You've heard of farm-to-table. Get ready for sheep-to-shelf. That's the concept behind Duckworth, a new all-American, single-source wool clothing company coming out of Bozeman, Montana.
The brainchild of the unlikely triumvirate of a veteran sports marketer, a British textile guru and a sheep rancher, Duckworth is disrupting the standard supply chain for fine wool—by moving every step of it stateside.
Like any idea worth its salt, it was conceived on the ski slopes. "Through the ski network I met John Helle," says Duckworth co-founder Robert "Bernie" Bernthal, an outdoor industry journeyman who recently moved to Bozeman. Helle is a third-generation Montana sheep rancher and a ski patroller at Maverick Mountain. "He owns the largest flock of fine wool in the United States—which means less than 19-and-a-half microns," says Bernthal. "I thought the U.S. only grew course wool. I had no idea that this skier-guy had this massive supply of fine wool."
Bernthal is no stranger to the wool world. He worked for Duofold, the base layer apparel company, in the early '90s while living and skiing in Switzerland, and in 2005 helped found I/O, an Australia-based merino wool baselayer company. He knew that most wool worn in the U.S. started Down Under and bounced around between Malaysia, China, and Vietnam before making the trip halfway around the world. "It was cumbersome, and, honestly, it just didn't make us feel good," says Bernthal, who parted ways with I/O in the late 2000s.
"I told John, I'm really tired of the supply chain. I'd really like to see a product go from start to finish right here in the United States," Bernthal says. "He said, I'm really tired of selling my wool into the supply chain and watching it disappear. I would love to see an end product made from our wool."
Bernie introduced Helle to Graham Stewart, one of the world's foremost experts in wool textiles and Bernie's partner in launching I/O. Before long, the pieces were in place, and a completely vertical wool company was born. The name Duckworth came from a crotchety old British textile mill manager that Bernthal and Stewart met during their days in the industry, but was chosen because it harkens back to the rugged individualist roots of outdoor life.
"You don't have to be this 125-pound mountain athlete to enjoy outdoor life," Bernthal says. "You can chop wood, drink beers around a fire. That's part of outdoor life. That's what we believe in." To that end, Duckworth isn't just another underwear company trying to make its way into the ski industry. They plan to range close to 40 products, from ultra-light baselayers, to classic waffled long underwear shirts, to fleeces and button-downs, and a wool-fill puffy.
The Duckworth process starts at the Helle Rambouillet Ranch near Dillon, Montana, where the sheep are raised and sheered. The wool is then shipped to South Carolina to be processed into top, the raw material for yarn. From there it goes to North Carolina to be spun into yarn, knitted into fabric, and cut and sewn into garments. Bernthal says their process cuts out more than 20,000 miles from the supply chain.
The line will feature about 20 different pieces for men, and 20 for women and will hit specialty stores across the country in July. Just in time for those skiers are getting ready for wood-chopping bonfire season.