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Kris Cody on Paka and the sustainability of alpaca wool

By Kristopher Fraser


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People |Interview

Image: Paka

Sustainability is the “It” word in the fashion industry nowadays. Arguably, nothing is more in fashion than the sustainability label. Sustainability is the new black, it’s now forever in style.

With winter here, wool offerings are a must-have as people try to keep both stylish and warm. While cashmere and lambswool are the traditional wool product offerings, alpaca has risen in popularity as it’s proving to be one of the most sustainable types of wool possible. Kris Cody, the founder of Paka, the fast-growing Los Angeles-based alpaca apparel, has dedicated his brand to solely using alpaca wool and creating fashion that’s kinder to mother nature. The entrepreneur had plenty to say about why alpaca is the eco-conscious wool choice.

How did you get the idea to start Paka?

I was living down in Peru alongside the local Quechua people, and they gave me this sweater, and when I got back to the U.S. people kept asking me where I got it. I flew back to Peru on a one-way flight and just started building the brand alongside the Quechua people. I built an NGO alongside them that keeps 100 Quecha women working full-time to produce for Paka.

How does your NGO tie into your business?

It’s one of the core staples of the entire mission to empower women. We’ve sent six girls to universities just through the work of the NGO. Education is such a way to change the tide, and it’s what we’re all about. It’s the same way we’re trying to educate consumers on how environmentally conscious and sustainable alpaca wool is.

How did you get into starting your own alpaca wool clothing company and alpaca wool production?

Paka started out of my dorm room, then afterward, I went down to live in Peru among the Quecha people to be steeped into making this line happen. When I was back in the U.S. I was sneaking backstage at concerts for people like Chance the Rapper and the Chainsmokers to give them the product and get them to represent the brand. My Kickstarter went viral, I dropped out of school, and now the brand has been going 300 percent year-over-year.

How long has the company been around?

Officially 4 years. The growth has been insane as a bootstrapped company, especially trying to handle cash flow management.

How do you educate consumers on sustainability and why alpaca wool is an eco-conscious alternative to other types of wool?

We started these conversations with these leading authoritative figures in the fashion industry through Instagram live. We did a talk with Christine Mittermeier, founder of SeaLegacy, which is an organization combatting the use of microplastics in fashion as they pollute the ocean. I’ve been doing conversations out on the alpaca farm just showing people where their products come from. I did a talk with Zach Bush on the impact of plastic pollution on fertility. They are finding plastics in placenta now. We need people to check clothing tags with the same adamancy they check their food.

Alpacas themselves are more sustainable for the environment because they don’t damage the ground they walk on. They don’t have hooves, they have paws. Sheep trample the ground they are farmed on. I believe alpacas are regenerative since they evolved in the environment they still are raised in, and their wool is produced in. Alpaca production is all small-scale. 90 percent of the wool comes from herds of 30 to 60 alpacas who are all free-roaming in Peru among the Quechua people in this co-existent relationship that is so beautiful.

How can you have both sustainability and scale?

Certain parts of Paka aren’t meant to scale, such as the weaving traditions of the Incas. For us, when building products, it was a difficult crossroads because everything was handmade up to a certain point. I realized there was a limit to that scale because there were issues with the quality and the fineness of the thread. My solution was to incorporate an Inca identification element that was handwoven into every garment that comes from the sacred valley and is handwoven by the weavers, even though the whole garment isn’t. The speed at which we’ve grown and because we don’t have outside investors has allowed us to stay true to our brand DNA.

Where is most of Paka’s base?

Paka is 100 percent direct-to-consumer. I prioritize that experience with the customer. I want to be able to communicate with our customers when we launch something. 90 to 95 percent of Paka’s customers are U.S.-based right now. We’re seeing this trend of people migrating from urban cities to places like Montana or Colorado and starting gardens in their backyard with a raised bed. COVID-19 helped jumpstart this persona of people we market toward who is our big customer demographic. The Pacific Northwest is also a huge market for us because alpaca fiber modulates temperature so well and they have a lot of moist rain and variations in temperature.

What do you want to do with Paka next?

I have been talking about seeing nature as a technology. I’ve been working on a new installation for a jacket that will disrupt the whole outerwear industry. Typical outerwear options include down, which comes from geese hunting, and polyester, which pollutes the earth. I’ve been lab testing the functional value of alpaca inside of a jacket, and it performs better than any synthetic. Hopefully, this will lead to future outerwear collaborations and more companies using alpaca. One person can’t change the industry, and the more people come on board with the sustainability movement the better.

Give me three reasons why I should buy alpaca wool?

It’s softer than cashmere, it’s three times warmer than sheep’s wool, and specifically for Paka, you can check the tag and see the name of the woman who made it. To know you are tangibly making an impact on someone’s life who is thousands of miles away from you is such a great thing to do as a brand nowadays.

Image: Paka
Image: Paka
Kris Cody