Story by Emma Castleberry
Sandra Hooper, owner of The Alpaca Home Store, spent more than a decade raising and breeding as many as 75 alpacas on two farms. “The alpacas wintered in Wilmington, NC, and summered in Floyd, VA,” Hooper says. The animals were bred for their exceptional fleece, and alpaca offspring, called crias, arrived monthly. “I loved the farm life, but it was all consuming,” she says. Through her farm, Hooper quickly learned that alpaca fleece was “incomparable to anything I had ever worked with in the women’s fashion retail world,” she says. Alpaca fiber has a variety of interesting characteristics: it is extremely fire retardant, water retardant and hypoallergenic, which makes it an excellent choice for any type of home product or apparel. The fiber also has a hollow core, which provides warmth without heaviness.
Hooper has a degree in marketing and spent 10 years in retail management, so she is intimately familiar with the challenges of running a brick-and-mortar store. “I decided to test the alpaca market in Wilmington and sell via a high-end, fine arts store,” she says. “The results showed that alpaca products sell very well. Customers are intrigued and want something different for themselves or as a gift.” Despite her success, Hooper knew that she would need a broader venue to truly share the joy of alpaca products with the public. “The internet was the answer,” she says.
Nine years ago, Hooper launched The Alpaca Bedding Company, which sells duvets, mattress pads and pillows, all made of alpaca. The Alpaca Bedding Co. remains one of just four stores in the world that sell a full line of alpaca bedding. It’s also the only U.S. store that uses American-made materials in its alpaca bedding. Fellow alpaca breeder and retail professional Patty Fuller has Hooper’s alpaca bedding in her home. “I absolutely love sleeping in my alpaca-adorned bed,” she says. “Sandra is first class, and her dedication to the alpaca industry and her product line is second to none. All of her home goods are so unique.”
Hooper has since sold her entire alpaca herd (all to the same buyer), as well as both of her farms. “I now have the time to devote to products being created out of alpaca,” she says. Riding nearly a decade of success with The Alpaca Bedding Co., Hooper recently launched The Alpaca Home Store. “Most people think of alpaca as a fiber one would wear, however, there are a vast array of alpaca products for the home that are functional, decorative and artistically made of alpaca,” she says. “Some goods are made by alpaca breeders for their farm stores, but no one houses all of those handmade items, and more, under one shopping roof.” The Alpaca Home Store features products for every room of the home with more to be added soon. Some of the most popular products include stuffed animals made from alpaca fiber, such as teddy bears and a small replica of a real alpaca. The store also features decorative wreaths, throw blankets, felted alpaca soaps, pillows, sweaters, outerwear and accessories.
When choosing products for the store, Hooper looks for items with superior quality and utility, that also fit within the purchasing power of most consumers. “I hope that the customers are entertained and educated into the world of alpaca,” she says. “The tactile touch is unmistakable and always makes people wonder and smile.”
For more information, visit TheAlpacaHomeStore.com.