Ralph and Debby DiMeo
Ralph and Debby DiMeo, developers of a high-tech wool fabric called WeatherWool®, cringe when they recall a comment in an online forum discussing the military’s testing of wool garments. “Are they going to give us muskets next?” a serviceman asked.
“It’s a widespread sentiment,” says Ralph. “Very few people realize that Nature’s technology is still far more advanced than anything humans have developed.”The sophistication of wool. (Image: American Sheep Institute)
Too many people have become accustomed to synthetics, according to the DiMeos. But if you really want to face Mother Nature’s harshest conditions in true comfort, they say, you have to use Mother Nature’s own best inventions. For Ralph and Debby, that means ultra-premium American Rambouillet Merino wool that is incredibly rugged, super-soft, naturally repels water, is flame retardant and keeps you exceptionally warm.
A majestic ram. (Image: PM Ranch)
It’s very clear when you sit down to talk with Ralph and Debby, which we recently did, that they are passionate about wool. Years ago, the DiMeos were distributors of outdoor apparel for another manufacturer. Ralph found himself fascinated by the untapped capabilities of wool. Using his own experience as an outdoorsman, along with feedback that was coming in from the field, he proposed a plan to try and make “the best wool garment that it was possible to make.” His idea didn’t get much traction so he decided it was time to branch out on his own.
WeatherWool: fashion and performance. Top, Heath Gunns (second from right) of Honored American Veterans Afield. Bottom, a fashion shoot with Chase Burnett at Revelation Farms.
Today, Ralph, Debby and their son, Alex are the proud producers of WeatherWool, the “hardcore luxury(tm)” fabric that has become a favorite among the toughest outdoor enthusiasts and the most pampered upscale shoppers. (Click here for the almost comically intense field test conducted by a lifelong outdoorsman who later gave up his longtime favorite coat for a Weatherwool garment.) The DiMeos say they “get a kick out of” the idea that “The garments worn for performance in extreme conditions by our Military in Afghanistan are also worn for looks and style and comfort on city streets.”Debby DiMeo checks the fit on a prototype coat.
So what, exactly, is Weatherwool? Debby says it is the fulfillment of Ralph’s long-ago dream; “The best pure-American pure-woolen garments we can figure out how to make.”
– The sheep are raised on select ranches in the United States where they may be exposed -without shelter- to temperatures from below zero to well over a hundred degrees, producing a very special wool.
– Because they buy from sheep breeders -ranchers who typically sell sheep and not wool – the DiMeos have access to a quality level that few people have ever had the opportunity to wear.
– WeatherWool is rugged but so soft it can be worn directly against the skin, a combination that does not always go hand-in-hand with ordinary wool. Against-the-skin comfort eliminates the need for liner fabrics that are sewn around the neck and wrists in other woolen garments. Water turns these liners into wet rags that rapidly suck heat from the wearer.
– The wool goes to a plant in Texas to be scoured, just like lots of other wool. But Weatherwool is only processed on Monday mornings. Why? Because the machines are cleaned over the weekend and the DiMeos insist that no lower-quality fibers get into their product.
– The wool is spun into yarn by Woolrich, a company based in Pennsylvania since the 1830s.
– The fabric is woven on a jacquard loom – a machine considered by some to be the first computer. The technology dates back to the early 1800s and makes possible the production of textured fabric like tapestries. This is where Weatherwool gets its dense, three-dimensional thickness and its exceptional ability to trap body heat. According to Ralph and Debby, the Jacquard weave also makes Weatherwool comfortable in a wide range of weather conditions and activities. “One of the things that is really neat about wool is that it traps your heat when you need it to, but it does not make you hot when it is warm. A WeatherWool outfit that is perfect for 40F will also get the job done in 15F or in 70F. That’s mainly why we like wool in the first place.”
– After looming, the fabric goes back to Woolrich for finishing, after which it’s time to make the garments. American contract manufacturers cut and sew all garments, which include a variety of Weatherwool jackets, coats, pants, vests, hats and more.
Bill McConnell of TV’s Dual Survival in WeatherWool.
The are only two negatives to Weatherwool that we could determine. First, It does not have the wind-blocking capabilities of synthetic fabric. (The only person to ever return a Weatherwool garment was a hunter who spent long hours in a windy tree stand.) And second, it is water-resistant as opposed to waterproof, though its special weave, along with the quality of the wool, means you can stay out in the rain for an extended period without getting wet and snow is easily brushed off.
“Wool can be made impervious to both wind and rain,” Ralph says. “But — and this is a big deal in the garment industry — in my opinion, [a garment that is] windproof AND breathable does not exist. And if a garment does not breathe, then sweat builds up inside, which is a very bad thing in a serious situation. So, we designed the WeatherWool to withstand about 15mph wind … which is a strong wind.”
Blaine Anthony, TV’s “The Bear Whisperer” in WeatherWool. Here, you get a closer view of the copyrighted Lynx pattern.
The DiMeos say that, at every decision point along the way, they have chosen to make their fabric and garments better rather than cut costs. An example is their ban on cotton. Many wool garments have cotton warp (the threads that run lengthwise through a bolt of fabric) as well as cotton thread. WeatherWool is pure wool and the thread is mil-spec hydrophobic nylon. “We eliminated all cotton from our fabric, which was a big expense but also a big win,” Ralph explained, because they don’t want the cotton soaking up water when the wool is doing everything it can to repel it.
Outdoors-media personality and writer Leo Grizzaffi in a WeatherWool ShirtJac.
Decisions like these mean that the DiMeos have chosen a hard road for themselves: it isn’t easy to get people to drop $425 for a shirt-jac, $575 for an Anorak or $850 for an all-around jacket, even if it is the “best that can be made” and Made-in-America.
This last point led us to an interesting discussion. Why, we pondered, do people spend so much money on their winter toys (hunting equipment, ice fishing gear, ice climbing supplies, etc.) but balk at opening their wallets to buy clothes that could allow them to fully enjoy those toys despite the temperature? None of us had a really good answer for that, though Ralph recalled an outdoor enthusiast who told him that the best way to shop was to “Buy once; cry once,” meaning that a quality item that might outlast you in this world would cause you upset just once – when you paid for it.
We took this advice to heart when purchasing an incredible hat for Kathy, who suffers jaw pain whenever her ears get cold. She says it’s “the warmest hat she’s ever owned.” Paul will have to wait for next winter’s budget to buy the Al’s Anorak, but the DiMeos let him put one through its paces. He wore it to split and stack firewood, take long walks with the dog and clear the snow drift that the city plows generously deposited in front of our home. He loved the warmth and the comfort and highly recommends it.
If Paul does get a Weatherwool garment next year, chances are it might be a little different than the one he tested. You see, the DiMeos believe in continuous improvement and their garments are in a constant state of change. They take input from the field and look to improve the form, fit and most importantly the function of the garments. In fact, on our way out the door Debby noticed the map pocket on Paul’s vintage Woolrich jacket and asked if she could snap a few photos – she might want to use a feature like that in the future, she said.