From Shaniko to Sochi: 'It truly is a win for all sheep growers'
Watch #LiveOnKMTR at 6:30 and 11 p.m. Thursday, February 7, for more on this story
SHANIKO, Ore. - When the Opening Ceremonies commence in Sochi on February 7, a thread of Oregon history will be on display for all to see.
All the wool yarns to create Ralph Lauren's Team USA collection comes from a 143-year-old ranch located near Shaniko in Wasco County in north central Oregon's high desert.
The Imperial Stock Ranch has been raising sheep and cattle since 1871. The ranch is now owned by Jeanne and Dan Carver.
"I said, are you kidding me?" said Jeanne Carver, recounting the first phone call she got from product development director for Ralph Lauren Robert Cramer back in July of 2012. "And he said, no, I'm serious I'm sitting right here on Madison Avenue in New York. And I said, well that is amazing."
After many more phone calls and eventually a visit from a Ralph Lauren knitwear division team, Carver's Imperial Yarn company had secured the deal with the famous clothing brand.
"The yarn was chosen for the premiere garment for Team USA, the Opening Ceremonies sweater, the patchwork cardigan for Team USA to wear in the Parade of Nations in Sochi February 7," said Carver while her three fulltime employees sorted and packed yarn for sale to approximately 300 retailers across the country.
"Support for American grown fibers, and American manufacturing; so that's terrific," said Carver. "It's truly is a win for all sheep growers."
Carver said the operations at Imperial had been at a make it or break it time. Fourteen years ago the ranch had fallen on hard times when the wool commodities market crashed. All it took was one phone call, and the Carver's had lost their longtime wool buyer.
"And so we got off the phone from that call and me and my husband looked at each other," said Carver, "and my husband said, well that's it. If we don't find our own markets for what the sheep have given us, then they're gone off this ranch."
With the wool commodities market outsourced overseas, Carver said they were forced to think outside the traditional constraints of the market. Looking for new ways to stay profitable while keeping sheep on the ranch, Carver eventually landed on yarn.
Instead of selling the flock's wool to one big buyer, Carver said she cut out the middle man and started producing yarn, which could then be resold to craft shops and retailers as well as woven into clothing.
"Yea, here we are out in the middle of this Shaniko country, and here we have Olympic sweaters sitting right here," said Carver as she held one of the Olympic sweaters, a gift from Ralph Lauren she received after the cardigans made an appearance on the Today Show.
"I think we might carry on, I think we might," said Carver.