Company Profile: Paka

In the last few years, alpaca wool has come into the scene to challenge merino’s claim as the best natural fiber for activewear. Companies like Appalachian Gear Company and Arms of Andes have been making a variety of alpaca wool activewear. Where Paka stands out is in their sustainability certifications, handwoven “Inca ID” tags, and partnerships with NGOs and nonprofits.

One of Paka’s sweaters, “The Crew.”

Paka at a Glance

  • Activewear made with alpaca wool
    • Hoodies, shirts, sweaters, base layer, socks, hats
  • Made in Peru and sold online
  • Each item has a handmade “Inca ID” patch sewn into it, hand-woven by Peruvian women
  • Certified B-Corp
  • Partnered with Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC), Peruvian Hearts, and Alpaca International Association (IAA)
  • Free shipping
  • Returns within 30 days of purchase

Paka shirt and pants. the “Inca ID” can be seen in the pant pocket. It is handwoven and sewn into all of Paka’s apparel.

Mission and History

Paka’s mission is to provide high-functioning activewear made with alpaca wool that’s sustainably sourced. They also aim to increase alpaca’s popularity as an activewear fiber and invest and reinvest in traditional Andean weaving practices—as well as in communities in the Peruvian Andes.

Kris Cody, Paka founder and CEO, was backpacking in Peru after high school when he purchased his first alpaca sweater. “I was blown away by…the touch and feel…(in) every climate it worked perfectly…it worked in the desert…tropics…mountains, and…super cold environments,” he said. When he got back to the US, he found that people hadn’t really heard of alpaca wool before, and were intrigued by his sweater. He returned to Peru to develop the prototypes that would become Paka’s first products. When he returned, he began selling them online.

Kris Cody, Founder and CEO of Paka, holding an alpaca in the Andes.

“There was no business plan…there was no investment, this was all done with…curiosity and…focused obsession into building this and the team,” said Kris, about running Paka in its early days from his college dorm room at UVA. In 2017, Kris teamed up with directors from Netflix to launch a Kickstarter campaign to secure Paka’s initial funding. “The goal of video is just to…connect people more closely to what’s actually going on,” said Kris of the Kickstarter and subsequent Paka videos.

Kris went all-in full time on Paka in 2019. “We set really ambitious goals as a team and…a lot of them we don’t hit, but I think…what’s…important is to always be a little bit beyond your comfort zone,” he said of the company’s growth. The long-term goal is to put alpaca “on the map” as an activewear fiber and make it more mainstream. Kris has high hopes for alpaca’s potential as jacket insulation—Paka is currently working to launch it in the fall. He aims to build collaborations with other sustainable brands.

Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco is trying to preserve traditional textile patterns and techniques in the Andes.

Paka is also committed to reinvesting in the Andes communities which supply the alpaca wool. Each Paka product includes a small, handwoven patch of a traditional pattern called an “Inca ID,” each one unique, sourced from CTTC. According to Kris, Paka employs over 100 Peruvian women to make these Inca IDs. Paka also donates 1% of sales to Peruvian Hearts to provide scholarships for impoverished girls in Peru to attend college. They donate an additional 1% of sales to IAA, which is attempting to make alpaca fiber mainstream in the global textile market.

Alpaca Wool and Sustainability

Kris was drawn to alpaca wool because he claims it is more functional and more sustainable than traditional sheep wool. Alpacas live high in the Andes mountains, with wildly fluctuating temperatures, which Kris says gives them “incredible thermal regulation.”

Alpaca wool has very promising properties for activewear.

Kris has a reverence for natural fibers over synthetics, which he looks down on as being harmful to the environment, both in their production and through shedding microplastics. “I think it comes down to…looking at nature as a technology…millions of years evolving in that climate…it’s so scientific, there’s so many reasons for why that fiber is the way it is.”

Because of the fur’s air pockets, it is lightweight and warm and does not retain moisture. This keeps the fabric insulating, breathable, and odor free. “I wore the alpaca socks for seven days…that sounds bad, but actually they don’t smell…it’s crazy… you cannot make alpaca smell,” said Kris.

Alpacas in the Andes.

Alpaca herds are generally small (60-90 animals per herd) and managed by local farmers. Paka just launched their “full traceability program,” which allows you to scan a QR code and see exactly where the alpaca fiber was shorn. The fibers are then cleaned and hand sorted by micron length, and the softest fabrics are sent to the factories, where the sweaters are woven.

Gear Overview

Paka’s most popular products are their Hoodie and Crew, which are knit wool/rayon blends. They are meant as a lightweight active/mid layer that keeps you cool during the day and warm at night. They weigh less than 10 oz, are hypoallergenic, and “soft as cashmere.” They’re also machine washable. The “Inca ID” is sewn into the waistband.

The Hoodie

The Crew

Paka also carries base layers, socks, beanies, and other lines of hoodies and sweaters. The alpaca wool is blended with other natural or synthetic fibers. None of Paka’s products are 100% alpaca wool. There are advantages and disadvantages to 100% wool compared a blended fabric, but a deep dive is beyond the scope of this profile. Backpackers should make sure to check the blend before purchasing to avoid accidentally taking cotton on a rainy overnight.

The Hoodie.

Closing Thoughts

Paka (and alpaca wool in general) is new to the game as far as gear companies go. Alpaca is very promising as an activewear fiber, and Paka’s commitment to sustainable and ethical production is admirable, as are their partnerships with NGOs. They reflect a trend towards more traceable products with smaller carbon and ecological footprints. It will be interesting to see how Paka, and other alpaca-wool activewear companies, impact the performance-fiber scene over the next few years.

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