by Liam Mahoney
What is Paka apparel?
Paka is an alpaca wool apparel company based out of Cusco, Peru, working to financially empower Peruvian women.
How was Paka started?
My best friend Kris Cody and I have always shared the desire to see the world, step outside of our comfort zones, and see how other’s live in different parts of the world. Kris didn’t hesitate to fulfill these desires and took a gap year to work through South America after high school. While in Peru, he frequently saw mothers working labor intensive jobs, with little payoff. When Kris arrived for his first semester at UVA the following fall, he received many compliments on an alpaca sweater he bought from a local weaver in Cusco. His experience inspired him to alleviate the poverty he often saw, allowing these women to pivot from labor-intensive, manual work to skilled, passionate work deeply rooted in Incan tradition. He returned to Peru the following summer to create Paka.
What are some challenges that the company faced?
Like any social enterprise, there’s always a challenge in finding the people who organically care about the cause you’re supporting. Until you witness the problem the company is addressing first hand, it’s hard for their cause to resonate with you. Luckily, we believe that as the world becomes more connected through technology, consumers will actually be more conscious about these issues. They will start caring about who and where their products are coming from. Kris returned to Peru this summer with multiple videographers and filmed a Kickstarter video in hopes of bridging this gap. The video gives anybody who views it a first hand look into why Paka was created, the quality and sustainability of our products, and the lives which we are trying to positively impact.
You recently had a kickstarter, could you tell us about that? What is your vision for the future of this venture? What are your next steps for bringing that vision to life?
Our Kickstarter campaign had an overwhelming response, raising over $347,000. We can’t thank everyone enough who supported it, without their support none of this would be possible. The success of the campaign reassured us of our core belief that business can and should be used as an efficient tool to positively impact lives and the world around us. We want to change consumers view of their products by making a tangible connection with the people and places that are producing them. We want to continue bringing more Peruvian weavers into our team, providing them with resources to share their talent and support their families. We hope to be an example of what is possible through fair trade, a global mindset, and a focus on sustainability, positively impacting as many lives as possible.
What were the biggest qualms about starting this venture? What did you do to combat them?
PAKA has grown by intuition. Everything from the first one-way flight to Peru up to launching this Kickstarter has been a first. There have been a lot of roadblocks to overcome, mainly because we’ve created the roots of our venture from the ground up (designing the wool material, building our team of Peruvian women, routing our transportation chain from the Andes Mtns to US, etc). It’s more difficult this way, but more rewarding in the long run. Of course, there are always doubts along the way. You have to be ready to believe in yourself before anyone else does.
What do you think is the most powerful tangible outcome of the empowerment that is woven into your business model? How do the lives of the women change?
The fact that it’s all innate to the place it comes from. What I mean is, we’re not just giving jobs to Peruvian women. The weaving methods, the ancient Inca designs, the natural dyeing processes, etc have been passed down through their families for generations. The alpaca evolved alongside the Peruvian people, and it’s almost a spiritual relationship. The work is something they love, it’s in their blood, it allows them to be rewarded for something they’re proud of.
We seek to create a social empowerment model that self-perpetuates. For instance, because of the Kickstarter, we’re also sending a Peruvian girl to University for 5 years. This is real and tangible.