A Soft Market
Katie Lorenz ’12 sells alpaca-fleece products while ensuring fair wages for Peruvian artisans.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Katie Lorenz ’12 was on a three-week trip to Peru.
She was there to meet with traditional Peruvian knitters and weavers who craft alpaca-fleece goods for Campo Alpaca, the fair-trade company she founded in 2018. She confirmed a year’s worth of orders, then safely made it home to Chicago, just before the United States began to lock down.
Lorenz was among those forced to shift her vision for 2020. She’d planned to bring Campo sweaters, scarves, beanies, and more to fair-trade festivals and other venues, where customers covet the soft, silky knits. When markets were canceled, sales dropped. So Lorenz instead amped up her online marketplace with new products, including Wisconsin-inspired clothing in red and white and cold-weather accessories in green and gold.
Campo Alpaca’s name is inspired by the Spanish phrase cambio positivo, meaning “positive change.” As CEO and an experienced retail consultant, Lorenz is committed to providing fair wages and good working conditions for her artisan partners in Peru. Lorenz, who’s also a manager for digital-services company Accenture, says serving as her UW senior class treasurer pushed her toward a career path with social impact.
“When I came up with the idea of Campo, it was definitely rooted in the Wisconsin Idea,” she says.
The Wisconsin School of Business alumna also gives back by helping her network of craftspeople improve how they do business. For example, she advises small businesses she works with in Lima and Arequipa about how to implement quality control and accounting practices that will allow them to manage future work with larger companies.
Last spring, Lorenz took part in gBETA, a Madison-based business accelerator hosted by gener8tor. She met new mentors, refined her business pitch, and connected virtually with 75 potential investors. But she’s decided to follow one potential investor’s advice by keeping ownership of the entire company as she grows Campo slowly but steadily.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d be turning down investors,” she says.
At the start of 2021, Lorenz reports, Campo’s artisans and partners were all healthy and safe. Online sales were up 80 percent. And she’s looking ahead to future seasons of fair-trade markets and pop-up shops where people can discover Campo Alpaca apparel.
“As soon as people try on the product, touch it, and feel how soft it is,” she says, “it just sells itself.”
Published in the Spring 2021 issue