Thursday, February 6, 2014

Imperial Yarns at the Olympics!

Some of you may already know that one of our yarn vendors, Imperial Yarns, provided the yarn to Ralph Lauren to create the opening ceremony sweaters for Team USA in this year's Olympics in Sochi! When Ralph Lauren set out to create this year's team uniform entirely in the USA with US made products, Imperial had no idea that they would possibly be selected to be a part of the collaboration. We were blown away when we heard so we just had to ask Jeanne Carver, one of the owners of Imperial Stock Ranch about their involvement. Here is what she had to say to our questions:


Jeanne & Dan Carver
1)      As a long-time rancher with so much family history in the ranching industry, what made you decide to get involved in the yarn industry?

What a great first question.   In 1999, we had been selling our wool as a commodity for more than 130 years, and to the same buyer for 110 years.  When we called the buyer that spring, to discuss price and hauling the wool into their warehouse, they told us they weren't going to be buying anymore.  They were closing the processing facilities in the Northwest, and going offshore for processing and manufacturing.  Combined with other pressures in predation and the lamb market, the sheep industry was feeling a tremendous amount of pressure.  Between 1996 and 2000, 26,000 sheep producers went out of business in the U.S.  With our heritage, and the heritage of this sheep breed, we felt called to find a way to carry on.  Getting the wool clean, and into a form we could sell, led us naturally along the path to yarns.  We have taken the obstacles one at a time or sometimes a whole bucket at a time!.....to get to where we are today.   We're always a work in progress, as we negotiate new market channels for value added products. 


2)      Do you knit or crochet? If so, what is your favorite piece you’ve made? If not, what would be your first project if you ever started?

Ha!  I'm so busy that if I just sit down, I usually fall asleep!  I can cast on, knit, purl and bind off!   Does that count?!  The women (grandmothers, mother, sister) in my family have always been very talented with craft skills, from knitting and crochet to quilting and sewing.  As for me....since I was a tiny girl, my life was always outdoors.  I was my father's original and best tomboy.  Not to say that tomboys can't knit!  But my passions have been with animals and being on the go outside.  And now....since beginning this journey in 1999, the most amazing women have come into my life that can bring the fibers to life in beautiful pieces.  Along this process, I have had more than 20 women doing production knitting, weaving, felting and cut and sew to finished apparel with Imperial Yarns.  They have become family, and very important in my life.  They have talent!  As for me.....I would begin with something small....like a scarf or cowl.  A simple but elegant piece I could wrap up in, that would provide quick and nearly instant gratification!  And I can't imagine "ripping out!"



3)      When you were approached by Ralph Lauren’s staff to provide the yarn for the Olympic team’s sweaters, what was the first thought that ran through your mind?

Well....you have to realize that I didn't know for many months, what projects the yarns they were interested in would be used for.  So the sequence goes like this:

The Call.....I got a phone call on a summer day in July of 2012, from a guy who jumped right in to asking questions about our yarn.  By the way, I was outside when I took the call.  I thought he was with a yarn store, and when I asked him which one, he said "I'm not with a yarn shop, I'm with product development for Polo Ralph Lauren in NY."  So....my first response was, "You're kidding me......"   And he said that he was not kidding and as a matter of fact, was sitting right on Madison Avenue.  I said this is so incredible.....I'm sitting outside in the Oregon desert....in fact, can you hear my sheep?  I held up the phone so he could be transported by the sounds of the sheep calling to one another and the tinkle of the bells, as they were leaving the spring here behind the headquarters, and beginning to graze their way toward the night sheep camp where they bed down. 

It was a long way from an order at that point.  About a month later, a design team visited, but it was still going to be a process before they would place an order.  About 6 months later, we got the order for our Erin Yarn.  I still did not know.   When they finally told us, it was hard to comprehend.   We were very honored and humbled to have the yarn chosen.  Our yarn will be the Opening Ceremonies Sweater for Team USA to wear in the Parade of Nations on February 7th in Sochi, Russia.  Wow!  You know when it really hit me?   When they launched the story on the NBC Today Show on October 29th, and I saw our U.S. athletes wearing red, white and blue.   I just cried.



4)      Can you tell us a little bit about what went into your part of the process for the creation of the Olympic Sweaters? Such as shearing, processing, dyeing, etc.

Yes....we shepherded the wool all the way to delivery to the knitting factory.  Obviously, we care for the animals and the landscape....that is our greatest calling.  We tend those interconnected relationships.  Once we harvest the wool, we move it through all the processing steps.   Shipping to scouring, carding, combing and into one of our milling partners, depending on what type of yarn we are ready to spin.  The RL designers chose a yarn that we spin in the worsted system.  We placed the spinning order, and then had it sent to our dye house partner.  We managed the process of matching their color standards.  This meant having 4 to 6 lab dips/color done by the color lab at the dye house, and shipping those samples to the RL team for color approval.  There are 9 colors of yarn in the Opening Ceremonies sweater.  Sometimes that is a back and forth process.  We also had the yarn tested for care and performance by an outside independent laboratory.  Eventually, we had approved colors and proceeded to dye to the order.  Once the yarn was dyed, we sent more samples fo the RL team for final approval prior to shipping the yarns to the knitting facility.



5)      Since your Erin yarn was the yarn chosen for the sweaters and knitters can also knit with this same yarn, can you tell us a bit more about the development of this yarn, what makes it special, and projects it would be good for?

 This is a fabulous yarn!  It begins with our wool and goes through the combing and spinning in the worsted system, which gives it a beautiful hand.  It's versatile, showing great stitch definition, and is a worsted weight yarn making it perfect for a wide variety of projects.  From mittens to scarves to sweaters to shawls....this yarn will be a staple.  It's a great yarn for hand dyers; it's a great yarn for cloth diaper covers; it's growing in popularity among knitters.



6)      Lastly, how does it feel to be a part of something as huge as the Olympics? Would you ever do it again?

We are overwhelmed with emotion and so very grateful to have had the chance to partner with a company like Ralph Lauren.   Every single individual I've worked with in their company has been genuine, supportive, committed and excellent to work with.  It's been an amazing journey.  How does it really feel?  It's bigger than my dreams!  I don't know of an honor that could be greater for our yarn, than to be chosen by an iconic brand like Ralph Lauren, for the premier garment (Opening Ceremonies Parade of Nations) to clothe our U. S. Olympic Team.  It is very humbling.  I still won't know exactly how it feels until we watch on television on February 7th.  Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat!  We will always focus on the work in front of us, no matter what the opportunity or challenge.  And we will work to deliver a quality result.



7)      Is there anything else you would like to add or have us share on your behalf?


 There were many companies and thousands of hands involved in the entire effort to provide the uniforms and apparel for this Winter Olympics.  I respect and congratulate Ralph Lauren for the decision and committment to this Made in America effort.  They have touched so many people with this, and helped grow a strong pride across this country and a swelling feeling of support for our athletes going into the games.  I think we have an even closer spirit with Team USA because of this.  We're connected.....

Winter Games Pullover


Thank you to Jeanne for taking the time to respond to our questions! We are so excited to see your yarn on our athletes during the opening ceremonies! Be sure to watch tomorrow tonight on your local NBC station to see these sweaters in action!

Also, in honor of Imperial's involvement with the Olympics, Tanis Gray has designed a beautiful cabled sweater -- The Winter Games Pullover-- with Erin and is hosting a KAL during the Olympics for anyone wanting to knit this gorgeous piece! The pattern is free on the Imperial Yarns website, and of course you can find the Erin yarn here.   

Happy knitting,
Kristen

PS. Imperial is having a "Name this Lamb" Contest on their Facebook page right now so if you need a daily dose of cuteness, be sure to head over to enter! The winner will receive some free Imperial Yarn!

**All photos in this post are from the Imperial Yarns website and Facebook pages.**

4 comments:

Doc Paul Waisbrot said...

I would like to get the pattern for the sweater, Any info for where to get it?

Doc Paul Waisbrot said...

I was referring to the Opening ceremony USA sweater btw...

KristenJBW said...

Hi Doc Paul-

There is not one that I know of. They were designed by Ralph Lauren. He merely sourced his wool from Imperial Yarn. I doubt he will be releasing a knitting pattern for it.

Best,
Kristen

Sandra Gardner Benward said...

Thank you so much for this very intereting and informative interview and introduction to Imperial Yarns. I certainly have a much better apprecation of this yarn and RL sweater. Loved seeeing the entire outfit in the opening ceremonies parade. AWESOME! What do you know about the hat they are all wearing?