Jack Yan interviews Paloma Vivanco, who was “fired” from the UK version of The Apprentice by Lord Sugar. She discusses how she got on the show, the media’s portrayal, and her plans for her 100 per cent alpaca wool knitwear label, Inacia

I met Paloma Vivanco many years ago, before Lucire had even branched out into print editions. Imagine our surprise earlier this year when she told me that she had been on the UK version of The Apprentice, a BBC-licensed version of the Mark Burnett show, with Lord Sugar in place of Donald Trump.
   The BBC believes that she is the first person with a major New Zealand connection to appear on the UK version of The Apprentice, and I interviewed her in November as news of the “firing” became public.

Lucire: You and Lucire first came into contact in New Zealand. How did you or your family find your way down there?
Paloma Vivanco: My father is a geneticist, so his work took him around the globe and the family followed.
   New Zealand was supposed to be a small stop before going back to Peru, but we fell in love with the beauty that is NZ.

What prompted you to move to Great Britain?
Being quite the nomad, I got itchy feet and decided that I needed to give the UK a go. My brother was already living here and I had a burning desire to work and travel around Europe. I also wanted to practise my Spanish more and contemplated moving to Spain at some point.

How did you get on to The Apprentice?
I was always unsettled and suppressed in a corporate environment. Although I love my career, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and saw The Apprentice as a way of testing my raw business skills. I also thought it would be an amazing experience meeting Lord Sugar and competing for the chance to work for him.
   I remember going into the audition thinking there was no way they would pick me—there were thousands of people. I was really surprised I got a call back.

One of our former cover girls is Stacie Jones Upchurch, who appeared in the second season of the [original] American Apprentice. She felt that she was unfairly portrayed through editing. What was your experience?
I would tend to agree. I was very much depicted as the hard-nosed, corporate bitch and it was a shame that only the serious footage of me was only ever played. There were certainly a lot of laughs and gags throughout the time with other candidates so it would have been nice to get a more balanced perspective of who Paloma Vivanco was. But as well as being a job interview this was very much a TV series and with that comes all the pantomime characters they needed to portray.
   I did play up the character they wanted me to be at times, as [it was] felt it would be a bit boring behaving in your normal business manner. The boardroom got spiced up. It is TV, after all!

One thing that the Brits have and the Americans don’t—at least not to the same extent—are the tabloids. What was your experience with them, and do you want to set the record straight on anything?
The tabloids are very supportive of telling the pantomime story also—anything which solicits an emotion or response out of people. I was an outspoken character in this series so I was subject to a lot of feedback. I found it hilarious people actually thinking I would carry on like that in a normal business environment.
   There were a lot of scenarios that weren’t fairly represented on the show and resulted in me looking like I made bad business decisions. But again, they had a story to tell and every week they need to justify why it is that everyone leaves. The media aren’t very sympathetic to the nuances of TV editing.

Overall, did the media do their job when it came to your story?
Not really, but I was expecting that. I had a brief interview on You’re Fired but this was a light-hearted comedy show which I loved doing but not really the platform for me to talk about misrepresentation!
   Having said all of this, it was still an amazing experience which has opened up other opportunities in my life. I just wanted the real Paloma to be shown a bit more.

Now to your latest venture, a fashion label called Inacia (spelt in all caps in the company’s own house style). Where did the impetus for Inacia come from?
I love knitwear! And sustainable business is something that I am very passionate about. Inacia blends my passions for knitwear, sustainable business and my cultural roots. It has been in the making for years and pleased it is finally launched.

You have a fairly staple range, which should sell well. What can we expect from Inacia in the future?
The cardigans have been my best sellers so far and so have the dresses. Alpaca fibre is such a warm and durable fibre. I’d like to begin looking at coats and I’ve also had enquiries about Ugg-type boots so watch this space!

What are your ambitions for the Inacia label and has The Apprentice helped on that front?
Obviously Inacia, being my creation, is something I am passionate about sharing with the world and hoping people will enjoy wearing the garments as much as I love creating them. I also hope to raise people’s awareness about this valuable quality rich fibre, alpaca.

A few others have looked into alpaca wool. What makes your brand special?
Most of the alpaca labels I’ve seen so far tend to be great in quality, but lack design and are not very fitting. I’ve tried to blend the best in design with this wonderful fibre. Also the gauges I use are a lot finer than most alpaca labels I have seen.

You have South American heritage yourself. Is there any connection back to that with your brand?
For sure. I think Inacia is very much a reflection of who I am. I am very much in touch with my culture and the complexities of the manufacturing industry in my home country. When someone buys a product from Inacia they are buying into my values also, and the respect I have for sustainable and ethical business practice.
   I think that the terms social and ethical responsibility tend to get overused as a marketing tool though. I’m keen to spend some more time on my website defining what Inacia means by this but also how we actually back it up. I’d like to think that Inacia’s ethical values are not just about “it is the right thing to do”, but actually it’s always worth paying for unique fibres that are crafted by rural communities with years of expertise and integrity. •

Originally published in Lucire.