Why Alpaca Puts Cashmere to Shame
Sure, cashmere’s great—but intense grazing by cashmere goats is turning Inner Mongolia into a desert. Alpaca, on the other hand, is not only warm, light and gorgeous, but it does no damage to the planet.
By NANCY MACDONELL
Whether used on its own or mixed with cotton or silk, alpaca wool, a.k.a. the finest natural fiber in the world, is at the heart of designer Johanna Howard’s simple but luxurious accessory and home collections.
The Whole Story
It all began with a trip to a local alpaca farm in New Jersey. There, veteran designer Johanna Howard bought some yarn to make herself a scarf and instantly became hooked on the yarn’s feather-light warmth. Today she works with several small family-owned businesses in Peru, where the best alpaca in the world comes from. Her design inspirations, on the other hand, range from her flower-filled garden to her native Sweden (the impetus for the Stockholm throw). “My mom is also a huge source of inspiration,” Howard says. “She's an amazing knitter and has a fabulous sense for colors.”
Howard’s design process starts with her fabric/yarn wish list, after which she develops her color story, and then finalizes the designs and details. “I keep a box of tear sheets of inspirational images—it could be a photograph of a painting with amazing colors in it that can set the tone for the season, for example. I usually make a design board that has all the ingredients—qualities, colors, swatches, etc.” All Howard’s designs are hand-made in Peru by small, family-owned businesses that are Fair Trade-certified—something that she says, “I felt we had to support and be part of as a company.”
Five Minutes With Johanna Howard
Q: What experience have you had that’s made the greatest impact on the way you work?
Johanna Howard: I think it is a combination of my experiences that impacts the way I work. My first job out of design school was working as an assistant to Katayone Adeli in LA. It was a very hands-on experience—we had a complete sample room with cutters, sample makers and pattern makers, every sample was made in-house. Working with Katayone taught me how to figure things out even if it seemed impossible. Working a designer for a major retailer such as Express also had a huge impact on how I work. I learned a ton about merchandising, selling, visual display and combining the creative with having a business sense.
Q: What quality about your brand or product are you the most proud of?
JH: The mixture of Scandinavian modern simplicity, attention to details, and the infusion of my sense of color.
Q: What adjective would your friends use to describe you and why?
JH: Color-obsessive! I get asked by friends and acquaintances to help them pick colors for their homes if they are remodeling or help with what colors to wear. It's something I enjoy doing and am always happy to help—living with beautiful colors can made a huge difference in your life!