On a 2019 trip to Ecuador, West Chester resident Robert Kedra bought a sweater made from alpaca fleece that he absolutely loved. After learning about the sustainable aspects of the alpaca clothing industry, he knew he had to turn his love for the sweater into something more.
“Starting a business—particularly a clothing brand—is something I always wanted to do,” says Kedra. “In a world where a lot of people do screen print t-shirts and things like that, what can you do to make yourself stand out? When I first bought that alpaca sweater in Ecuador, I thought, ‘Wow, this is different. This is something I can get behind.’ It’s a philosophy I could believe in.”
The original sweater had an intricate Aztec print that garnered a significant number of compliments, but Kedra’s initial plan to replicate it was unsuccessful. “I couldn’t find it anywhere,” he says. “I did a lot of research and realized that pretty much the entirety of the alpaca industry is based in Peru, not Ecuador.”
Through this research, which Kedra describes as being 80% of starting his business, he learned about the rich history of Peruvian artisans and the substantial role alpacas play in their economy. The craft dates back over 500 years to the days of the Inca Empire, and the livelihood of many Peruvians still depends on this trade today. “Almost 90% of the world’s alpacas are in Peru,” Kedra tells. “That’s a huge, vital part of their economy.”
After six months of research, Kedra finally found that “something different” he was looking for, something that combined his interest in fashion with his desire to give back in an eco-friendly way, and Al Paca Apparel was born in November 2019. The brand launched with zip-up hoodies made from alpaca fleece, offering a top-quality product that was wonderfully sustainable for customers and that Kedra felt good about.
Since then, the Al Paca Apparel line has expanded to include hats, hoodies and crewnecks in a style comparable to the classic Americana look of Polo Ralph Lauren. Socks are also available on the brand’s website, with a portion of the proceeds being donated to Quechua Benefit, a nonprofit that seeks to provide poverty-stricken Peruvian communities with education, preventative medicine and economic opportunity.
Alpacas are bred in over 10 different colors, and Kedra utilizes their natural, undyed fleece to offer clothing in a range of minimalistic earth tones. “I care a lot about the planet and sustainability, and alpaca fleece in its natural coloring doesn’t require the same harsh dyes and chemical processing that most of the textile industry uses,” he says. “A large amount of the world’s water pollution comes from the textile industry dumping dyes and harsh chemicals into various waterways. Al Paca Apparel doesn’t contribute to any of that.”
A purchase from Al Paca Apparel not only supports the growing economy in Peru, but also provides shoppers with a product that is similar to cashmere yet more sustainable and durable. Living in the Andes Mountains, alpacas have become accustomed to extreme hot and cold temperatures as well as all sorts of elements; thus, their fleece is warm while being three times lighter than sheep’s wool. Each strand of an alpaca’s fleece has hollow air pockets, making for an insulating clothing item that’s perfect for the colder months we experience here on the Main Line.
“It’s a high-quality fiber,” Kedra describes. “You can really feel the difference compared to an acrylic or plastic-based sweater.”
Plus, as Kedra notes, the use of alpaca fur supports the animals’ wellbeing, too. When thinking of an animal product, the mind may instantly assume some sort of pain is inflicted on the animal. “That’s not the case [with Al Paca Apparel],” says Kedra. Alpacas are shaved once a year, and their health requires it, contributing to the sustainability aspect of the brand that means so much to its founder.
“While pursuing my dream of creating a clothing line is extremely fulfilling in itself, giving back to the less fortunate communities of Peru means even more to me. I’m proud to operate a business that not only fosters economic development, but is good for the planet, too,” he says.
To learn more about Al Paca Apparel, visit its website.