A northern Michigan fiber mill has a unique connection to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Chuck and Debbie McDermott’s Stonehedge Fiber Mill and Yarn Shop in East Jordan supplied the yarn for the Ralph Lauren sweaters and caps Olympians will wear during closing ceremonies.
A Ralph Lauren designer vacationing in Northern Michigan found the yarn mill, by following a Michigan Department of Transportation sign on a rural highway. Debbie McDermott says the woman came in to the shop during the summer of 2012. “She looked at the yarn and purchased a skein of navy shepherds' wool. She said ‘I work for a designer in New York City and I'm going to take this back to the office because I think we could use it in something.’
McDermott says she never heard anything more about the yarn, until about a year later, when a representative from Ralph Lauren called the shop to order 3,000 pounds of the wool, to produce closing ceremonies sweaters and caps for US Olympians. Debbie said, “I got off the phone and my jaw kinda dropped open. My husband was sitting behind me and says, ‘What?’ and I said, that was Ralph Lauren's offices. So it was a big surprise.”
Chuck McDermott recalls the excitement. “The look on her face told me a lot. but I was really happy for her. Because this is all hers. I’m just along for the ride. Everything created here and done has been through her encouragement and requirements and if I don’t do it right the first time, I have to re-do it.”
The yarn mill started as a hobby for the McDermotts when Chuck retired from General Motors more than 20 years ago. He makes all of the equipment that spins about 2,500 pounds of yarn every month. Ralph Lauren bought 3,000 pounds to make the Olympic sweaters and caps.
The McDermotts credit Governor Rick Snyder for his commitment to agriculture and manufacturing. They say the Pure Michigan sign that lead Ralph Lauren to their farm and yarn mill, was key to the Olympic business. To say thank you, they traveled to the Governor’s office in November to present him with his very own Olympic sweater. Governor Snyder said, “Michigan agriculture is a wonderful thing. I think we're going to see a lot of growth. I think having this sweater out there is going to generate a lot more attention and I hope they're ready for the demand they're going to get for more yarn equipment, more yarn, and actually to have more farmers participate in terms of the ability to take their wool and make products. It’s a win for Michigan across the board.”
Stonehedge Fiber Mill and Yarn Shop is a profitable business that supplies yarn to 38 states. Chuck also helps farmers around the world learn how to manufacture their own yarn. The business has 12 employees. Most are family, including the McDermott’s 3 children and grandchildren.