Over the years on ACL, we’ve interviewed designers, shopkeepers, authors, and even a filmmaker, yet we’ve never spoken to anyone quite like Jeanne Carver. Carver is not some fresh-faced designer, nor is she an eccentric New York creative, in fact in our interview she never uttered the word “fashion,” and only mentioned “clothing” twice, under the most practical of terms. This is because Carver’s life exists roughly 2,850 miles removed from the frenzy that is New York City’s fashion industry, on The Imperial Stock Ranch, which has been raising sheep and cattle for over one hundred forty years.
Carver’s story is not a common one, after all, it was centurion ranches such as hers that helped to establish the western frontier back in the late 1800’s. What makes Carver (along with her husband Dan who also runs the ranch) so extraordinary, is that she was given a chance to have her story told. The wool trade is the largely ignored backbone of our entire clothing industry. We often highlight designers, factories, and shops, but these institutions represent the final steps of clothing production. Rarely, does anyone go to the source, and rarely is this source ever even considered.
Which is reason to applaud Ralph Lauren, who after recognizing their error in having past Olympic uniforms produced overseas, decided to take a concerted effort to produce this years U.S. Winter Olympic uniforms entirely in America. In doing so Ralph not only gave a fair amount of work to stateside textile factories and farms, which often go overlooked by large apparel corporations that are more interested in margin, but it also found people like Jeanne, people who embody the spirit of handwork and determination that our nation’s clothing industry was founded upon way back when. Ralph Lauren contacted Jeanne because the wool that she and her husband produce on their Shaniko, Oregon ranch is of an incredibly high quality, and was perfect for Ralph Lauren’s opening ceremony sweater, which is being unveiled today. I was fortunate enough to have a chance to speak with Jeanne to get her story, as well as her perspective on this U.S. made collection, and the state of America’s garment industry today.