Olympic athletes to sport Oregon wool

Aja Evans, a U.S. Olympic bobsledder, wears the uniform that will be featured during the Closing Ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics. The sweater, hat and gloves were made using wool from Imperial Stock Ranch in Shaniko, Ore.

When members of Team USA arrive Friday for the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, they will again be wearing Oregon wool clothing.

Polo Ralph Lauren, an official outfitter of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams, has partnered with Imperial Stock Ranch in Shaniko, Ore., to make this year’s Team USA uniform sweaters, hats and mittens using U.S. wool.

It took approximately 25,000 pounds of raw grease wool to make the clothing that will be worn by U.S. Olympic athletes during the Opening Ceremony on Friday and the Closing Ceremony Feb. 25.

All of the items were knitted with Imperial Stock Ranch American Merino yarn, a program launched in 2015 with the National Spinning Co. in North Carolina. Imperial Stock Ranch also provided the wool for Olympic sweaters at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Jeanne Carver, who runs the ranch with her husband, Dan, said they are proud and humble to be part of the Olympic tradition.

“For us, we do work that most people don’t know about,” Carver wrote in an email. “We’re tending the land and animals that give us fiber, that has clothed humankind for thousands of years. To have some of that fiber worn by the best athletes in America on a global stage like the Olympics is still unbelievable for us. It will never stop being a miracle.”

Imperial Stock Ranch traces its roots back to 1851, when homesteader Richard Hinton arrived in central Oregon from the Willamette Valley. Hinton raised sheep, cattle, grain and hay, and by the early 1900s he was the state’s largest individual land and livestock owner.

Though sheep numbers have declined over the decades, the ranch has managed to stay in the commercial wool business. In 1999, Imperial Stock Ranch shifted from selling raw wool to wool products, such as yarn, which Carver said has opened multiple markets.

It was the summer of 2012 — during the Summer Olympics in London — when Carver said they first got the call from Ralph Lauren looking for wool for its “Made in America” Olympic uniforms. That deal changed the future of the ranch, she said, with hundreds of designers and companies suddenly interested in doing business.

“We added market channels and continue to grow in each,” Carver said. “The visibility that resulted from Ralph Lauren telling our story strengthened opportunities with our supply chain partners and broadened our impact.”

Carver said she does not know how long the relationship with Ralph Lauren will continue into the future. Meanwhile, she said the ranch continues to focus on its agricultural operations, supporting local markets and U.S. manufacturing.

Last year, the ranch was also the first in the world to be certified under the voluntary Responsible Wool Standard, focused on sustainable land practices and animal welfare.

Coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics begins Thursday and Friday on NBC.

Recommended for you