The man who brought you Polartec and became an icon of social responsibility in an era of unbridled corporate greed has gone granola. Aaron Feuerstein LLC will debut a new line of alpaca athletic and fashion socks, hats and scarves under the brand Alpaca’s Finest at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City next month.  Feuerstein and son Daniel are positioning alpaca as superior to merino wool on the high end of the organic apparel market.  

Feuerstein (pronounced fewer-steen) endeared himself to Americans in the mid-1990s after Malden Mills’ main plant burned to the ground and put 2,700 people out of work. Rather than retire or rebuild overseas, he invested $130 million rebuilding the plant in Massachusetts and kept paying employees for months after the fire. 

Feuerstein, now “82 years young,” is quick to dismiss his history at Malden Mills as ancient history. He left the company, which traces its origins to his grandfather, in 2006 prior to its second bankruptcy. These days he wants to talk about his newest venture.

“I worked my entire life on oil-based materials and we did the very best job we thought we could possibly do,” said Feuerstein. “We made the best quality, made in the USA, high-tech performance fabric and we were careful about the environment. But in the last analysis, when everything was said and done, it was oil-based. It was the DuPont era. We excelled in it, but I thought if I was going to go into business again I would do my damndest to save the planet.”

At OR, the Feuersteins will preach the benefits of alpaca’s hollow fibers, which they argues have better warmth and wicking properties than merino wool, cashmere or other luxury natural fibers. The company will use an alpaca nylon blend in its socks for durability. Feuerstein argues that alpaca cause less environmental damage than sheep.

Finally, Feuerstein will emphasize how Alpaca’s Finest products will be made in the USA by contract manufacturers at undisclosed plants in New Jersey and North Carolina. He said the company has inventory to ship for Fall ‘08 and capacity in place for spring and summer 2009. The Feuersteins said they reached out to the extensive Malden Mills “family” for advice and services needed to launch the brand.  Howard Ackerman, former COO at Malden Mills, serves as CEO.  Son “Danny” is overseeing sales and marketing.