by Sheila Fugina and Barb Baker
“Awesome!” “Electric!” “Outstanding!” Those attending Camelid Community’s first ever “Fiber as Business” conference were full of positive superlatives in social media in the days immediately following the August 9-10 event. More than 130 people from 20 states and Canada packed the Arden Shisler Conference Center in Wooster, Ohio, eager to learn how to generate an income flow from their llama and alpaca fiber and take our industry to a new level. “This was just what I needed, everything altogether that I needed to know,” said one participant who was ready to start doing something with her fiber by the end of the conference.
Designed to provide fleece producers throughout the camelid industry with the information they need in order to benefit from services currently available in the industry, the conference featured presentations from representatives of five fiber organizations and two fiber mills on the services and products they offer alpaca and llama owners. They included: Wade Gease, Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America (AFCNA); Paul Egan, The Alpaca Blanket Project; Chris Riley, New England Alpaca Fiber Pool (NEAFP); Robin Kuhl, Natural Fiber Producers; Larry McCool, Pacific Northwest Llama Fiber Cooperative (PNLFC); Heather Dee, New Era Fiber Mill, Gallatin, TN; and Allison Kazupas, 84 Alpacas Fiber Mill, Eighty Four, PA.
The fiber speakers seemed to agree that there is a place for everyone’s fleece—whether alpaca or llama, low micron count or higher, older animal or young one. Over and over attendees heard, “Do something with your fiber!” And they were presented with plenty of options and opportunities to do just that. Camelid owners were advised to do what works best for them and their individual situations, whether they just want to get a check for their raw fleeces and be done with it, or whether they want to go farther up the value added chain with roving, yarn and finished fiber products of all kinds.
To help owners learn how to sell their fiber and fiber products, marketing expert Tara Swiger, author of Market Yourself, presented sessions on making the most of local and regional events and opportunities and also how to use online marketing and social media to sell yourself and your products. Dave Krebs, CPA and chief officer of the CPA Advisory Group, provided accounting and tax advice to help owners keep the IRS happy while putting as much of their fiber profits as possible in their own bank accounts. Margaret Van Camp, vice president of the Bluefaced Leister Union, explained how that specialty sheep industry has been successful in growing its market and carving out a niche, providing llama and alpaca owners with ideas on how to do the same in the camelid industry.
Randy Hammerstrom, from the USDA Livestock, Poultry and Grain Market News Office, gave an overview of the pricing information USDA provides to both individual consumers and to commercial operations. He explained how this information, which is reported anonymously, can bring consistency and credibility to the camelid industry. Hammerstrom also met with all the fiber presenters after the conference to go into more detail about how to get the camelid fiber industry on track in order to be included in this reporting. By the end of the meeting everyone agreed to cooperate and start a conversation to take camelid fiber to the next level.
Conference-goers received a CD that contained all of the conference materials and speaker notes, as well as additional supporting material and resources, eliminating the need for a heavy stack of handouts. Each person also received what turned out to be a highly popular item—a colorful key chain with “Fiber is the Key” on one side and the Camelid Community logo and website on the other. One alpaca owner said her biggest take-away from the conference was that “we’re not competitors, but rather collaborators, with the llama community”. It truly was a camelid event.
The highlight of Saturday night’s dinner was auctioning off the unique felted centerpieces created by fiber artist Laura Harrawood of Leslie, Missouri, for each of the conference tables. Every centerpiece was a one-of-a-kind work of fiber art. Wade Gease showed his auctioning skills by getting the audience to “bid high and bid often”, raising more than $1,600 to go toward Camelid Community’s next educational event. In addition, each of the speakers at the conference received a beautiful hand felted flower fashioned by Debora Galaz of Lana de Flor, Wooster, Ohio.
Speakers had booths in the conference room where they could talk in more detail with attendees during breaks and also show them the wide array of fiber products available from their operations. The Alpaca Owners Association (AOA) also had a booth, as did the International Camelid Institute (ICI). There was almost always activity at the booths as conference-goers picked up additional information, signed on as members of pools and coops and purchased camelid fiber products.
The conference generated excitement about the possibilities and potentials of camelid fiber to generate income for alpaca and llama owners—and not just by selling fiber and fiber products. A profitable camelid fiber industry would add value to our animals and make them more attractive to new owners, demonstrating why we raise camelids and what we do with them. And make no mistake about it, we must have new owners if we are to succeed as an industry.
By the end of the weekend, everyone was exhilarated and there was an almost palpable energy around the conference room. As one owner put it, “I haven’t been this excited about the industry for a long time—after this weekend, I’m ready to get back into it with everything I’ve got.”
Camelid Community is the only national forum that offers the opportunity for dialog among representatives of national, regional and local camelid organizations as well as interested individuals and owners. The first joint llama and alpaca meeting was held in 1998 and later became the Camelid Community. Camelid Community meets every year to discuss a variety of topics that are determined by its participants. The 2013 group felt the time was right for a conference focusing on the business end of camelid fiber, and the 2014 “Fiber as Business” conference was the result. Past Camelid Community groups have also produced a number of brochures and publications on camelid care and uses that are available free for downloading. Check the Camelid Community website at www.camelidcommunity.us for upcoming events and activities as well as a report and photos from this year’s fiber conference.