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Mentoring at its best!

During the past 2 years I have been in a wonderful position where I was provided support under the Farming Together Program. This program was set up to assist farmers who are working together to achieve set goals. Along with our Blackwattle labelled yarn, we also stock and sell yarn labelled under the Alpaca Breeders Collection. This yarn is sold on behalf of other NSW alpaca breeders.

Recently I was lucky to be part of a mentoring program and I was provided with a wonderful mentor – Dalene Wray (CEO of OBE Organic). Over 10 1 hour sessions Dalene pushed me in a direction that I did not really know I needed to be pushed. She helped me understand that the profitability streams in a business and the need to focus on the bookkeeping and finances. I have learnt so much from Dalene that will help the Alpaca Breeders Collection members going forward.

Below is a post written by Dalene about our experience:

Over the past three months, OBE Organic has been pleased to support the Farming Together Mentoring Program funded by the Federal Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and administered by Southern Cross University. The invitation only program was created following the successful completion of the Farming Together Pilot Program which provided farmers, fishers and foresters with knowledge, skills and materials on collaborative ideas, co-operative structures and collective strategies.

The program enabled applicants to get one-on-one support from some of the best collaborative business minds in Australia.

A program facilitator connected our Managing Director, Dalene Wray with Angela Smith, a leader in alpaca production and a skilled visual artist with a passion for the ancient art of hand dyeing yarn and fibre.

Over ten, one-hour sessions, Dalene and Angela worked through a range of topics, with a general focus on business optimisation to drive profitable outcomes. Significant progress was made between sessions, as Angela focused her attention on capturing farm and business data, in order to drive informed decision making. Valuable outputs from the sessions included a template for monthly reporting and a strategic plan for the business.

Whilst it might seem that the business of organic beef production and high-quality alpaca yarn and fibre doesn’t have a lot in common, its what’s on the inside that matters in a mentoring relationship.

Dalene and Angela share a commitment to the professional development of self and others. They both stepped outside their comfort zones to give and receive advice, which was often very direct. A healthy respect for each other’s professional experience and desire to learn and grow delivered meaningful mentoring sessions and tangible outcomes.

Following completion of the program, and with the benefit of a significant body of work completed between each mentoring session, Angela feels she can comfortably grow her business and can make more informed decisions.

‘I’ve learned how to use my head and not my heart, when making decisions about my business. I understand that I need to trust my instincts but verify my assumptions and I understand the value of being disciplined when planning the year ahead. Even though my business is small and I’m stretched most of the time, I can see that disciplines like preparing monthly financial statements and reports, can be an important tool for me. I’m in a good place. I understand where I was, where I am and where I am going’.

Dalene also learned a great deal from the mentoring relationship. ‘You all know you never stop learning and it was exciting to test my skills on the new challenges and opportunities which Angela presented to me, during each of our sessions. It was very rewarding to be involved in the program as a mentor. I developed a new discipline for time management as I felt an obligation to Angela, to ensure she felt that she was getting value from her involvement in the program’.

Angela and Dalene were able to connect, learn and grow through their involvement in the Farming Together Pilot Program – a resource for primary producers to help you collaborate, value-add, build marketplace strength and boost returns.

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Alpaca Yarn – A Luxury Fibre

Alpaca wool is recognised as one of the most luxurious fibres in the world. It is exceptionally soft due to its low scale relief, compared to merino, giving alpaca a very soft and silky feeling. In comparison to merino, alpaca fibre is lighter, warmer and more durable.

Don’t be fooled by their cute, fuzzy and endearing faces – alpacas are tough. Having survived the harsh conditions in the Andes for thousands of years, alpacas and their fibre are suited to a wide range of extreme weather conditions – scorching hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. Their fibre, which contains hollow air pockets, keeps them warm and toasty in winter and cool in summer. They are naturally double glazed!

Those air pockets make alpaca yarn simply the best fibre in the world! There I said it! Alpaca yarn will keep you warm in winter and those hollow fibres give your finished shawl or cardigan breathability, keeping you cool in summer.

Just like the alpacas themselves who have lasted thousands of years in some of the harshest climates and weather extremes of the world, their fibre is also durable, if cared for correctly. Light hand washing in warm water with a wool wash is all that is needed to keep your alpaca garment looking its very best. Dry flat in the shade and sorted correctly – you will have your garment for many years to come!

Alpaca fibres have a higher tensile strength than wool fibres. Global testing of merino and alpaca fibre shows that alpaca fibre is stronger than merino, making alpaca very useful for everyday use products and garments. Strength and beauty? Falling more in love with alpaca every day.

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When Mistakes Work

Creating new colours is sometimes a hit and miss exercise. You either love the new colours you are creating or….you don’t. Mistakes happen when dyeing yarn and sometimes those mistakes are love at first sight!

This recently happened to me. I created a colour called Velvet Dreams, a lovely soft blend of purples and light greys with a hint of light red. The first batch sold well and I then dyed more. This is when the ‘opps’ moment happened. Not really sure what happened though….the first batch was really soft and gentle and the next batch was well… the exact opposite! The colours were dark, deep and moody and I was in love!

The colours were stunning and when matched with one of my new purples it was like it was ‘meant to be’. Peas in a pod really!

Ok so don’t judge me here….but sometimes the yarn talks to me. Yes yes I know that sounds bat shit crazy but when I create new colours the yarn sometimes talks to me telling what its’ name should be. Fallen Unicorn, well it was the colour of a unicorn that was dirty, hence the name Fallen Unicorn. Next to the Castle Wall is the colour of the water you would expect to see in the water next to a castle wall. They knew what they wanted to be called before I even knew it.

Velvet Dreams was dreamy but it was not right. Somehow the universe told the next batch to misbehave to show it’s true self, much like when the yarn chooses its own name.

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Markets that make a Business

Last weekend we attended the Handmade Canberra Markets. We have been stall holders at these fabulous markets for the past 4 years. The markets attract designers and artisans from across Australia, with many travelling from interstate to be stall holders. This year  the markets turned 10 – WOW 10 years!! Julie and her team run a wonderful and very professional market and we are very proud to say we are just one small part of it!

Taken from the Handmade Markets website: “With a passion for supporting independent, small and creative businesses and connecting them to their target customers, the market has a nurturing relationship with its designers and producers who bring a high standard in quality, workmanship and sensational customer service, and an interactive relationship with its customers. Handmade is known nationally as a well-organised, supportive and friendly event, representing the best in Australian handmade design and produce”.

I could not agree more!! This market has been a very important link in our business going from a hobby to a full time business. Most markets attract new and regular customers, giving us time to get to know them and help them learn about the wonderful fibre and yarn that is produced in Australia, however what makes Handmade different is the handmade and designer products that are showcased. No other markets that we attend as stall holders supports handmade designers and artisans like Handmade Canberra Markets do.

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Suri – The Fibre of the Gods

I often hear alpaca being referred to as the ‘Fibre of the Gods’ and I can certainly understand why. The animals themselves are closely tied to cultural practices for Andeans people and prior to colonisation, the image of the alpaca, in the form of canopas (small figures carved from stone and used in traditional rituals), were used in rituals and in religious practices. Since the people in the region depended heavily on these animals for their sustenance, the alpaca was seen as a gift from Pachamama, a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes. There is evidence that royal cloth was woven from alpaca.

It is said that alpacas came to be in the world after a goddess fell in love with a man, bringing a herd of alpacas with her, and when he failed to care for a young alpaca, she fled home, through the swamp lands, taking most of her the alpacas with her. The man prevented some of the alpacas from leaving the world and it has been said that the alpacas who didn’t make it back can be seen in today’s alpacas in the swampy lands in the Andes waiting so they can return to their goddess. Alpaca brings with it a very ancient and fascinating history, steeped in mythology, and stories told through history. Alpacas also bring textile tradition that has survived through the ages in woven and hand dyed clothing.

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