Buy Local: Vermont's Ibex Makes Warm Woollens for the Wilderness
Based in White River Junction, the apparel company specializes in Merino wool, using it in everything from underwear to jeans
The idea of Merino wool sounds so nice. Even the name sounds nice.
Say it. Merino.
To steal a line from the old movie Philadelphia Story, it sounds like dancing, doesn’t it?
But Merino wool as workout clothing? Isn't it too scratchy? And hot?
There’s a thriving company from White River Junction, Vermont, whose entire existence proves otherwise. Ibex Outdoor Clothing specializes in quality, high-performance Merino wool. Headquartered in an old car dealership in a town of 2,300 located 145 kilometres (90 miles) southeast of Burlington, Ibex has won attention from fashionable outdoorsy types worldwide especially thanks to its Taos plaid snap button shirt – possibly the hottest New England clothing item this side of L.L. Beans Duck Boots.
Courtesy Ibex Outdoor Clothing
A women’s version of the Taos shirt just came out to add to the men’s. It’s a mid-layer fashion-meets-function shirt that’s meant to go between the wool base layers you wear under it and the sweater you wear over it.
The company was started by three buddies who were frustrated by the lack of natural fibre in the outdoor clothing industry. Wool from the Merino breed of sheep was a logical choice, explains Regan Betts, Ibex’s brand director.
“Because of its inherent properties, Merino wool is known for its high quality, waterproof properties. It’s anti-microbial, and doesn’t hold smell. Synthetics tend to smell more quickly,” Betts says.
Merino wool also sports a natural breathability, and so is able to regulate body temperatures. Don’t believe us? Ask the sheep. The lightweight wool keeps the creatures warm even when it’s wet, and doesn’t bog them down. “The Merino sheep’s wool is ultra-fine, which is why it’s so great for making base layers,” Betts says.
In the summer months it keeps them cool by wicking away any moisture. As with sheep, so with sweaty athletes.
Fans love that it’s a sustainable fibre, and that you can feel a breeze through it on warm days. But despite these credentials workout wool remains a hard sell because of worries over itchiness.
Our trial run
To see for myself, I ordered one of the base shirts from Ibex’s Woolies collection to test it. It arrived by mail in a few short days, in a cute little cardboard box. The the rib-knit shirt felt soft on my fingers. The label – “Made in Canada from New Zealand Wool” – felt satisfying, too.
I tried on the shirt, and it was a tiny bit scratchy at first. Yet the longer I wore it, the more comfortable it felt. Taking a winter walk on a frozen lake, I loved its breathability. And at the risk of oversharing, I also appreciated that it didn’t stink after we got sweaty under our layers and parkas.
Merino wool makes a good travel piece, too. After washing and hanging the shirt, I was surprised to watch as it dried more quickly than cotton items. (You’ll see the value of this if you've ever washed cotton socks or a T-shirt in a hotel sink only to despair of them drying before your week-long holiday is up.) The Ibex shirt also didn’t feel like the hardened plastic that synthetic sometimes feels like when it is left to air-dry.
Finally, after it dried I wore it to bed. It’s lightweight, but kept me toasty on a below-freezing February night.
Wild and woolly new ideas
So Ibex woollens keep you warm, no question. But can they also make you cool?
Ibex works hard to establish and promote its brand credentials. Staff make a point of telling you that they test products while hiking the Appalachian trails, or climbing Vermont’s Green Mountains. They talk a lot about corporate responsibility, highlighting the supply chain and working with global partners who are carefully vetted and must tell Ibex “what their factories are doing for their employees,” Betts says. (While many Ibex items are made in the United States and Canada, others are manufactured in China and Vietnam.)
Meanwhile the company continues to innovate with wool. “We thought, ‘What can we merge wool with? How about cotton to make a denim?’ ” Betts says. The result was Ibex’s recent collaboration with Noble Denim, a Cincinnati-based maker of premium jeans brand. The two companies tested wool cotton ratios with a Japanese mill to create the perfect weight, eventually settling on a 60% wool and 40% cotton weave.
The Wool Denim Noble Collab jean is a lightweight, brushed Merino wool and cotton blend that looks like a jean and feels like a jean, yet they’re about half a pound lighter than the average pair of denims. Meanwhile they’re said to be as comfortable as those old pair of sweats you kick back in, but much better-looking. The jeans also features a neat leather label at the back; Ibex partners with an Amish company to make those.
Courtesy Ibex Outdoor Clothing
As of now, they’re made for men only (and selling out fast). But luckily boyfriend jeans are an ongoing trend …
Shopping note: While retailers all over North America sell Ibex clothes, the company has three stores of its own. Visit this one next time you’re in the Boston area, and watch for an annual Ibex warehouse sale in Berlin, Vermont, in early October.