Four years after its wool was featured in Olympic ceremony outfits for Team USA in Sochi, Imperial Stock Ranch is once again part of the thread that connects Oregon agriculture to Winter Olympic history.
Oregon agriculture is no stranger to Korea. Most of the soft white wheat grown in our state is exported to East Asia for noodle and bun production, and that area has been a solid market for berry, nut, and brewing exports as well. In that sense, there’s some good agricultural company for wool to join once it has traveled from Imperial Stock Ranch to National Spinning Co. mills, and from there to Ralph Lauren studios to become sweaters, mittens and hats worn by Olympic athletes.
Wool produced by Dan and Jeanne Carver at their ranch outside of Shaniko, Oregon featured in both the Opening and Closing ceremony uniforms for Team USA in Pyeong Chang this year. While National Spinning Co., Inc. is the official yarn vendor this time around, the story of the wool’s source at Imperial Stock Ranch is as much a selling point for the yarn as its high quality.
Founded nearly a century and a half ago in 1871, Imperial Stock Ranch still runs cattle and sheep, and produces hay and grains, near the ghost town of Shaniko. The Carvers persevered through a market downtown for domestic wool in the 1990s, creating a value-added yarn and clothing business that catered to multiple markets and employed local artisans to produce clothing. Following their visible relationship with Ralph Lauren during the 2014 Winter Olympics, they continued to grow. In early 2015, National Spinning Co., Inc., one of the strongest spinning mills in the U.S., proposed a licensing partnership based on Imperial Stock Ranch’s rich history, sustainable practices, and sheep and wool production. Together, National Spinning and Imperial Stock Ranch met with Ralph Lauren’s design and production teams, and presented this new model. National Spinning launched their Imperial Stock Ranch American Merino branded yarn program later that year. Their partnership represented a strong business model that brought Ralph Lauren back for the 2018 Olympics.
Throughout it all, the Carvers maintain their roots with the ranch and its chief business: “converting sunlight,” as Jeanne Carver says, into grass that feeds their animals.
The practices at Imperial Stock Ranch made it a pilot audit site for the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), a benchmark set by the Textile Exchange of best practices surrounding animal welfare and land management. In 2017, Imperial Stock Ranch became the first ranch in the world certified under the RWS.
While honoring its 147 year history, the ranch is like many other operations in Oregon that look equally as hard at the future of their land and its productivity in the long run. In Carver’s words, she is most proud of “the management of natural resources, and the interconnected relationship of grazing animals and grasslands. All food, clothing, and shelter begins with the soil. Managing for the health of our soil and systems is good for our family’s future and for all.”
Imperial Stock Ranch, like many other operations in Oregon, is an excellent reminder of the thread between past and future that farmers and ranchers cherish. This second chapter of their story with the Winter Olympics, first in Sochi and then in Pyeong Chang, highlights another important thread, one that spans distances and connects places.
The story of the hats, mittens, and sweaters of Team USA at the Winter Olympics is a special one for Oregon, and both ends of the thread are important. At the one end we have the journey of an Oregon product across the ocean to be appreciated by millions around the world. On the other end we see Dan and Jeanne Carver, the ranchers who made that wool possible on their own patch of soil in Wasco County.
For their part, the Carvers are quick to acknowledge how very neat it all is: “We are very humbled as well as proud to be a small part of Ralph Lauren’s Olympic uniform program,” says Jeanne Carver, “it will always be special.”