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Student Spotlight: Tomas Yeatts, 21, Finance Student Bringing Alpaca Wool to the Market

By Keith Morelli

Tomas Yeatts

TAMPA (October 11, 2019) -- Tomas Yeatts grew up in Bolivia, amid the sweeping Andes where the indigenous people herded those strange, wide-eyed animals called alpacas. But it wasn’t until he came to the United States, attending finance courses at the Muma College of Business that he realized what he had taken for granted as a child was worth quite a bit in other parts of the world.

So, he and a partner – a life-long friend – began working on a business model that is sustainable and simple. The resource is renewable and everyone along the way has a stake in its success.

“We have seen this product since we were little kids,” Yeatts said, “but it was not until last year that we realized alpaca wool is very rare and one of the most sought-after fibers in the world.

His business idea, ILLIPACA, is a startup that is striving for a toehold in the global clothing market. Yeatts, a 21-year-old student studying finance is set to graduate in 2021. With one foot in the United States and the other in his native Bolivia, Yeatts has an idea in which, he says, everybody wins.

His offering? Soft, elegant scarves made from the wool of alpacas living in the Andes of South America. The animals grow their soft coats and are sheared once a year by ranchers in Peru and Bolivia who then send the wool off to be woven into fine material that warms, caresses or otherwise accentuates the necks of the wearers.

Yeatts negotiated a business loan from an angel investor to get things going and a marketing firm created a professional video highlighting the fledgling company and what it has to offer with the stunning scenery of the Andes as a backdrop. The company’s Kickstarter page just started this month and already it has 32 backers. It aims to raise $50,000 by next month.

No animals are killed or injured, no labor is being cheated; everyone is paid well for the work they do, he said. Once a season, the alpacas come in for a haircut, losing their thick soft fur for the summer. It’s a relief for the animals, he said, and an opportunity for labor within the local communities.

Yeatts’ plan is to import alpaca scarves into the United States and Canada. The business began a year or so ago and now is working with the USF Incubator to help more fully develop itself.

“It started as an idea and has grown into such a movement,” Yeatts said. He and his partner met in preschool in Bolivia and have been best friends since.

“We are young, passionate entrepreneurs,” he said. “Being fascinated with the quality of the product, we focused on achieving one main goal: sharing it with the rest of the world.”

Already ideas are swirling, like a new line of scarves that are a blend of alpaca and silk, he said, introducing a lighter, fresher option. It’s not as warm as pure alpaca wool and that might open up new markets.

“We can offer this to a wider audience that perhaps doesn’t need it to keep warm,” he said, “but rather as a stylish accessory.”

The uses for this fiber are endless, from jackets to gloves and even to blankets, Yeatts said.

“Our vision is to give a variety of true, eco-friendly alpaca products,” he said, “while creating an awareness of the beautiful sceneries of the Andes and the people who live there.”

Yeatts recently visited Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem to ask for some advice.

“Tomas and his startup embody the DNA of the Muma College of Business,” Limayem said. “We emphasize student success and innovation and ILLIPACA puts on full display the impact of that strategic goal. We could not be prouder of our students and what they have accomplished.

“This is a commendable undertaking for anyone,” Limayem said, “but for a student to take this on, a student who is two years from graduating, is truly remarkable.”