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Tom's Of Maine Launches Rambler's Way Farm

Tom's of Maine -- a Kennebunk, Maine-based manufacturer of natural personal care products -- has launched Rambler's Way Farm, a line of lightweight, next-to-skin, soft wool garments. Founder Tom Chappell was inspired to create the line when he went on a hiking trip in Wales several years ago and realized that the existing next-to-skin wear had its limitations. "I felt that the synthetics weren't warm enough and they smelled, and some of the woolen choices were scratchy and too heavy." Thus Chappell began his quest for a type of sheep's wool that would make a warm, yet comfortable undergarment.

"I needed a very fine fiber in the area of 18 micron, and to get that, my research indicated the breed in America that could provide those qualities was Rambouillet, a French cousin of Spanish Merino," Chappell said. The company purchased two farms in the community and has a small flock of 60 sheep, which Chappell hopes to build to 500 or 600 sheep. He also is purchasing fiber from ranchers in Montana, Nevada and Texas who have flocks of 8,000 to 10,000. He added that when developing the idea for the Rambler's Way, he sought something that met his values for sustainability -- and Rambouillet wool did.

"The question was, could you find people in America who could manufacture it, and I did. One thing I can say with a great deal of pleasure is that American sheep and the American textile industries have been very open to our business and this idea and have very supportive," Chappell said.

Rambler's Way is the only worsted woolen undergarment line produced completely in America. "Our aim in making this very fine-fiber garment was to do it with the principles of environmental and economic sustainability -- so we thought, let's do this in America to help the communities that have lost so many jobs, particularly in the textile industry." Rambler's Way's farms are organically certified, and the company works with people who have sound ecological growing and breeding practices. "We're trying to keep a low carbon footprint on the environment, which we are able to do by processing all of our wool in the same region in the Carolinas," Chappell said.

The manufacturing process begins at Chargeurs Wool USA Inc., Jamestown, S.C., which scours and cards the wool. Then, it's spun into yarn at Kent Manufacturing, Pickens, S.C.; knitted into jersey wear at Alamac American Knits LLC, Lumberton, N.C.; cut and sewn at Griffin Manufacturing Co. Inc., Fall River, Mass.; and finally sent to the fulfillment center at Holcombe Group in Mildred, Pa.

Men's and women's items include T-shirts, long-sleeve tops, underwear, long underwear and camisoles; and children's items will soon be available. The company plans to focus on its next-to-skin baselayers, though it may introduce some heavier-weight items down the road. Rambler's Way also customizes garments for customers who don't find a size that fits them.

Targeted markets are baby boomers and consumers involved in outdoor recreation who want a natural fiber that wicks moisture. "Rambler's Way apparel is 100-percent authentic, right off the sheep," Chappell says. "We use no dyes, no chemical treatments, no retardants; and yet as it is, it is able to insulate because the wool fiber is hollow; and, if you get wet, it will dry quickly."

Rambler's Way offers the undergarments solely through its website, www.ramblersway.com. Chappell hopes to realize sales of close to $1 million in the first year. "We've put this together in less than a year, and in the process, we're already the major buyer in America of 18-micron Rambouillet," he said. "It did not take us very long to become attractive to sheep breeders and textile manufacturers."

December 22, 2009