From feathers to fine cotton linens

When Natalie Barhumi drew up plans to open a second boutique and workroom a few kilometres from her existing Miraflores neighbourhood in Lima, Peru, she never thought her luxurious bed linens and cushions would be attracting attention more than 6,000 kilometers away … in Canada.

What started as a university assignment to set up a small business, Natalie has steered a tiny family-run company selling feathers to upholsterers into a burgeoning export business of luxury bed linens and accessories marketed under the Plumas brand name.

“I give TFO (Trade Facilitation Office) all the credit for our entry into the Canadian market,” explains Natalie.  Her foray into exporting began at a Peru Moda fashion exhibition in 2008, when the organizers identified Canada as a priority market. Visiting TFO program director Norm MacIsaac was attracted by the high quality and presentation of Plumas’ Pima cotton products and dropped by the booth to learn more.

“Norm returned the next year: this time with potential Canadian buyers,” recalls Natalie.  “That led to my first exports.”  Two years later Plumas is in the process of expanding its retail space and workshops, as well as its export business.  With a large Canadian retailer already carrying its bed linens, Plumas is now in negotiations with a major importer to sell more of its lines – which include comforters, pillows and cushions – in Canada, and is exporting to Venezuela.

Local supply chain

At her Miraflores boutique, Natalie and 25 full-time staff assemble, design and market only the finest Peruvian Pima cotton bed linens, and goose down feather bedding.  Very much a Peruvian venture, the company’s supply chain runs from the temperate coastal cotton growing region, to packaging companies and locally engaged seamstresses. While attention to detail in the production process is a cornerstone of the business, it’s the quality of the cotton that sets the Plumas bed linens apart from its overseas competitors.

Just like coffee, there are many grades of cotton, explains Natalie.  Fortunately, ideal growing conditions in the northern coastal valleys of Peru produce cotton with extra long, smooth filaments (called staples in the trade) that can be woven into a fabric with a very high thread count.  While fine and silky, the weave’s density makes the fabric up to 50 percent more durable than regular cotton.  And the more it’s washed the softer it becomes.

Hand-harvesting preserves the cotton’s purity, and dyed fabrics made from this extra-long staple cotton retain their natural brilliance.  The resulting lustrous finish, the way the fabric hangs on the body and its durability is prized by fashion houses the world over.  Allergy sufferers also appreciate its non-allergenic qualities.  So it’s no surprise to see representatives from the top brand-name companies at Peru Moda’s annual exhibitions, or Plumas’ linens commanding premium prices.

Social responsibility

“We strive to be a socially responsible employer, because I believe that running a business is more than about making money,” explains Natalie.  All Plumas employees can count on regular work hours with full benefits.  Fabrics are purchased from local suppliers sharing the firm’s socially responsible ethic.  “We want to become a model for other companies to follow, so they can become the best they can,” Natalie adds.

The Plumas business model includes rigorous quality control, continual innovation, fair pricing, and profitability – a model that extends to every part of the business.  Right now, for instance, Natalie is working with suppliers on finding stylish packaging materials that will withstand the rigours of container travel while remaining true to the eco-friendly ethos of the Plumas brand.