New Hanover Business Touts Stylish, High-Quality Garments Made from Nature
Feb 10, 2017 11:51AM
By Gabrielle Varela
Ramblers Way is a clothing company specializing in fashionable garments made from the natural fibers of worsted Rambouillet wool and pima cotton, so you can wear them from hike to happy hour comfortably. This is the newest business venture of founder and former CEO Tom Chappell of Tom’s of Maine, the all-natural personal-care product line.
After selling Tom’s of Maine to Colgate-Palmolive in 2006, Tom launched Ramblers Way in May 2008, inspired by his experiences on a trek through Wales with his son. He became interested in finding a fiber that could adjust to the body’s changing temperatures after his own performance gear proved inadequate. Thus, Ramblers Way was born from his love of nature as well as style.
The name, Ramblers Way, is derived from a walking trail in England that offers right of way to walk across land that is privately owned. Taken by how much beautiful space and open land was accessible to walkers across rural areas and between farms, Tom chose the name to describe the intentions of the products.
Buzzwords like all-natural and sustainable can sometimes be a burden to budding companies because of their crunchy associations that imply handmade instead of handcrafted. However, this eco-brand is an ethical clothing line you’ll wear with timeless style—think luxury, not lumpish.
“When we started Tom’s of Maine, we were calling it natural, but there was no government definition, so we took the position to define it ourselves,” describes Tom in a phone interview. “The same is true for sustainability, but when you get a certification, you get strict conditions of manufacture. Organic does mean something very definite in those terms, and we need to educate our customers as we go.”
After extensive research for a natural fiber for “next to skin” performance shirts, Tom learned that wool has the ability to insulate the body from heat and cold while letting moisture out. Wool from Rambouillet sheep, in particular, is thin enough to create soft, lightweight apparel.
“America was a leading industry in textiles and clothing going back to the first half of the 20th century,” says Tom. “The idea of sustainability is growing, an idea that can relate well to the clothing industry.” He adds, “Sustainability means not harmful to the environment and also being able to make a high-quality garment that looks great and is fashionable and well designed. To be able to meet the look and feel and do it with American-made materials in a sustainable way is quite exciting.” Ramblers Way sources wool from farms in Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, and Colorado; it’s spun and knit in the Carolinas and dyed, sewn, and finished in the Northeast.
This year the brand achieved its GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), a processing standard for textiles made from organic fibers. While Ramblers Way also uses Pima cotton, a cotton propagated by the Pima Indians of the American Southwest that is soft, durable, and grown using low-water and pesticide-free methods, the GOTS certification gives the brand access to a global supply of fine organic materials.
Tom’s daughter Eliza is designing the women’s wear, working with two men’s wear designers for the Ramblers Way collection. “Eliza has her own weaving loom,” says Tom. “She has been interested in materials all her life, with inspiration from many different sources. But my interest in nice-looking clothes has certainly had an influence. She grew up in a family accustomed to nice-looking and nice-feeling garments.” Tom descends from a line of textile-mill owners in Massachusetts, and his wife is a descendant of the founders of Cheney Silk Mills in Manchester, Connecticut.
This is the second location for the brand; the first is in Kennebunk, and there’s an upcoming opening in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They have received a warm welcome in the opening weeks. Bill Crates, general manager, who has been in Hanover for 25 years, says he was “sort of retired” before coming across the opportunity to manage the Hanover location. “It’s fun and exciting. This brand works very well with the Hanover culture,” he notes.
Dartmouth is familiar with Tom Chappell, not only as the former owner of Tom’s of Maine but also from his time attending seminars and guest lecturing on sustainable and ethical business practices at Dartmouth’s Tuck School. “We knew Hanover was a special place, and that it is where people are moving,” he says. “It has a stable economy, and we like the diverse and intellectual nature of a college community.”
While the company intends to keep the shopping experience small and intimate with its retail stores, they hope to open more shops across the country, with an upcoming opening in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and they have their sights set on other Northeast locations such as Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. “We like creating new styles while also being sure that we have the same year-round classic items that define our brand,” says Tom.
Moving forward, Tom says his excitement lies in having their own stores and giving customers a very clear impression of what Ramblers Way is offering from nature. They look forward to introducing new elements on top of a basic year-round business, with new linen blends available to them within the GOTS community.
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All photo credit to: Scott Mohler