The first thing viewers noticed while watching the U.S. Olympic team march through the Parade of Nations at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics opening ceremony was their battery-powered heated parkas, designed by Ralph Lauren and created by a family-owned company in New Jersey. Each piece of clothing included in the U.S.’s Olympic uniform has a similar American story to tell: jeans made by a non-profit company in Texas, hats and base layers from a business run by a brother-sister duo in Los Angeles, gloves made in New York; and one of those stories is right here in Wasco county.
Imperial Stock Ranch, owned and operated by the Carver family, provided wool for the sweater, hat and other knit pieces worn by the U.S. Olympic team in the opening and closing ceremonies.
This isn’t Imperial Ranch’s first taste of the spotlight, however, as the ranch partnered with Ralph Lauren for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics as well.
Ralph Lauren first reached out to Imperial after the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, where the company suffered criticism for having the American uniforms produced in China. At the time, Jeanne Carver and her husband, Dan, had been trying to sell their wool as a product and, after answering a call from a New York area-code in her yard surrounded by sheep, a partnership was born.
“After the 2014 Olympics, we saw incredible growth in our value-added fiber business due to the visibility of the Ralph Lauren relationship,” Carver said. In addition to collaborating on the Olympic uniforms, Imperial also worked on projects with Polo Ralph Lauren and Ralph Lauren Home following the 2014 Olympics. “The visibility that resulted from Ralph Lauren telling our story strengthened opportunities with our supply chain partners and broadened our impact,” Carver said.
In early 2015, the vice-chairman of National Spinning Co., Inc., a North-Carolina based company that Carver calls “one of the strongest spinning mills in the U.S.,” reached out to Imperial to propose a licensing partnership: Imperial would provide the mill with raw wool, and National Spinning would then create and market the yarn.
“Negotiating a complex textile process can be daunting, but we were helped along by the people who remain in the industry in this country, always ready to share their experience and expertise. Each of these relationships made us stronger,” Carver said, “without our processing and manufacturing partners, we have nothing.”
The partnership provided relief for Carver and the rest of the Imperial team, as they used to move their raw-wool through numerous different mills and manufacturers through the yarn-making process. “We pay each facility to custom the spinning and dyeing processes, and ultimately upon delivery, we are responsible if there are any issues with the yarns once they go into garment production,” Carver said. With National Spinning managing the entire production process, Imperial is relieved of the production burden.
With Imperial’s wool, National Spinning launched a new branded line, Imperial Stock Ranch American Merino wool yarn. It’s this final product that Ralph Lauren incorporated into the U.S. Olympic team’s opening and closing ceremony uniforms for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“With Ralph Lauren naming us again as one of their supply chain partners, we are again experiencing an increase in inquiries,” Carver said.
The ranch is also gaining attention for its Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) certification, “a voluntary global standard that addresses the welfare of sheep and of the land they graze on,” Carver said.
Imperial received the certification in the spring of 2017, becoming the first ranch in the world to do so. “With our RWS certification and listing as a certified wool supply source, we receive numerous requests for certified wool,” Carver said.
Despite the spotlight, Carver and her family remain down-to-earth. Literally. “It’s really easy to stay grounded when you’re working with crops and livestock,” Carver said, “these are timeless activities with seasonal cycles that demand your attention and focus…even though our eyes may lift to the horizon from time to time, you might say, we live our life at its roots.”
Imperial Stock Ranch celebrates its 147th anniversary this year, having been founded in 1871 near what became Shaniko, Ore., by Richard Hinton, an Oregon Trail settler. Ownership was passed to an employee, George Ward, in 1945, and the Wards passed the ranch to the Carver family in 1988.
The ranch’s headquarters, a colonial revival house built in 1900 near Shaniko, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 and is now its own National Historic District.
“We’re constantly aware of our history. We work out of the same buildings and farm the same crop fields that have been here almost 140 years,” Carver said. “We’re touchable and can relate who we are and where we come from.”
She added, “We foster connections for visitors and customers to not just our history, but to their own history with the land.”
The Carvers currently raise sheep and cattle on over 32,000 acres in Wasco County, as they have since the beginning.
“We remain focused on our agricultural operation, our family, and remain supportive of building a certified wool supply in the U.S. for those brands choosing certified wool and American manufacturing,” Carver said.