Designer Semera Faroog makes sweaters out of Peruvian alpaca.
Anyone who has lived in Minnesota knows about the challenge of staying warm while looking cool.
Semera Faroog understands. Her company, Made By, based in Peru, uses eco-friendly alpaca fiber to create fashion-forward fair-trade sweaters, scarves, gloves and hats in a variety of earth tones.
The 32-year-old designer is originally from Turkey and split her time between Istanbul and Charleston, S.C., as a child. She lived in St. Paul briefly when she was 17, before moving to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Fashion is in her blood -- her mother was an artisan in Turkey, where she would hand-embroider silks destined for Parisian couture.
"I grew up picking up beads and sequins off the floor," Faroog said.
In New York, she interned with big names such as Cynthia Rowley and Marc Jacobs and ended up working as a sweater designer at Jill Stuart, BCBG and Free People.
In 2008, Faroog returned to St. Paul with a plan to start her own business. Her intuition took her to Arequipa, Peru, which is home to most of the alpaca companies.
"I read a book on Peru with photos from the 1930s, I saw these amazing people on the mountains and I loved the way they dressed," she said. When she arrived, she found that "nothing had changed -- they have the same ponchos that their great-grandparents knit."
As a raw material, alpaca had always been a part of Faroog's business.
"It's eco-friendly compared to cashmere goats," she said.
When goats feed, they eat grass from the roots, but the alpaca eat only from the surface. Their fibers have a unique thermal quality.
"When it's hot, alpaca keeps you cool, and when it's cold, the fiber locks in your body temperature," she said. She takes advantage of the 323 natural colors. "You don't even have to dye them," she said of the ivories, grays and browns.
The brand's name is especially meaningful. When Faroog was producing her first collection two years ago, she gave each knitter tags to add their names in case adjustments needed to be done.
"They did such a nice job that I was touched, and I wanted the customers to feel the way I feel," she said. Giving credit seemed like the logical thing to do, so Faroog added photos, names and astrological symbols of knitters to every tag under the "Made by" designation. "Now you can put a face on what you're buying," she said.
"It's really sad because many don't have heat or running water, but somehow the women just manage to survive and keep a smile on their face," she said.
For the fall and winter collection, Faroog was inspired by "silence."
"We went to salt lakes in Arequipa where it's super white," she said. "When you go into the middle of nowhere, the sound of the wind becomes so loud, it's like there's nothing really there."
Faroog hopes eventually to buy her fibers directly from farmers and have her own yarns spun. She also would like to move back to St. Paul with her concert pianist husband and their 18-month-old daughter. She'd consider opening a lifestyle shop to bring back more of Peru.
"They have so much good stuff in the local market, like embroidered canvases and wallpaper," she said.
And Made By sweaters, too.
What: Alpaca sweaters, hats, socks, gloves and bags.
Where to buy: Allee Metro Chic, 493 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-414-0274.
PICK OF THE WEEK
Kiehl's Creme de Corps
Fans of Kiehl's have a reason to celebrate: The old-school apothecary line recently opened its first Twin Cities boutique. Although known for its no-frills skin and hair-care products, its limited-edition collaboration with artist Jeff Koons dresses up bottles of the popular Creme de Corps lotion. For $50, you can get a miniaturized version of Balloon Flower (Yellow). Proceeds will be donated to the Koons Family Institute on International Law and Policy, which combats child exploitation and abduction. If you're interested only in moisturizing, you can try Creme de Corps for $10.
$29 to $72, Kiehl's, Mall of America, www.kiehls.com.
Sales and events
Russell Bourrienne sample sale: 20 percent off samples by the menswear designer.
4 to 8 p.m. 711 W. Lake St., Mpls.
Art of Optiks trunk shows: The eyewear boutique is celebrating its 10th year with trunk shows from Alain Mikli (Thu.) and Chrome Hearts (Sat.).
Joynoelle holiday shopping party: Local designer Joynoelle will host Penny Larsen Jewelry and wreaths by Black River Tree Farm. There will be an emphasis on gift items such as purses and earrings for less than $100.
5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Fri., 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sat., 312 W. 42nd St., Mpls., 612-209-7822.
Holiday pop-up: The shopping party features Karma Boutique, 3Way Beauty, Irely and Smashbox Cosmetics.
6:30 to 9:30 p.m., 526 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-222-3839.
Sheila Moar trunk show: The St. Paul-based designer will offer jewelry from around the world.
10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Neiman Marcus, 505 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-339-2600.
Mall of America.
Bazaar: Shop the collections of Rox by Robyne Robinson, m.bridget designs, CAMBA by Kristin Krull, Engels by Design and Feather Mamas.
11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 4946 France Av. S., Edina.
CO Exhibitions World (Craft) Fair: Shop homemade goods from more than two dozen local crafters, including Carly Schoen, Lela Horst Baumann, Mermapillar, Sew Smiley, Florence Oliver and Quinine Design.
10 a.m. to 6 p.m., CO Exhibitions, 1101 Stinson NE. Blvd., No. 2, Mpls., www.coexhibitions.com.
St. Paul Beauty Lounge sale: 20 percent off of all merchandise.
Noon to 5 p.m. Sun. and Dec. 18, 474 S. Hamline Av., St. Paul, www.stpbeautylounge.com.
Sara Glassman • 612-673-7177 email@example.com Follow Glassman on Twitter: @sararglassman