The first thing you notice about Jeanne Carver is her unflagging energy.
The second is her love of everything related to the Imperial Stock Ranch — from the land and the sheep to the wool they produce.
“These are a beautiful group of animals,” said Carver. “We named the first babies Pyeong and Chang. I really love them.”
The Korean names are a nod to the Winter Olympics taking place in Pyeongchang. For the second time, the Carvers ranch in Shaniko, northeast of Madras, has furnished the wool used by Ralph Lauren, the official outfitter of the U.S. Olympic teams, in the 700 sweaters, caps and mittens worn by the Team USA athletes, coaches and staff members in South Korea.
The Olympics with all their sport and pageantry are half a world away from the ranch where the sound of bleating sheep is picked up by the cold, piercing wind and whisked away over the rolling hills and bare rimrock of the 147-year-old Imperial Stock Ranch.
In 2012, Carver got a call from Polo Ralph Lauren, an American apparel company that wanted to talk about yarn.
Over the course of many phone calls, a site visit and more calls, Ralph Lauren designers selected Imperial Stock Ranch to provide the yarn for the opening and closing ceremony knitwear for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“That first call changed our life,” Carver said. “We’re simple people. We open our door to everyone and invite them in. This was an amazing opportunity. We remember every day that we’re the temporary stewards of these resources.”
The clothing company wanted a wool raised in America and that met the Responsible Wool Standard certification, which meant standard industry practices for the treatment of animals and the land they graze on.
Three years later, Ralph Lauren contacted Carver again to provide the wool to make the patriotic red, white and blue knitwear.
As one of Oregon’s largest livestock ranches, hundreds of ewes and their babies are signs that there’s a future in ranching and sheering sheep to make American-made wool products in an era where textile manufacturing is predominantly overseas, she said.
The Carvers are the fourth owners of the 32,000-acre ranch founded in 1871 that at one time spanned from Shaniko to La Pine. The ranch raises sheep and cattle, hay and grains and was originally named by Richard R. Hinton. The wool sales are a small part of the business, Carver said.
It is that rich history that brings Carver’s face alive as she walks among her flock. She and her husband, Dan, purchased the ranch in the late 1980s thinking there would always be a market for American wool top, a semiprocessed product from raw wool.
But in 1999 the market dried up because it was cheaper to produce overseas, so the Carvers created their own markets for wool. Carver began processing their wool, entered the craft market, utilized textile artisans from the Central Oregon region to make apparel and built a sustainable value-added business with the fiber. She eventually launched a clothing line and home textiles, and then got the call in 2012 from Ralph Lauren in New York City to outfit the team during the opening and closing ceremonies.
For this Olympic wool, she is providing the raw materials to National Spinning Co. Inc., a North Carolina textile company that has been spinning wool and dyeing wool since 1919. Bob Miller, vice chairman of the board at National Spinning Co. Inc., said the company has never worked directly with an individual rancher prior to the Carvers. Raw wool is sold to suppliers who process the wool for yarn spinning.
In 2015, the Carvers and National Spinning entered into agreement that allowed National to produce and market the wool as Imperial Stock Ranch American Merino Blend yarn, Miller said. That is the wool that Ralph Loren used for the Olympic clothes.
“Jeanne approached us in 2015, and shortly thereafter we agreed on a different marketing model for the product,” Miller said. “People do want to know where the wool is from.”
As Carver walks among the sheep who are tending to their babies in four areas of the ranch’s 50 square miles, she is happy to share her story of how wool becomes an Olympic sweater.
“I am just a small voice,” she says.
“It’s been great for all fiber producers. People want the backstory on their product. We are the farming voice for the wool used in these products.”
—Reporter: 541-633-2117, email@example.com