Lynchburg’s own unique shop, featuring alpaca-made clothing and gifts

Smart, curious, and shy—alpacas keep Jack and Sally Hutslar busy year-round. As former teachers and coaches, the Hutslars could not have imagined the direction life would take them after their many years in education. Their adventure began in January of 2012 when they purchased two pregnant alpacas.

“[They are] such cute, wonderful animals,” said Sally Hutslar, owner of Alpaca by Jaca.

Shortly after purchasing the alpacas, Sally decided to start her own business selling clothing made from alpaca hair. Her first store was located at Smith Mountain Lake from 2012 through March of 2016. Then, Alpaca by Jaca moved to the Graves Mill Shopping Center in Forest.

“The lake is pretty slow in the winter,” she said. “We just needed to be in an area that had more year-round people.”

The store features a wide variety of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing made from clean shaven alpaca fiber, and accessories such as hats, gloves, scarves and socks.

“[Alpaca fiber] is really comfortable to walk on
because it’s spongy,” Hutslar said. She also describes
their products as warm, soft and durable.

“It wears well,” Hutslar said. “As long as you don’t tear it or snag it badly, it should last a lifetime.”

Aside from apparel, they also carry yarn and other gifts, including stuffed animal alpaca toys that are actually made from baby alpaca hair, which is the softest kind of alpaca fiber.

“We’re a great spot for Christmas gifts. Our accessories are really nice, and they’re not off-the-chart expensive,” she said.

Alpacas are members of the camel family, which also includes llamas. However, there are several distinct differences between alpacas and llamas. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute website states that alpacas are smaller, growing to an adult weight of 100 to 190 pounds. They are social animals, and in order to thrive, they need the companionship of a herd.

“They’re interesting animals,” Hutslar said. “They’re pretty laid back. Llamas are not laid back. They’re a lot more hyper and aggressive, but alpacas are pretty chill. They spend their day rolling in the dirt, eating hay, and looking around.”

Alpacas are gentle on the inside and on the outside, with soft hair almost completely free of “guard hair”—the thicker protective hair that is removed before spinning. Hutslar explains alpaca fiber is considered a luxury fiber, like cashmere or wool. It’s warm like wool—but softer.

“Regular sheep wool has little barbs on the fibers that get at you,” she said. “I’ve never liked wool—that’s all we had when I was a kid. Even with a slip and a lined skirt, it was still prickly.”

Some other interesting features of alpaca hair—
it’s hypoallergenic and water resistant.

“If you get caught in a complete downpour it will get wet, but the water tends to roll off it because it’s animal fur,” Hutslar said. “It’s fire-resistant. It doesn’t burn easily… not that you’d want to test that out!”

Most of the items in the store are imported from Peru, however, the yarn they sell is made from their own alpacas. Their 10 alpacas are sheared once a year, and the hair is sent to a fiber mill to be made into yarn.

“In the alpaca business, the thing that is valuable is not the yarn or the fiber, it’s the animal,” Hutslar said. “There was a time in the 80s and 90s when they sold for more than they do now. Around here, a really good alpaca might sell for $15,000,” Hutslar said.

Even though the Hutslars board their alpacas at a nearby farm, they sometimes bring them to the Forest store for open house events (photo at top of page). Hutslar says the alpacas clearly know who their owners are by the way the animals behave when they visit.

“When I go over to feed them… as soon as I open the gate, if one of them sees me, then they’re all standing at the gate.”
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