As many of you know, Ralph Lauren is the official designer for the garments worn by the American athletes at the Olympic Games. After previously providing garments made outside of the United States, Ralph Lauren pledged that the garments worn by the athletes at the 2014 Winter Games will be made in America.
We were over the moon when we heard that our friends at Imperial Stock Ranch would be supplying the fiber for these Olympic sweaters, and we are thrilled that we can offer this same yarn to you as well. On Friday we will post two free hat patterns for you to make using Erin by Imperial Yarn, so order your yarn today to connect to our American athletes.
While you wait, read on to hear more from Jeanne Carver, one of the owners of Imperial Stock Ranch / Imperial Yarn, about this amazing experience.
Tell us about this experience. From the initial call to shipping the yarn, how quickly did this process move?
Jeanne: Following the initial call, I put together a packet of information and samples to send off to New York. It shipped out the next day. And then, about a month later (August 2012), a Ralph Lauren design team came to Oregon from New York to visit us. They were interested in everything about the ranch, including the yarns, and we had a fantastic day enjoying plenty of conversation while touring the landscape to see groups of animals and historic buildings. After that, we filled some small orders for sampling and the process continued for quite a few months, with them ordering a couple more significant amounts of yarn for sample sweaters. Five to six months after the initial call (late December), they placed a production order. We moved wool through the steps, completing the spinning and dyeing, and shipped the final load of yarns to the knitting factory in early May, 2013.
What impact has this amazing opportunity had for Imperial Yarns?
Jeanne: It’s hard to say yet, how this will affect us. Immediately, what it did was allow an element of cash flow that had not been expected. We used all the profits from the order to add 6 new colors to our worsted spun craft yarn palette. That was a big plus for our local yarn shops and needlearts customers. Even before Ralph Lauren contacted us, we were seeing an increase in inquiries about American yarns from apparel companies for garment production here in America. With the visibility that has come from the work with Ralph Lauren on the Olympic uniforms, we have experienced more companies taking the step of sampling with our yarns. Hopefully, some of these projects will move forward to production for Fall 2014 collections. The increased visibility helps open additional market channels.
Has this opportunity made a difference in your community?
Jeanne: The opportunity to work with Ralph Lauren on the Olympic uniforms has had a strong positive impact. For Imperial Stock Ranch/Imperial Yarn, it helps ensure jobs for local women in a remote location in this value added agricultural business. We used to shear the wool and then sell it as a commodity. We did that for 130 years. Then with the off-shoring movement and the loss of more than 90% of the textile manufacturing in this country, it became much more difficult to sell the wool. We faced a major decision in 1999 as to whether to continue raising sheep. Since we’ve changed our thinking and begun working toward a value added product with the wool, we’ve created jobs in the process. We employ 7 local women in the Imperial Yarn business, and those are rural jobs that wouldn’t otherwise exist. An order like Ralph Lauren placed with us makes a significant contribution to our local/domestic economy.
In addition to the economic impact, this effort to make the uniforms for Team USA in America has connected everyone inside the factories and businesses that have been a part of it. All the people in all of the communities where those businesses are located now feel a special connection to our Olympic team they would not have had. There’s a growing pride and support of our team that is very strong across the country, including our local community.
What about Imperial Stock Ranch? How has this affected Imperial Stock Ranch?
Jeanne: Well…..I guess you could say that the cowboys are now more tolerant of the sheep! Close to home, our entire ranch family is in awe that this has all happened. It has been hard to comprehend, but now that we’re seeing Olympic athletes wearing red, white and blue sweaters, it becomes more real. I think for all of us, not just at the ranch, but in the mills, dye houses, and factories of all kinds, this chance to be part of something important reaffirms that the work we do has value. Deep down, you know what you do on a daily basis matters, but most of the time you labor in obscurity. This process has touched so many people because it makes us feel our work matters.
Wool hasn’t been the economic basis of the Imperial Stock Ranch since the 1950s. There have been shifts in production as well as shifts in our culture, and although raising sheep has been maintained throughout the ranch’s 143 years, the relative importance of wool had diminished. The work with Ralph Lauren, along with our growth in the needlearts industry as we moved to a value added product, has rekindled pride in the wool production and sheep at the Imperial Stock Ranch.
Do you know of any other economic impact these “made in America” garments have made?
Jeanne: I can’t speak to the whole uniform effort or the whole country, but I know that economists say that dollars spent here at home have a multiplier effect, meaning those dollars recirculate within our own economy and help more local people or groups. The Ralph Lauren order of yarn for Team USA uniforms was worth more than 1.3 million dollars of economic stimulus to our region and the country. I think that’s very important, and I have no idea what the total impact of their decision to make this apparel in America was. However, I think it was huge.
We are already huge fans of your yarns, but we know how difficult it can be to get your name out there. How many phone calls are you receiving from people wanting your yarns?
Jeanne: We’ve definitely seen an increase in phone traffic. The credibility and visibility the partnership with Ralph Lauren has given Imperial Yarn is very positive. We have been able to sample yarns to more than a dozen designers or apparel companies for the coming year. I think it’s really fun that people at home can knit with the same yarns that they know were chosen by an iconic American brand like Ralph Lauren for a project with this high a profile. That’s rare.
What are your plans for next year?
Jeanne: Our plan is to keep doing what we do first….ranching. We will also provide new and exciting patterns and yarns to needlearts enthusiasts and continue to partner with great brands that want an American yarn. We are also excited to launch our own apparel line, the Imperial Collection by Anna Cohen for Fall 2014.
Lastly….I’d like to thank Ralph Lauren for their decision and commitment to sourcing and manufacturing the Olympic uniforms for Team USA in this country. The connections that have resulted and pride that’s been built in support of our Olympic team is a win for all.
To hear more about Imperial Ranch, visit the Ralph Lauren site and watch the Made in America video.