New shop will showcase Norfolk firm’s passion for alpacas
- Credit: Chris Hill
A Norfolk couple who run Europe's only dedicated alpaca mill have completed a zero-mile supply chain – by opening a new shop to sell yarns and knitted goods from their own herd's fleeces.
Emma Taylor and Chris Dell have owned alpacas for 11 years and now keep around 50 of the charismatic camelids at Beighton, near Acle.
Having started the herd, the couple then spent around £500,000 – with help from an EU grant – to build the East Anglia Alpaca Mill, which opened in 2011 and now processes alpaca fleeces from all over the world, including customers in the USA, Australia and across Europe.
Last year, almost five tonnes of product was processed through the mill, where it goes through 26 processes, including weighing, washing, disentangling, spinning and spooling, to turn the raw fibre into finished yarn.
But the business has not been without its challenges and needed to overcome a two-year shutdown following a machinery accident in 2014 in which Mr Dell lost the fingers and thumb on his left-hand.
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Now the launch of the new Exclusively Alpaca shop represents the completion of a self-contained supply chain which allows the growing business to sell clothes and accessories directly to their customers, made from yarn milled from the fleeces of their own animals on the same site.
The shop sells alpaca-related merchandise as well as yarns and finished goods knitted and crocheted into hats, scarves, boot toppers and baby clothes.
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Ms Taylor said: 'It is something people were always asking – have you got a yarn for sale? And we got fed up of saying no all the time. As a business, you have to make time to give something back.
'It is about supporting local businesses, buying British, buying Norfolk, buying alpaca and buying something eco-friendly and sustainable. The shop is zero miles from paddock to processing.'
Mr Dell added: 'If someone wants a particular animal we can pull that animal's fleece from the last two or three years in store, and turn it into a yarn. It is complete traceability.'
Ms Taylor said there were now around 65,000 alpacas in the UK as the popularity of these Andean animals grows. She said the major difference between their fleeces and sheep's wool is that soft alpaca fibre contains no lanolin.
'It is hypoallergenic, flame-resistant and it is just about the most eco-friendly product you can buy,' she said.