By Miguel Paz
On February 14, 2003, I decided to make a reality my dream of continuing the Alpaca tradition that my grandfather Alberto Palaco started 80 years ago in the heart of the Peruvian Andean mountains.
With great pride and enthusiasm my wife Lisa and I founded Misti International Inc. Through our company we strive to bring to the North American knitter our four-generation alpaca legacy as well as the millenary textile tradition of ancient Peruvians.
The following is a brief account of my family's alpaca history that resulted in the foundation of Misti International.
From a very young age, my grandfather Alberto helped my great grandfather Telésforo in his cattle business. They drove cattle from the highlands to the coast in search of natural pastures called "lomas".
These annual trips lasted several months. They crossed mountains, valleys, rivers and deserts eating and sleeping outdoors.
Great grandfather Telésforo bought cattle mostly from Andean peasants. In addition to cattle, these peasants also had other livestock such as sheep, llamas, and alpacas.
Great grandfather Telésforo was not interested in fiber or other livestock because he was a “cattle man”. But as grandfather Alberto grew older he noticed that many peasants who lived in remote Andean villages did not have a market for their wool and alpaca fiber. So grandfather Alberto started to buy the fiber and to look for markets in local cities.
My grandfather Alberto was self educated. He only had fourth grade schooling. But he loved to read and learn and had an extraordinary business sense. He spoke fluent Quechua (The language of native Peruvians) and was born and raised in Puno, the main alpaca region of Peru. Grandfather Alberto made great use of these two advantages.
He started to compete with other Peruvian and European businessmen who shared the same passion for the alpaca fiber and trade. Nevertheless, many peasants had great respect for my grandfather and often sold the fiber only to him. My grandfather spoke only Quechua with them and understood and respected their own ways.
He purchased the fiber transported by peasants in large Llama caravans. Some of these caravan trips took several days to reach its final destination. The main collection center was the Andean town of Nuńoa in Puno the heart of Alpaca country. This is also the place were my mother Abigail was born.
The annual sale of alpaca fiber and wool represented a large portion of peasant's income. Many of them didn't want to receive money for their precious fiber. They would rather barter for supplies such as charki (a special kind of dry meat), chuńo (freeze dried potatoes), salt, oil, coca leaves, etc.
This barter system was so common that my grandfather had a grocery store in Nunoa to barter supplies for alpaca fiber. My grandmother Alicia managed the store and also bartered supplies for gold brought by peasants and miners.
As business grew, my grandfather saw that there was a high demand for alpaca fiber in U.S. and European markets. He founded the Lanera Comercial Palaco Soto to integrate in one organization the local fiber procurement and the export activities.
The fiber purchased in the highlands was transported to the city of Arequipa were it was classified, washed, and packed for export.
All of my grandfather's children worked in the alpaca business one way or another. My mother Abigail worked in the main office in Arequipa. She was in charge of the record books and export operations.
Today the family remains linked to the alpaca industry in all its stages from raising alpacas to processing and marketing the alpaca yarn.
My cousins Pilar and Alicia own Alpaca farms in Puno raising approximately 2,500 alpacas each. Cousin Alfonso owns a small plant that washes the fiber and processes it into tops. My brother Ricardo specializes in sourcing only the very best alpaca fiber in Peru. My wife Lisa manages US operations and her sister, Theresa, manages our Misti warehouse. My Aunt Alicia (Retired), the youngest of Alberto's children, managed Misti regional sales. We would not be able to manage with out this exceptional, caring, close-knit team.
Since 2003 our company, Misti International, Inc., is sourcing the finest alpaca fiber and crafting hand painted yarns directly from Peru for the enjoyment of knitters around the globe.
Some of my grandfather's competitors integrated their businesses with yarn manufacturing operations. Nowadays, these factories are the largest producers of Alpaca fiber in the world.
The second and third generation descendants of my grandfather's contemporaries have assumed strong leadership roles in their companies. With great energy and creativity, the descendants of my grandfather's great generation of pioneers are transforming their companies into world-class organizations.
We located our fiber operations and Fair Trade Dye Studio in Arequipa, where these businesses are also located, making it the World center of Alpaca Fiber. Arequipa is also the city where I was born and raised. Similar to the close friendship relationships that my grandfather had with his counterparts, I have strong friendship ties with today's owners and leaders of the most important alpaca manufacturers in Peru.
We are united not only with our legacy and tradition that comes from 3 generations started by our grandparents, but by a friendship forged in our childhood and our shared passion and pride of being Peruvian and Arequipenos. We are conscious that Peru has been privileged with this magnificent creature that is the alpaca. The fiber of alpaca is the pride of Peru, the gold of the Andes. We are also conscious that we inherit the fiber arts and weaving traditions of ancient Peruvians, and are dedicated to bringing the finest alpaca yarn to the world markets.
Through Misti International, with pride and humility, my wife Lisa and I are continuing the legacy of my family and the cultural tradition of Ancient Peru.