Our Story

                         A breakfast meeting - Bolivia Style!   KUSIKUY founder Tamara Stenn and head knitter, Emilia Laime, spent 21 years together designing and knitting alpaca sweaters.

                         A breakfast meeting - Bolivia Style!  KUSIKUY founder Tamara Stenn and head knitter, Emilia Laime, spent 21 years together designing and knitting alpaca sweaters.


It all started when...


KUSIKUY founder, Tamara Stenn, fell in love with Bolivia and the alpaca knitters as a US Peace Corps volunteer in 1996.   She brought this love to the US where she attended World Learning Graduate School in Vermont.  Launched from her dorm room with sales at the local Newfane Flea Market, Tamara traded sweaters for a web site made by Marlboro College Graduate students becoming the world's first online alpaca clothing store in 1999.  In 2000 she become one of the early members of the Fair Trade Federation.


The Fair Trade, online presence brought her a following of  eco-ethical buyers from around the world.  As the internet grew, so did her business with sales soon coming from Europe and Australia.  

Meanwhile, Tamara and partner Javier, began hitting the festival circuits in New England, raising their infant son while vending at weekend events - knowing that once the sun went down, summer concert goers would be flocking their booth in search of warm clothing!


In 2003 their daughter was born and so was their KUSIKUY kid's line.  Festivals became more difficult to attend.  Tamara turned to the wholesale market and begin attending trade shows looking to connect with outdoor clothing and boutique stores.  She started working with designers and improved the style and content of her sweaters, committing to a 100% pure alpaca, hand knit model.  In 2005 Timberland, Giam and Whole Foods became customers.  Tamara outgrew their Bolivia production, with 300 women already employed as knitters, and looked to Peru for additional production.  Here the hand dyed Pima cotton line was developed and Tamara expanded into yarn sales as well.


By 2006, KUSIKUY was a truly global company.  And Tamara's children were in school.  They could no longer go on months-long production trips to the Andes with her, attend trade shows, or travel to festivals.  They missed her being away so much too.  Looking to align her schedule more with her children's, Tamara consulted with the knitters and decided to slow down KUSIKUY - stop marketing, cut the Peruvian production, and go back to their roots of carefully, lovingly hand made alpaca treasures.  The knitters were tired too after so many years of non-stop work.  Everyone was ready for a break.


So in 2008 KUSIKUY stopped marketing and attending trade shows.  Tamara went to grad school and became a college professor, running KUSIKUY part time.  The knitters diversified, starting their own businesses with their knitting earnings and leading development projects.


In 2010 Tamara studied the KUSIKUY experience for her doctoral dissertation on Fair Trade and Justice.  This work became the basis of her first book, The Cultural & Political Intersection of Fair Trade & Justice - a comparative study of the impact of globalization on indigenous Andean women in the handicraft (alpaca knits) and agriculture (coffee)  sectors published in 2013.  This led to a deeper study of sustainability, global trade and development.  As a Fulbright Scholar, Tamara is studying the effects of quinoa production on indigenous women from 2015 - 2018.  And as a Landmark College Professor, Dr. Tamara Stenn teaches Social Entrepreneurship.


in 2015, Tamara's students and children (now almost in high school) encouraged her to re-visit KUSIKUY.  KUSIKUY at this point had become a private production house for high-end New York City designers with private labeled knits showcased on New York's Fashion Week runways, sold in Barneys and select boutiques. 


Tamara applied lessons learned from her academic work in sustainable development to re-launched KUSIKUY using an Extreme Sustainability Model she developed.  This is showcased in her book, Social Entrepreneurship as Sustainable Development, published in 2017.    Tamara worked with venture capitalists to delve into the world of social media marketing and crowdfunding.  She launched a series of Kickstarter campaigns in 2016 and 2017 enabling her to showcase her new, highly skilled technical knitting style and extreme sustainability which has become a trademark of KUSIKUY.


Today,  almost 22 years later, KUSIKUY is one of the last knitting houses still working with knitting needles (and not machine looms), 100% pure alpaca (not mixed with acrylic), and is 100% cooperative run.  We look forward to the next 22 years! 


"cheers" in the knitters' native language of Quechua.