“Sheep brought me to Taos,” says Minna White, owner of Lana Dura, a company that makes and sells handcrafted wool products.
White grew up in New England and produced science documentaries for over twenty years. She worked for the NOVA science series, PBS, and IMAX feature films getting an M.B.A. along the way, and later a Masters in environmental law.
“After graduate school, in 1983, I bought a five acre ‘farm’ in Vermont, began working with sheep and never stopped,” she said.
In the late eighties, White was working in Albuquerque when she read a story in the Albuquerque Journal about the Navajo-Churro sheep and the need for more farms and ranches to raise them and increase their genetic diversity.
“Navajo-Churro sheep have been in the Southwest since the 1500s and the breed is well suited to the rugged climate, droughts and scarce vegetation,” she said.
She thought Navajo Churro sheep would prosper in Vermont and began looking for some to purchase.
“However, there were very few people who raised them and fewer would sell breeding stock,” she said. “I finally found a ranch near Tres Piedras and bought five sheep.”
Afterwards, White would drive back to Taos every two or three years to buy more breeding stock.
“The descendants of these first five sheep still live on the farm in Vermont, where they are shorn twice a year and produce 250 to 300 pounds of wonderful wool yearly,” she said.
White served in the Peace Corps from 2009 to 2011 in Vanuatu, an island country near New Zealand, where she worked with local women who wanted to start their own small businesses. It was during this time that she decided to relocate to Taos after she completed her Peace Corps service.
Now White travels to Vermont several times a year for the wool and to help out with the sheep.
Lana Dura: give sheep a job
White started Lana Dura in 2012 with Connie Taylor, a longtime friend.
“Connie works with yarn and raised Navajo-Churro sheep for a long time,” she said.
Over the years White has sold raw wool, yarn, blankets, sweaters and socks. She washed and carded wool for other farmers but said she always loved felt and felting.
Felt means that the animal is still alive to produce more fiber.
“But sheep need to pay their upkeep, that’s why ‘give sheep a job’ is our motto,” she said.
What makes Lana Dura a unique company is the fact they make felt only with Navajo-Churro fiber and other endangered breeds, said White.
“Navajo-Churro yarn is widely used in this area by skilled weavers and embraced by knitters and other fiber users,” she said. “Other businesses make felt but not specifically with heritage and endangered breeds.”
Lana Dura donates bags to local nonprofits for their annual fundraisers.
“This is important to maintain community,” White said.
One of the challenges that the company faces is processing the raw fiber after the sheep are shorn.
“Many mills have closed in recent years, nationally,” said White. “Also, encouraging ranchers and farmers to breed for the best fiber quality can be difficult.”
The many uses of felt panels
Lana Dura makes three foot by four foot felt panels that showcase the natural colors of Navajo-Churro wool.
The larger pieces are cut and sewn into bags, slippers, pet beds and placemats.
“Spills can be washed with dishwashing liquid and warm water,” White said.
She also makes felt landscapes to hang on a wall or place on top of a couch or bed.
“I love making art with natural fibers,” she said. “Truly natural fibers remain the best for warmth, durability and resistance to dirt, moisture, and fire.”
The bags: Tote, Chiquita, Bolsita and Spirit Bag
Lana Dura has several styles of totes and zipper bags which are sewn in Arroyo Seco and sold in boutiques and shops. Currently there are four bags styles available, all made of Navajo-Churro wool felt.
The largest is called El Tote, 12-14″ tall with a 8″ by 14″ bottom. La Chiquita is a smaller tote with three additional internal pockets. La Bolsita is a Cordura-lined zip bag that comes in two sizes—the smaller version holds a Kindle Fire or Mini iPad and the larger one holds an iPad or other tablets.
The Spirit Bag cushions a bottle of wine or champagne, keeping it chilled while protecting it.
“El Tote is popular because it is strong and capable and shows the beauty of Navajo-Churro fiber,” said White, “but both La Chiquita and the iPad bags are strong contenders in the popularity contest.”
The bags are sold locally at the Millicent Rogers Museum gift shop, Old Martina’s Hall, and Common Threads, as well as in Santa Fe at Samuels Boutique and in Albuquerque at La Montañita Co-op.
A few words to entrepreneurs
Based on her own experience and the classes she has taught, White has a few words of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Keep good financial records,” she said. “It is boring and seems unimportant compared with your exciting enterprise, but tracking those small costs like postage and supplies as well as your time is important to understand if you are profitable or if profitability is even possible.”
People need to know if they have is a “business” or just something they enjoy doing.
“Value your time and your money,” she said.
To learn more about Lana Dura visit http://www.LanaDura.wordpress.com
To contact White, email her at email@example.com