Not Your Average Alpaca: Alicia Adams Softens the Edges
Photo: Claire Rosen.
By Nichole Dupont
We all remember them, the rough-as-bark, dun-colored sweaters so bulky so that they could make even Kate Moss look puffy. But we so wanted to like them because there was some revolutionary air about wearing a fat, itchy alpaca sweater.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way any more. Alicia Adams has transformed the wiry fiber of the puffy animal into a vibrant, soft collection of capes, sweaters and even baby clothes. Adams is the official design arm of Alicia Adams Alpaca, Inc., a unique Millbrook, NY-based farm and textile business that specializes in the production and design of products made using fiber from Suri alpacas.
“It all grew very organically; this whole thing,” Adams says. “It’s a learning by doing kind of thing. My husband Daniel returned from a trip to Australia — we were living in Munich at the time — and said we were going to breed alpacas. He was so excited. At that time, I honestly could barely knit. So it was a crazy idea.”
That was 11 years and three children ago. The family of six, who started with 15 alpacas, now owns and operates the main farm of 40 or so alpacas. The other 160+ are raised at sister farms in California and Ohio. The farm in Millbrook is also home to a plethora of chickens and non-alpaca critters, and more often than not Adams’ children are in charge of the smaller tasks of egg gathering, naming the alpacas and making sure their “baby” sister (now two and a half) is doted on. And during trade show season, her eldest daughter, who is 14, is often at Adams’ side, lugging sweaters and talking up potential retailers.
“This is a 365-day, 24 hours a day job,” Adams says, laughing a little. “I am busy all the time. This is an adventure and we just do it. We don’t complain. I don’t really think about my to-do list. I’m happy that our children know we work and see us working.”
Photo: Tom Moore.
Daniel Adams is at the helm when it comes to the “wooly” end of the business, including raising and breeding the Suris (which are a rare and coveted breed) and gathering and processing the fiber that is then used for the apparel, with the help of his children, of course. Alicia and a small team of designers, people she refers to as her “other family,” then decide what to do with the luxuriant crop. The results are almost miraculous. Drapey capes, vibrant scarves and gloves, soft sweaters and cuddly baby items are the foundation of the collection, which also includes home goods (throws and blankets) as well as Adams’ favorite classic, the two-tone hot water bottle.
“I am German and Mexican and I grew up in Mexico City. I am very Latin in my heart and I love color,” Adams says. “We develop our own color schemes here, we don’t follow color charts or anything like that. One of the most exciting things about this job is getting the prototypes and samples!”
Perhaps more surprising than the array of pinks and blues and creams (offered in a multitude of textures) is how the products feel. Remember that scratchy sweater? Not. Even. Close.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me if it’s cashmere or mohair because of how it feels,” Adams says. “Alpaca is really earthy and substantial. It’s not a mass-produced product — alpacas have only one baby a year – it doesn’t pill, it keeps its form. Quality is very, very important to me. This is something that you’ll have for a long time.”
Photo: Tom Moore.
Adams is heading into the thick of the trade show season. (“I feel like I live at the Javits Center.”) More than 200 stores across the country — mostly small boutiques but also the likes of Barney’s — carry Alicia Adams Alpaca, as well as many international locations in Paris, Switzerland, London, New Zealand, Australia and Japan. But Adams doesn’t sweat it when clients are clamoring for next season’s mock-ups. She’s just as grounded as the fiber itself.
“I design for now, not for next season. There are no pre-orders,” she says. “I come up with the things that I feel are necessary and essential, and see what goes well. I don’t follow any fashion timeline. This stuff is timeless.”
Alicia Adams Alpaca
3262 Franklin Avenue, Millbrook, NY
Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. –5 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m .– 4 p.m.