or 7 when she spotted an alpaca on a trip with her family to ancestral land in the Andes Mountains of Peru. She describes the animal as aloof, delicate and beautiful.
When she was 21 years old, she married an American and moved to Washington.
For about 12 years, she worked as an operational manager for Steilmann European Selection, a German fashion company. She said it was here that she learned the ins and outs of the retail industry.
When the job ended, she decided to open her own store specializing in alpaca wool garments and took an eight-month research trip to Peru. Here, she formed a partnership with a garment producer. She created her own label and opened her first store in Annapolis on Main Street in 2004. Boccaccio has since opened stores in [Juneau, AK, Park City, UT, and Cuzco, Peru].
Boccaccio always starts her day with a workout to get herself prepared.
She runs the entire operation of Alpaca International, a distributor, retailer and wholesaler of alpaca garments, from her Annapolis retail location. She remains hands-on with the day-to-day operation and is often on the floor of the boutique assisting customers. She also frequently visits her other retail stores and manages to get back to Peru about three or four times a year.
Boccaccio distributes her own line of alpaca goods under the Alpaca International label, relying heavily on customer feedback for inspiration and ideas. She has partnered with an employee-run garment production company in Peru where her high-end products for men and women are manufactured. She oversees a staff of 20 retail employees and about 50 employees at the manufacturing plant in Peru.
She attends the ENK International trade show in New York three times a year, which allows her to wholesale her products across the country and in Canada. She's also often working on expanding the business and designing new clothing lines.
Boccaccio said she puts in long hours and has not had a day off in about eight months but adds that it's a labor of love.
The slumping economy has been challenging, she said, adding that she has had to cut prices and reduce business costs by renegotiating contracts for products and store leases.
Selling the upscale, high-quality, durable product is easy. "It comes naturally to me, working with this beautiful product that is alpaca. I love telling the story of alpaca and of our products. Once they try it, they become long, longtime clients."
"I love the challenge and pressure of creating an idea that becomes a product," Boccaccio said. "And putting that product into my store and having women comment on how beautiful it is."
Boccaccio said the time commitment for running her business has taken a toll on the amount of time she can devote to her personal life. She is also disappointed that goals such as opening the Chicago store have had to be tabled until the economy rebounds.
Hard work, customer service and quality products. "Three ideas that are very old but also very today. It has allowed us to set ourselves apart."
Written by Nancy Jones-Bonbrest of The Baltimore Sun