My dad and I shared a love of the outdoors, and we both had a connection to Maine. He’d gone to sailing camp in Maine as a boy, and our family vacations were spent hiking and canoeing in Acadia National Park. I grew up in Connecticut, and things gradually changed. The quiet New England town I grew up in became less rural and more chaotic. Pretty soon it was more like living in New York City. My dad decided it was time for a change, and I agreed. We felt Maine had everything we were looking for…a quieter, slower pace and the healing tranquility of nature.
Our plan started out simple…we would move to Maine and my dad would start a sustainable design business while I’d finish college and work in scientific research. We’re both huge animal lovers, but my dad was a little uncomfortable with my horses. He found out about alpacas, and after meeting some we agreed that having a small farm with a few alpacas would be nice. It’d be something we could bond over while also getting some exercise.
The move itself went well, but a near tragedy rudely interrupted our plans in the shape of a tractor trailer punting an SUV into my dad’s Prius when he was getting fencing supplies. Thankfully, he made it out ok though his leg was permanently damaged. This meant I had to assume responsibility for both taking care of him and the animals.
Most people would’ve abandoned their plans to focus on family, but that’s not how we do things. We forged ahead and dove deeper into the world of fibers, researching every imaginable angle. If its worth doing, then its worth over doing. We don’t believe in doing things halfway. In everything we do, we fully apply ourselves and believe nothing less than the best will do.
This approach led us to a roadblock that seemed major at the time. Over time our breeding program evolved to where our alpacas were producing fiber that got softer and more uniform in each generation. At first this sounds good, but it was a major problem. Our finest fleeces were too fine for mini mill equipment to process.
The true extent of the problem became clear after several years of research: the fineness of the fiber and the small quantity of fiber we produced. Textile machines are set up to handle specific fiber parameters. Simply put machinery for one set of parameters will cause problems if fiber that’s outside those parameters is run through it, in the form of too much waste or damaging the fiber itself. This results in a product that doesn’t perform as well.
Additionally, the different processing paths have unique benefits. The woolen path is best for shorter fibers and produces a lofty yarn. The worsted path removes all short fibers and aligns them in parallel. This produces the strongest yarn that can be spun extremely thin: perfect for exotic luxury fibers.
Mills that could handle the run sizes we had weren’t set up to deal with how fine our fiber was. And mills that could handle the fineness had really large minimum runs. At that time, our annual production was around 20-30lbs…not the 20 TONS the mills we talked to needed. We knew that the worsted process was the best route for our fiber, but the mill to process it didn’t exist.
So, the question was…do we want to change our breeding program to make fiber the existing mini mills could process? Or do we want to forge ahead with our vision of an alpaca with vicuna-fine fiber and the uniformity of merino…essentially resurrecting the pre-Conquest Incan alpaca? The solution was clear to us. We’d come too far to turn back, and we weren’t willing to compromise on our plans. The solution was clear: we needed to start our own mill. We were fortunate to find an excellent textile engineer who custom designed our custom setup.
Over time the original vision and purpose of the mill has evolved. One thing remains the same. Our mission to produce the FINEST. QUALITY. TOP.