The Fashionable Alpaca: Launching a Global Accessories Business at FIT

by Robin Catalano

For 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, Nordstrom, and 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 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, small-farm 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 City.

The founders of Lamini
Global Fashion Management graduates Vanessa Urenda, Nancy Zauscher, and Paula Manrique founded Lamini, their line of accessories made from Peruvian alpaca. They are decked out in the pieces as well.

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 now offers six pieces through Anthropologie, 13 through Nordstrom, and 20 at 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.”

Read a longer interview with Lamini’s founders here.