American Wool Wins for U.S. Olympians

During the closing ceremony of the Winter Games on Feb. 25, the U.S. athletes will once again parade through South Korea’s PyeongChang Olympic Stadium wearing sweaters and accessories made from what began as 25,000 pounds of U.S.-grown raw wool from the Imperial Stock Ranch near Shaniko, Oregon, and other growers in the American West.

Produced by Ralph Lauren, the red, white, and blue opening and closing ceremony knits represent the second time the designer and veteran Olympic outfitter has tapped the almost 150-year-old ranch to supply wool for an Olympic collection.

In 2014, Team USA marched into the Sochi opening ceremony wearing stars-and-stripes cardigans knitted with yarn from Imperial Stock Ranch. The five pieces that the athletes are wearing for the 2018 games are made from Imperial Stock Ranch American Merino yarns. This line of yarn was developed through a 2015 licensing partnership with the nearly 100-year-old National Spinning Co., Inc., and will go a long way toward keeping American competitors warm during the frigid outdoor proceedings.

U.S. athletes sported a 100 percent American wool hat and 70/30 percent domestic wool-alpaca blend pullover for the opening ceremony of the Winter Games; they’ll wear a 100 percent American wool hat, sweater, and convertible texting mittens to close out the competition.

“Ralph Lauren is an iconic American brand,” observed Jeanne Carver, who along with her husband, Dan, owns the sprawling Imperial Stock Ranch in Oregon’s high desert. “They are a global leader and influencer. For them to choose American fiber and to connect the story of family farms to their brand has had a powerful impact on influencing others to follow that lead.”

Sunset at Imperial Stock Ranch. Photo by ISR.

Ralph Lauren’s choice not only to manufacture but also to source fiber stateside for its 2014 Olympic collection helped raise the profile of growers like the Carvers. In the years since the Sochi Olympics, Imperial Stock Ranch has supplied wool to a wide range of high-profile companies and has been a leader in establishing the international Responsible Wool Standard certification, which ensures humane treatment of animals and sustainable land management practices. Last year, Imperial Stock Ranch became the first wool-producing farm in the world to receive this certification.

At Imperial Stock Ranch, the Carvers still use many of the historic buildings on their property, including the shearing shed where the sheep are sheared every spring and the restored 1900 Queen Anne-style house the original owner built for his family. The headquarters complex is a designated historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, making it Oregon’s only continually operating ranch on the national registry.

Photo by Imperial Stock Ranch

Knitters interested in learning about what it takes to grow the wool that becomes an Olympic sweater can visit the Carvers’ 35,000-acre spread Sept. 6-9 as part of the Interweave Escapes retreat at the Imperial River Company Lodge. In addition to knitting workshops, retreat attendees will also take a trip to the ranch, where they will have lunch, tour the property, meet the sheep, experience a herding dog demonstration, and see what it’s like to sustain one of America’s great western ranches.

“Our work is largely unheralded and unknown to the public,” Carver said. “Most of the time people are so removed from the daily toil of farmers and ranchers. It helps our sense of pride in what we do every day to have Ralph Lauren include fiber producers as being a small part of the story in supporting Team USA.”

Leslie Petrovski is a freelance writer who lives in Denver with her husband and cat. She writes regularly about knitting and other fiber pursuits and would design more knitwear if she could only figure out the armholes. Find her on Ravelry as nakeidknits.

We know some Olympic-caliber sheep that would love to meet you. Will you be able to join us in September 2018?

If you need a little help deciding, click here to see what we planned for the participants in 2017’s Imperial Stock Ranch retreat.

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