Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sheep's Wool vs. Alpaca Fleece

Is there really a difference?

From my reading, research, product development experience and use in the field, I would say yes.

Alpaca fleece is as soft as cashmere, warmer than sheep’s wool, hypo-allergenic and almost completely waterproof.   This is the tag line I hear most often in the alpaca world.  I am going to dissect this phrase comparing the two fibers.

Alpaca fleece is as soft as cashmere:  Sometimes.  Some alpacas can also feel as cuddly as a Brillo pad.  However, many farms promote quality breeding programs with super fine, 16-18 micron fleece, which is extremely soft.  Plus, alpaca does not have the scales that wool has, so the strains are smoother.  Wool production has made great strides in increasing the softness of the strains of various sheep herds.  This is evident in a company call Rambler's Way with great wool products.

Warmer than sheep’s wool:  Alpaca is a hollow fiber, where sheep wool has pockets of air.  Much like Polar Bear fur, the air pockets allow for heat to be trapped, creating greater thermal capacity.  Thus, alpaca does tend to be able to be warmer than wool.

Hypo-allergenic: Alpaca is considered a dry fiber, without lanolin that is found in sheep’s wool.  Some clothing lines of wool are now being promoted as “superwashed” for next-to-skin capabilities by removing the wool’s lanolin and barbs.  According to Textile Chemicals: Environmental Data and Facts, the superwashed wool is treated with synthetic resins (polyamide / epichlorohydrine or polyurethane), a method that can include such chemicals as chlorine and hypochlorous acid, sulphuric acid, sodium hypochlorite, alkali metal salts of dichloroisocyanuric acid (DCCA) and an acid-stable wetting agent. The chlorination process for wool has lead to enormous environmental problems.  Alpaca now offers an eco-friendly alternative to natural fiber active wear.    

Almost Completely Waterproof:  Yes, if you pour water on alpaca, it will get wet. However, it does offer great wicking abilities.  Wool will absorb up to 50% of its body weight in moisture, but after this there is a saturation point and the sweat can sit next to skin, increasing discomfort and likelihood of blisters (socks rubbing against the skin).  Because alpaca is hollow, it traps in more heat and mechanically pushes the water away, never having a saturation point on the skin.  Essentially, the water evaporates because of the warmth of the alpaca.

So the answer to my initial question, is there really a difference?  Definitely.

Alpaca Fiber Classification

  • Royal Alpaca - less than 18 microns 

  • Super Fine / Baby Alpaca - less than 20 microns

  • Fine - less than 25 micron

Medium - under 30 micron

  • Strong - 30 microns and greater 
  • Mixed Piece- short fibers, coarser than 32 microns - used for felting 
* A micron is a measurement of length equal to one millionth of a meter and used to measure the width of a single alpaca fiber to determine its fineness / softness.  
Most human hair is at least 100 microns, 5 times thicker than alpaca fiber.  Most Llama hair is 55-65 microns

Monday, December 3, 2012

Making the Most of Trade Shows & Local Markets

Yes, for the most part trade shows can feel like a lot of work without necessarily a full payback.  However, its up to you to get the most out of it and really help launch you, your product and your business.  Here are a few ideas to make the most of your hours on the floor.

Say hello greet people as they walk by.  Don't overwhelm, just acknowledge.  Offer a tag line with general information.  For example, I usually say, "Hi, all of our products are hand made in Montana from our own alpacas."   Do not get discouraged if they do not make eye contact or just smile and walk away.  Remember how many people are vying for their attention. 

Pay attention-  Do not read a book or be on the phone.  This is an opportunity to meet viable clients / customers.  Be available to them.  If you look bored, they will move on quickly or not even bother to stop.

Think long term -  Just because you have low sales does not mean you have wasted your time.  Be in it for the long run.  Many marketing experts claim buyers need to see you advertisements / products seventeen times before they buy.  That is why it is crucial for you to be at these types of shows.  

Dress the part- In Montana, we are quite casual, where blue jeans are the norm even at higher end restaurants.  However, you need to look professional, clean and up-to-date when your are selling your products.  A logo on a shirt costs $5-10.  Invest a little money and look the part.

Be informative and enthusiastic.  Like your product and know the ins and outs of your business.  If you talk about alpacas as I do, offer interesting information. They have a great story to tell.  Oftentimes you will be educating people what an alpaca is and what value it offers.  Be prepared for when people say they can get the same thing in Peru for 10 dollars.  While this is true, they are not in Peru.  The US has a higher cost of living, it costs us $42 per pound to make it into yarn, plus the expenses of overhead of not only raising livestock but being at the show.  Additionally, Peruvian garments are not necessarily full alpaca. They can be made from llama and/or guanaco which are not textile animals.  Many also ask the difference between wool and alpaca fibers.  You need to be well versed on the differences of these materials. 

Be user friendly -  If you are selling items be able to process a credit card.  I use Square Up and it works great if you have a Smart phone. There are many types of POS options available.

Stand out - Do not just put a table in front of your 10 by 10 booth and expect to be outstanding.   Yes, it can be expensive to have displays but it is definitely worth it.  Pictures will do wonders.  Purchase a digital frame and put your farm photos on there.  Use a print shop to make up signs. They should only cost $5 to $10.  At Target you can print a beautiful 8 x 10 picture for $3.89 and put it in a frame.  Be more creative than just a table and a tablecloth.

Offer Cards - Customers need to be able to take away information - like your website, phone number or product information.  Vista Print offers 500 cards for $10.00.  Always have them handy.

Listen to your customers -  It is amazing some of the things you will learn about that can be off topic - how their in-laws are coming for dinner, their daughter is pregnant, that their car is broken down.  But everyone is important in learning things about them as well as yourself.  Enjoy the moment of being educated. Many people have great ideas of what they are looking for.  We have created new products because people have commented that they were looking for this or that.  Listen closely. 

As much as you can, enjoy yourself.  You have invested time and money into being at the trade show and/or market.   Make the most of it for the few hours you are there.