Ibex will spread the wool wealth with a new test program to purchase from sheep farms in the United States, with plans to expand if successful.
Ibex manufactures about 85 percent of its product in the United States, but most of its wool is sourced from abroad, President John Fernsell told SNEWS. The new program will incorporate U.S.-grown wool into some of the company's midlayers. Ibex is partnering with Lehfeldt Ranch in Lavina, Mont., as the first farm in its pilot program to produce the wool for use in its line of midlayers made with the Shak fabric.
“I’m finding that our customer wants to know where their garments are made,” Fernsell said. “People are asking us a lot of questions like, ‘Where does your wool come from?’ or ‘How are your sheep treated?’ ”
Though Fernsell knows exactly where the wool comes from – mostly from New Zealand and Uruguay – customers these days want more products made completely in the United States, he said. That desire has caused several sock companies (and now Ibex) to make that happen. At this time, however, Ibex has no intention of moving all of its wool production stateside.
Spreading the love
For the past year, Ibex has been researching how to make its dream of making its Shak line of midlayers completely in the United States a reality.
The company researched sheep farms all over the country and heard of Lehfeldt Ranch through others in the outdoor industry. Fernsell learned the Lehfeldts, who have been raising rambouillet sheep in Montana for five generations, had a good reputation for producing quality wool.
The wool from rambouillet sheep is durable, Fernsell said, and though it’s similar to what comes from merino sheep, it’s thicker – 21 micron versus 16 micron. The diameter of wool is measured in microns and smaller microns mean finer fabric.
On a soon-to-be-released video on the Ibex domestic wool program, Ben Lehfeldt said producing the finer wool for clothing is just another avenue for wool farmers to explore in order to bring in business.
“There’s actually a profit to be gained if you take care of your animals and take care of that wool during shearing time,” Ben Lehfeldt said. “There are several avenues you can take with sheep that allow you to be a more profitable operation.”
Being domestic not for everybody
Fernsell said there are many benefits for companies moving some production to the United States. One of those is the gratitude expressed from workers in U.S. companies. Moving production to the United States provides more jobs for communities.
“I think U.S. production of anything is great and I hate to see it all go offshore,” Fernsell said. “You get a great-quality product here. Maybe it’s a little more money but it’s a good-quality product and they do good work.”
Other benefits include being able to better manage inventory and better communicate with the factories. Ibex works with several factories in the United States and has plans to expand to a total of seven domestic factories and two in Vancouver, Canada, within the year.
Ibex’s vice president of product, Jinesse Reynolds, noted that the U.S.-made program is “helping our economy and keeping factories alive that were going out of business,” she said.
But, Fernsell said, moving some production, and now purchasing the wool stateside, is “not easy and probably a lot of companies would take a look at it and say, ‘We can’t do that,’ ” he said. “I don’t know whether it’s right for everybody. Every company has to make their own decision.”
Hopes for the future
Fernsell said so far the company is happy with the pilot domestic wool program. Though he said Ibex would continue to get a majority of its merino wool from farms in New Zealand and Uruguay, it will look to expand this program in the future and include more domestic sheep farms.
“This is our first foray into it, and we’re happy with it. We’re testing it for the future,” Fernsell said. “We’re not going to change all of our wool to wool from the U.S., but we feel this program could be expanded on. We’re taking it one step at a time.”
But for Fernsell and Ibex, trying to incorporate more domestic businesses into its supply chain is a source of pride for the company, he said.
“It’s just who we are,” Fernsell said. “We feel it’s the right thing to do. We want to be proud of our product – not just on the floor, but how it’s made and where it’s made.”