Now that autumn has officially arrived,
with cool mornings and evenings and warm afternoons, Ibex’s Shak Lite Full Zip is my near daily go-to. I’ve worn it for hikes, until I’m fully warm for trail runs, for mountain and road rides, and for bumming around.
The wool is soft as any fleece, but naturally elastic; the Shak Lite has grown on me, literally, becoming more form fitting over time, rounding over my forearms and shoulders, accommodating me like an old sweater. Only the fit is more athletic, thinner, snugger, with long arms, the better to utilize the built-in thumb loops, and a full-zip front.
But it’s not, as wool fans might guess, merino.
It’s Rambouillet, a genetic variant of merino sheep bred in the Spanish Pyrenees centuries ago to bring about greater cold resistance. Rambouillet was first brought to Montana from Spain in the 1900s and today Ibex is one of a few companies to use USA-grown Rambouillet wool. And, because it’s a proud American brand, Vermont-based Ibex is jumping through hoops to keep production here,harvesting the wool from a family of Montana farmers who go back three generations, processing it in South and North Carolina, then shipping it to California for construction where (mostly) immigrants from Southeast Asia do the complex sewing.
If that cross-country trek sounds like a long supply chain, it’s still much shorter, with a much smaller carbon footprint, than if Ibex sourced wool in New Zealand and had it shipped to China or Vietnam for construction, and then sent to a distributor in the States.
This is an experiment on Ibex’s part, however. The brand’s Field to Fabrication project is designed to measure whether customers really will pay more for 100 percent U.S made and sourced clothing. Ibex admits it’s a struggle. Domestic wool is making a legitimate rebound. But the mills to spin the wool into yarn and the know-how to cut and sew complicated patterns into technical clothing have all but disappeared.
All of that is one reason the Shak Lite costs more than comparable tops.
And that’s one reason the Shak Lite was shot on a freshly harvested crate of apples, apples that were picked near me by Jamaican and Haitian hands. Ibex is essentially asking the same question with Field to Fabrication: Will we pay more for something hard won, right here at home, often built by new Americans. Just how much is it worth to us?