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Imperial ranch wool will help produce Olympics sweater

COLUMBIA EWES visit the spring at Imperial Stock Ranch. Their wool is being used to fashion sweaters that will be worn by American athletes in the Parade of Nations during opening ceremonies at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

COLUMBIA EWES visit the spring at Imperial Stock Ranch. Their wool is being used to fashion sweaters that will be worn by American athletes in the Parade of Nations during opening ceremonies at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The Dalles Chronicle file photo

When United States athletes step out for the Parade of Nations at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, they’ll be wearing a little bit of Wasco County sunshine.

Imperial Stock Ranch announced Oct. 29 that its wool will be used to produce the sweaters the athletes will be wearing.

“About 15 months ago, we received a call from a product developer at Ralph Lauren, an iconic American brand and a long-time sponsor of the U.S. Olympic team,” ranch owners Jeanne and Dan Carver wrote. “A design team visited Imperial Stock Ranch within the month, and by December, the company placed an order for Imperial Yarn.”

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This undated product image provided by Ralph Lauren shows a reindeer turtleneck, part of the official gear of the U.S. Olympic team. Every article of clothing made by Ralph Lauren for the U.S. Olympic athletes in Sochi has been made by domestic craftsman and manufacturers.

The yarn is being used to make the Team USA sweaters for the opening ceremonies, though the Carvers didn’t know it at the time. The sweaters are part of an all-USA-made Olympic collection.

During the 2013 games in London, it was a flashpoint in the media and among Washington politicians that much of the U.S. apparel was made overseas, especially in China. Ralph Lauren Corp., which has been making most of the athletes’ clothes since 2008, when it took over from Canadian clothier Roots, got the message.

“We have worked incredibly hard as a company to go across America to find the best partners to help us produce the Olympic uniforms at the highest quality for the best athletes in the world,” said David Lauren, the company’s executive vice president of advertising, marketing and corporate communications.

More than 40 vendors were involved in creating the athletes’ ensembles, which include a navy peacoat with a red stripe, a classic ski sweater with a reindeer motif and a hand-sewn American flag, and a tasseled chunky-knit hat.”

Figure skater Evan Lysacek, who won gold in Vancouver in 2010, said the ceremonial uniforms make the athletes stand a little prouder.

“As an athlete, the clothing means even more than you’d think. The training, the sacrifices, the lifestyle, which is not glamorous and can be grueling and trying at times, all seem to come together in the moment when you realize you are part of the Olympic team,” he said. “The moment you put on those first pieces of the American team clothes, you feel like it’s real.”

Moving production to the U.S., though, was a lesson in the state of American manufacturing. It was hard to come by facilities that could create the quantity and quality needed for the Olympic uniforms and the versions that will be sold to the public, David Lauren said. As a result, there are fewer pieces in the collection for 2014.

During the London flap, he said, “what no one wanted to look at was the true complexity of making Olympic uniforms. We would have done it here if we could, but it was so much more complicated than people realized. Lots of places said they could help us make them, but when we called them, they couldn’t. It was grandstanding by a lot of companies. But we have since found manufacturers, and there are many more out there and we will keep reaching out.”

Wool for the sweaters came from Imperial Ranch’s spring shearing. The 35,000-acre ranch has been a privately owned family operation for 142 years.

Jeanne Carver describes the wool grown on the ranch as “harvested sunlight.”

“Cattle and sheep are integral parts of the cycle of converting sunlight into energy and vegetable matter for plants,” she said. “The sheep stimulate root development, the plants are healthy, the watershed is healthy and salmon are returning to our creeks. In doing that, we are converting that sunlight energy into another form of protein.”

She said she and her husband are proud to be part of the project.

“Things like this don’t happen to people like us,” she said on a video on the Ralph Lauren website.

The sweaters have a venerable pedigree involving a lot of heritage businesses.

From Imperial Ranch, the wool traveled to Kraemer Yarns for spinning in Nazareth, Pa., a company that has been in the business for more than 100 years. Dying took place at Longview Yarns in Hickory, N.C., which has been in the business since 1937. The manufacture of the sweaters took place at Ball of Cotton, a husband-wife California knitwear team.

In total, sweater production involved 6,250 pounds of wool to clothe 650 athletes. The total wardrobe involved production of 65,000 garments.

“We are immensely grateful that Ralph Lauren recognizes the importance of investing in and supporting the American wool industry and American manufacturing,” the Carvers wrote.

View the Ralph Lauren video on the sweaters at http://bit.ly/Ht1ux5.

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