Traveling to garment factories located in mountainous areas throughout Peru guarantees a memorable expedition. While en route to Arequipa, the core of Peru’s alpaca textile industry, one encounters a swirl of scents and sounds — namely woodsmoke, seasonal end-of-summer aromas and chirping crickets — paving the way to a city that houses approximately 100 alpaca fiber exporting companies, according to government agency Prom Perú.
As the second largest city in Peru, Arequipa is well-known for its textile enterprise and panoramic views of the Andes Mountains: Three snow-covered volcanos flank the city, which lies in a valley at 7,550 feet above sea level. Alpacas thrive in mountain areas, and that’s where they graze, making Arequipa a natural fit as the site of Peru’s alpaca industry. When taking a closer look, Peru’s manufacturing infrastructure takes form as an impressive, large-scale operation: Arequipa is a manufacturing base of high-end brands such as Prada, Mara Hoffman and Kate Spade, among many others.
One of the biggest players in the region is Mitchell Group (the other, Grupo Inca), an expansive alpaca mill that supplies yarn to a number of well-known midrange brands, such as J. Crew, The Gap, Banana Republic, Club Monaco, Aritzia, Anthropologie and Free People. Its factory is massive, and touring it provides a comprehensive overview of the process that begins with sorting fibers and ends with newly spun alpaca yarn. Mitchell Group and Grupo Inca together dominate 90 percent of all alpaca fiber generated annually in Peru, according to data from Oxford Business Group.
Regarding its business in the U.S. market, Juan Pepper, commercial manager at Michell & Cia, a Michell Group company, told WWD, “I think that the market will keep moving in terms of sustainable textiles, organic, traceability, all of those characteristics — the consumer will continue to push.” Pepper added that industrywide, there have been some issues with sustainability and compliance, as many brands will be sustainable in some ways, but not in others. “There are a lot of people that are jumping in just for the sake of carrying [sustainable products], but they’re not complying. If you design a very tight policing process [regarding sustainability], you’ll find that many companies with sustainable certifications are not complying [with other sustainable practices].”
In addition to its portfolio of sustainable initiatives, Mitchell Group takes an active role in alpaca breeding, fiber classifying, scouring, carding, yarn spinning, dyeing, knitting, weaving and hand-tufted carpets, according to the firm. Its expansive network of businesses provides jobs to more than 2,500 people, the company said.
And among them is Michell Group’s Mundo Alpaca, a cultural center in a picturesque natural setting that blends indoor and outdoor environments, allowing visitors to interact directly with alpacas, learn about fiber and fabric techniques and peruse its museum of textile machinery. Experts on-site detail every step of the alpaca shearing process, in addition to explaining unique Peruvian techniques, such as the use of herbs to create wholly natural dyes — think of yanali for yellows, kinsa k’uchu for teals or greens and cochinilla, a parasitic insect that produces scarlet red hues — a long-established practice in Peruvian weaving culture.
Or the Art Atlas factory, which employs local knitting groups, exports an average of 12,000 garments a month, generating work for more than 500 families. Jessica Rodriguez, founder and chief executive officer of Art Atlas — and the founder of Anntarah, her own label she designs and manufactures at the factory — boasts an impressive portfolio of major luxury brands you’ve heard of, that work directly with the factory not just to manufacture, but also consult with Rodriguez for design direction. “We want a small but consistent and sustainable manufacturing base,” she noted. “For me, the important thing in this industry is to be flexible,” she said, as Art Atlas cares most about the sustainability of jobs for its workers.
Rodriguez told WWD, “The brands really have the power to change the textile industry, because producers want sustainable production and have brands that really care about how the garments are made. When I see big, recognizable brands that can put the prices they want [on their goods] in the market, these are the brands that really can start the change. It’s always my message for the big brands to realize the importance they have in this [shift].”
And smaller operations such as Brisan, a family textile company that centers its focus on the production and trade of 100 percent baby alpaca apparel — the finest and softest of all alpaca products — is committed to “generating the least possible impact to the area” through its activities. Founded in 2003 after winning funding from the government through a contest, Brisan employs a technical team for washing and ironing processes and the finishing of garments, which it offers as a service for other companies in the area. It uses eco-friendly technologies, gleans its energy from solar panels and attained certification of Good Fair Trade Practices, the company confirmed, illustrating how smaller-scale factories operating on a more local level can effect positive change, too.
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