May 19, 2010

Video news release

By creating products from alpaca and sheep fibers, two Washington County entrepreneurs are showing that developing unique, value-added products can benefit a community.

While their product lines are different, Shawn Malloy of Sunshine Alpacas of Kentucky and Norma Jean Campbell of the Campbell Farm Wool Art Center seek to promote and expand the county's sustainable fiber industry as well as educate others about the crafts and their potential economic benefits.

Rick Greenwell, the county's agricultural and natural resources extension agent, works with both entrepreneurs to help them reach a wider audience and promote community development and agritourism.

"There's a synergy of working together with the whole set of fiber people in the state," said Greenwell, who's an agent with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. "When you've got more products to sell, you're going to attract more people to the area."

Shawn Malloy and his wife Lori moved to Kentucky from Maine two years ago and are working to expand their alpaca fiber business. Greenwell has worked with them on their pastures and introduced them to farmers, seamstresses and knitters in the community.

The couple processes fiber for farmers across the nation in their fiber mill, and they are developing extensive product lines from their own Suri and Huacaya alpacas. Their products include yarn, felted fabrics and a teddy bear named the Tucky Bear. They also plan to roll out a high-end women's clothing line and a sock line later this year.

"Most of the alpaca wears to date come from Peru," Malloy said. "What we're trying to do here is to start showing people how to take that fiber and turn it in to a finished product."

As their business grows, they also hope to stimulate the local economy by providing jobs to local seamstresses and knitters to complete their end products. Since alpacas are only shorn once a year, they also plan to increase the number of alpacas in the area so they have access to more local fiber.  They are working to develop business partnerships with other farmers in and around Washington County. Through these partnerships,the Malloys will use them as a fiber source as well as help them in the development of end products creating a higher profit margin for the fiber farmer.

"The ripple effect of this has a lot of possibilities," Greenwell said.

The goal is to start up microbusinesses based on our mill, either in sewing or raising the animals for fiber, Malloy said. Through Greenwell's assistance, Malloy was able take part in the Kentucky Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute, which has helped him network with other entrepreneurs across Kentucky.

Like the Malloys, Norma Jean Campbell works closely with the county's Cooperative Extension Service to further educate others in the community about value-added fiber products.

With Greenwell's help, Campbell secured funding through the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board to renovate her 1784 studio that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was once home to Revolutionary War Gen. Matthew Walton. The much needed renovation gives her a better space to teach community wool-arts classes.

"Her wanting to share works out so well with the community, and it's not just in Washington County, we've brought people here from all over the state," Greenwell said. "It's just such a good example to teach people about value-added, Kentucky Proud and agritourism."

Sitting in her studio, Campbell uses a needle to force pieces of wool together to sculpt a sheep. The sheep figures are just one of the creations she makes from materials found on her farm. Campbell and her husband, Virgil, raise sheep, and she uses natural dyes from plants found on her property to bring her wool characters to life. Her figures are based on anything from angels to Abraham Lincoln to her sheep shearer.

While she does sell her products at art venues across the nation, her passion is teaching others. Campbell has taught hundreds of children essential life skills during her 52 years as a 4-H volunteer in Franklin and Washington counties and that passion continues as she teaches people of all ages about her arts and crafts as well as area history. Classes include spinning, weaving, sculpting with wool, using natural dyes and making clay dolls.

"If you didn't share and pass it on, it wouldn't be worth the profit you get from it because I don't even want to know how much I make an hour," she said. "If I find something and think somebody can benefit from it, I like to teach it to them."