IT WAS A WIN for domestic manufacturing when Ralph Lauren was admonished for having its uniforms for the 2012 Summer Olympics produced overseas—even Congress looked askance. Though it had to be shamed into it, the major clothing company responded virtuously, vowing that its US team designs for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, would be completely sourced within the United States. Oregon became a beneficiary of that commitment when the Wasco County-based Imperial Stock Ranch was tapped to be the supplier of wool yarns for Team USA's sweaters, a high-profile boon to the local wool industry, which has seen more and more contracts leaving for cheaper pastures.
The Ranch's Imperial Yarn division has made previous inroads into the fashion world, most notably through its work with designer Anna Cohen, herself a pioneer in exploring ethical, more sustainable approaches to apparel manufacturing. At the 2011 Portland Fashion Week, Cohen and Imperial released a collection of knitting patterns, completed examples of which walked the runway. As an exciting follow-up, Cohen is in the throes of designing a ready-to-wear women's collection for the brand, set to launch sometime this spring, which was facilitated in part by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. The Ralph Lauren/Olympics connection can only serve to further boost the collection's profile, and ideally help revive a regional industry that's taken its share of blows over the past few decades.
Meanwhile, in other wool-related news, Pendleton has announced the hire of Gretchen Jones in its womenswear department—she's one of Portland's Project Runway winners, who's been busy pursuing her eponymous clothing line in New York in the years since. The company is keeping tight lipped about her duties there, though it's being speculated that she may have a hand in designing for the company's indie boutique line, the Portland Collection, which began as a collaboration between the heritage brand and Portland designers Rachel Turk, John Blasioli, and Nathaniel Crissman. The brand is already among the most successful of its kind in tapping into the interests of a younger consumer. One can think of more than a few ways they could be making successful uses of a designer with Jones' contemporary chops and sensibilities. Alas, confirmed details as to her role are still pending.
Speaking of heritage brands, Nashville's Imogene + Willie denim company is poised to join the ranks of its American-made forefathers. Headquartered in a converted Tennessee garage, and drawing heavy inspiration from their hardworking, all-American grandparents, the brand has won the hearts of denim connoisseurs as much for their commitment to fit and selvage edges as for their commitment to domestic production. Now, they've opened a second location in Portland at 1306 W Burnside, alongside their similarly minded colleagues at Tanner Goods. (Imogene + Willie, which also features the wares of its small-batch, Made in USA kin, sells products from the Portland-based leather company alongside its own in their online store).
It all adds up to a good month for Portland's, and the country's, wool and denim-clad future. Keep it coming.