The group was working on the fall 2022 collection for Peruvian Connection — an internationally recognized high-end women’s clothing line based out of Tonganoxie.
Peruvian Connection founder Annie Hurlbut Zander said the Flint Hills provided the perfect backdrop to showcase Peruvian Connection’s newest clothing line. Inspired by Lawrence-based artist Bob Sudlow, Hurlbut Zander said the color of the prairie before new growth comes up in the spring are invocative of the fall season.
“You have those fall colors here,” she said, overlooking the shoot from the Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. “Very earthy, gorgeous colors; just perfect fall. Those gorgeous tones are just perfect for the collection. Many people don’t realize how beautiful Kansas is. … We’re very fortunate to be able to use Tallgrass; it’s an amazing location.”
Hurlbut Zander founded Peruvian Connection 46 years ago in 1976 with her mother, Biddy. Hurlbut said her previous life as an anthropologist researching Peru sparked the creation of the company.
“I was living down there and I had no intention of starting a business,” she said. “I had bought my mom a present and people at her birthday party just loved the gift. They said, ‘You should start importing these.’”
The gift was a sweater with an alpaca fur-lined collar. After speaking with her mother, Hurlbut Zander eventually showed the sweater to a local buyer.
“He wanted 45 more to sell,” she said. “The very first person who placed an order was George Terbovich.”
Terbovich is an interior designer who owns George Terbovich Designs in Kansas City, Mo.
“We started off very briefly in the wholesale industry with very few accounts — but a couple of really good ones,” Hurlbut Zander said. “Then we got a write up in the New York Times in 1979 and it was overnight. In three months, we had 5,000 requests for a catalog, which is unheard of today.”
The New York Times article highlighted Hurlbut Zander’s Peruvian alpaca styles.
“Alpacas are such amazing creatures,” she said. “The main reason we love them is the fiber they produce is super soft — it’s a high-grade fiber.”
Peruvian Connection uses premium grade fibers, about 18 – 20 microns in diameter.
“Typically, the longer and narrower it is, the smoother and softer it makes the fabric,” Hurlbut Zander said. “Cashmere is about 16 microns.”
She said the insulation properties of the fiber make it ideal for the climate to which alpacas are native. And, for clothing.
“We’re working with this textile tradition which is lovely,” she said. “I love the culture; I love Peru. I’d happily live there but, back then, you couldn’t be an expatriate and live in Peru. You could be there for about six months but you’d have to leave for three months. I loved it from the very beginning.”
Hurlbut Zander said traditional Peruvian textiles provide inspiration for Peruvian Connection’s clothing lines, including the colors and weaving patterns.
“I’m just fascinated with the craft of it,” she said. “There truly is a Peruvian connection and it’s definitely the textiles from around the world.”
Hurlbut Zander said the business grew steadily in the 1980s as she and her mother opened outlet stores to sell excess inventory. Peruvian Connection now has retail stores in Kansas City, Mo., New York City, Washington, D.C., Santa Fe, N.M., Aspen, Colo., Boston, Mass., Chicago, Ill., and London.
Even through the expansions around the world, she said keeping her Kansas connection is an important aspect of the business.
Biddy Hurlbut died in 2007 and Hurlbut Zander said it’s important to her to keep Peruvian Connection a family-based business. Her daughter now works alongside her in the business.
“I want this brand to endure,” Hurlbut Zander said. “I want it to be around. … It’s really a giant art project. It’s about beauty and perserving a textile tradition from the Andes.”
Photos from the Chase County shoot will be featured in the fall 2022 catalog which is set to be printed in July. To get on the mailing list, visit www. peruvianconnection.com.