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THE FASHIONABLE ALPACA
BRINGING BIGFOOT HOME Emily Vulpis Home Products Development ’18
How three Global Fashion Management alumni launched a business at FIT
Your company, The Forest Fleur, sells Bigfoot merchandise—coasters, wood bowls, sachet pillows, and other items decorated with Bigfoot’s portrait. You even make favors for Bigfoot-themed weddings. Um, why Bigfoot? My grandfather was a big believer, so I grew up watching documentaries with him and my mom. While on vacation in upstate New York, my family visited a town called Whitehall, which has a huge Bigfoot statue. Years later, in a supply-chain management course for my associate’s in Production Management, we had to create a brand around an original product. Everyone was doing fashion and I hate fashion, so I thought, “Let me do something different.”
BY ROBIN CATALANO
16 hue | spring 2018
Can you really build a business on it? According to a Live Science report, 96 million people believe in Bigfoot. There are more than 20 Facebook pages and some 30 annual Bigfoot conferences in the U.S. My primary market is adults between ages 45 and 60 making $60K or more who live in the Pacific Northwest and other rural, wooded areas. My other market is millennials, 18 to 29. For them, it’s a novelty purchase. I’m very careful about the target market: Is my customer in rural Illinois going to pay $25 for a set of coasters? Probably not—more like $15. What’s the difference between Bigfoot and Sasquatch? Bigfoot has been spotted all over the world. In the U.S. they’re called Bigfoot, but in Canada they’re called Sasquatch; in the Himalayas, Yeti. In China, the government recognizes Orang Pendek as a real creature. The differences are in size, hair color, and behavioral characteristics. They all walk on two legs. How did you develop the venture? I created an image of Bigfoot using a still from the famous 1967 PattersonGimlin film, and put it on several products that I sell on Etsy. I’m currently in the process of establishing a trademark for the design. I also research the connections between humans and apes and possible “missing links” in National Geographic and other publications. My site has a blog that uses these sources to explore questions like: “Could Bigfoot live underground?” “Can we mate with them?” Can we? Possibly! Homo sapiens used to mate with Neanderthals.
Urenda, Zauscher, and Manrique founded Lamini as part of their coursework in the Global Fashion Management program in FIT’s School of Graduate Studies.
remove this common allergen, is kinder to the earth than most fabrics. But, she says, “What’s exported is very basic or artisanal. There aren’t many products that are fashionable.” Alpaca’s cachet had also been dulled after Chinese manufacturers in the 1970s and 1980s blended it with lesser-quality wools to keep up with an explosion in popularity. By meeting with Peruvian suppliers—connections facilitated by the country’s chamber of commerce—Lamini’s founders tapped into a reliable, smallfarm co-op supply chain. They combined the ancient skills of Peruvian weavers with a modern aesthetic influenced by the Art Deco architecture of New York. Their brand story focuses on the uniqueness of alpaca fiber and the intersection between design, sustainability, and responsible consumption. Zauscher says, “One of the great things about [the GFM program] was that we were able to reach out to our mentors—faculty, marketers, brand storytellers—and really work on the communication.” By the time they presented their thesis in December 2016, they had a 12-piece collection, branded videos, marketing materials, a website, and a budding presence on social media to help sell their product—and their story. Lamini, named after the type of camelid that includes the alpaca, now offers six pieces through Anthropologie, 13 through Nordstrom, and 20 at Lamini.co. They launched that third collection after inking the first two deals, using a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise money and brand awareness. Pamela Ellsworth, chair of Global Fashion Management, describes the program as a potent business incubator for motivated students. She notes that much of Lamini’s early success is due to its founders’ dedication to conducting thorough research, their ability to communicate their brand’s distinctive attributes, and their expertise in handling day-to-day business operations—skills honed in the program. For Lamini’s founders, the rewards come not only from confidence in their business savvy, but in bringing customers original fashion with a low environmental footprint. Urenda says, “When I think about somebody wearing one of our products that doesn’t have chemicals, that does great things for the country it comes from, and that’s not destroying the earth, I see all of the good come to life that we’ve envisioned along the way.”
or Vanessa Urenda, Nancy Zauscher, and Paula Manrique, collaborating in the Global Fashion Management (GFM) program was more than a meeting of the minds; it was the foundation of a business. The trio, all of whom were working fashion professionals in the U.S. or Latin America, used their shared cultural roots and business acumen to create Lamini, a line of cozy, buttery-soft alpaca accessories that sells in Anthropologie and Nordstrom, and on their own e-commerce site. For their GFM capstone project, which requires students to address a need or problem in the fashion industry, the team chose to focus on sustainability. Manrique, who hails from Peru, which produces 80 percent of the world’s alpaca, knew that processing of the fiber, which does not contain lanolin (unlike wool and cashmere) and thus doesn’t require harsh chemical washing to
Has your company been successful? When I joined the Home Products Development major, my business took off. With the advice of professors [David] Brogna and [Shannon] Maher, I’ve learned to enhance my product assortment to better fit the customer. You may see Bigfoot on apparel and novelty items, but you’ll never see a Bigfoot coaster in a store like Pier 1. I’m the first company that’s bringing Bigfoot home.
volume 11| number 2