Tom Chap­pell built Tom’s of Maine into a $100 mil­lion busi­ness. Now he’s try­ing to cre­ate the next great madein-Amer­ica fash­ion com­pany.

Inc. (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Andy Isaac­son Pho­tographs by Ben Hoff­mann

Which turns out to be a lot harder than sell­ing fen­nel tooth­paste

re­lo­cated to Asia, but he hadn’t an­tic­i­pated there would be vir­tu­ally no U.S. source for high-qual­ity, soft-fibered wool. So the 74-year-old bought the farm with a per­fectly log­i­cal plan: He would breed the Ram­bouil­let sheep him­self.

It’s not an un­com­mon im­pulse for Chap­pell, who had spent the pre­vi­ous 35 years build­ing Tom’s of Maine, the nat­u­ral per­sonal care com­pany that proved prod­ucts like cal­en­dula de­odor­ant and fen­nel tooth­paste could be­come com­mer­cial suc­cesses. “Tom is an op­ti­mist at heart,” says his wife, Kate, co-founder of Tom’s of Maine. “An op­ti­mist is not nec­es­sar­ily some­one who looks on the bright side of things, but some­one who un­der­stands prac­ti­cal ways things can hap­pen and an­tic­i­pates that they will be successful. Pes­simists say there are so many ob­sta­cles it’s never go­ing to work out.”

But even Chap­pell, who has the pres­ence and bari­tone of a New Eng­land pas­tor, ad­mits that in this in­stance, op­ti­mism gave way to ro­man­ti­cism. “It was more fan­tasy than any well-thoughtout busi­ness idea,” he says of buy­ing the farm. To­day, there are no longer sheep roam­ing the pas­ture (it’s now an en­ergy-neu­tral organic hay op­er­a­tion), but Chap­pell has man­aged to per­suade a hand­ful of Ram­bouil­let sheep ranch­ers out West to se­lect the finest wool from their herds and sell him the fibers at a pre­mium, which he uses as the base fab­ric for Ram­blers Way.

Chap­pell worked his en­tire adult life to grow Tom’s of Maine from an up­start that made hip­pie tooth­paste into a na­tional drug-store-chain sta­ple. The com­pany joined a gen­er­a­tion of like-minded pro­gres­sive brands, in­clud­ing Patag­o­nia, Sev­enth Gen­er­a­tion, and Ben & Jerry’s, that made money by ques­tion­ing busi­ness as usual.

Af­ter sell­ing Tom’s of Maine to Col­gate for $100 mil­lion in 2006, Chap­pell de­cided to join the emerg­ing move­ment of en­trepreneurs work­ing to res­ur­rect U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ing. The son of a tex­tile mill man­ager, Chap­pell wanted to help show the ap­parel in­dus­try that it was pos­si­ble to bring pieces of Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ing back—and pay a seam­stress $14 an hour with a 401(k). “I was afraid that Tom’s would be ex­plained by a nice lit­tle mo­ment in his­tory,” says Chap­pell. “I said to my­self, ‘If what we’ve done here is truly a liv­ing ev­i­dence that busi­ness can be a force for good, then I’d bet­ter do it again.’ ”


an in­dus­try ripe for a makeover. In ar­eas like New Eng­land, where ap­parel and tex­tile man­u­fac­tur­ing was once the eco­nomic back­bone of its ci­ties, jobs have been gut­ted by the shift over­seas. Ap­parel is, like the oil in­dus­try, widely cited as one of the world’s largest pol­luters, be­cause of the use of pes­ti­cides in farm­ing and toxic dyes in man­u­fac­tur­ing. And trendy fast-fash­ion brands con­tinue to fill land­fills and con­trib­ute to la­bor ex­ploita­tion with cheap, dis­pos­able cloth­ing.

But ap­parel is far more com­pli­cated than tooth­paste. Chap­pell has spent the past decade burn­ing through some $18 mil­lion just to bring the Ram­blers Way prod­uct to mar­ket. He’s fig­ured out how to source what he says is the finest wool fiber grown in Amer­ica, and process the yarns, fab­rics, dye­ing, and sewing ac­cord­ing to strin­gent en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards, with­out harm­ful chem­i­cals, and much of it within 300 miles of Ken­neb­unk, Maine, where the com­pany is based.

Even so, Chap­pell is now faced with an even trick­ier task: de­sign­ing a cloth­ing brand that will take hold. Rather than re­cruit the best fash­ion tal­ent out there, he’s de­lib­er­ately made it a fam­ily af­fair, en­list­ing his daugh­ter to head the com­pany’s de­sign, his son to run e-com­merce, and his son-in-law to lead the com­pany’s sup­ply chain. He’s made an ex­pen­sive bet on

tra­di­tional re­tail, hop­ing he can per­suade the pub­lic to pay a pre­mium for Amer­i­can-made, when the av­er­age con­sumer ex­pects low prices.

Chap­pell might be an ex­pert when it comes to per­sonal care prod­ucts and Amer­i­can-made sup­ply chains, but in fash­ion and re­tail, he’s still learn­ing. Re­cently, while meet­ing with a prospec­tive Ram­blers Way in­vestor, the sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian was re­minded that he may be run­ning out of time to get it right. “What I liked about you at Tom’s of Maine is you were very de­lib­er­ate about ev­ery­thing, and you did it all very well,” the in­vestor told Chap­pell. “But right now,” he said, “you’re a man in a hurry.”


he was a nat­u­ral at sell­ing life in­sur­ance. Fresh out of Trin­ity Col­lege with an English de­gree, he got a job at Aetna. He quickly out­per­formed his en­tire class of na­tion­wide recruits, earn­ing an $800 raise. Then he found out the worst per­former was given $600. “Not my idea of dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing top per­for­mance,” Chap­pell says. Re­al­iz­ing a tal­ent for per­sua­sion could gen­er­ate him some wealth, he de­cided the cor­po­rate struc­ture was im­pos­si­bly con­strain­ing. “I wanted to break out, be my­self, and do my own thing,” he says.

Two years later, Chap­pell moved from Philadel­phia to Ken­neb­unk to help his fa­ther start a com­pany. Ge­orge Chap­pell had spent his ca­reer man­ag­ing tex­tile mills in New Eng­land, many of which were shut­ter­ing by the 1960s as the in­dus­try mi­grated to Asia. Af­ter a failed at­tempt at start­ing a wool-man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness, Ge­orge de­cided to cre­ate low-im­pact clean­ing prod­ucts that would serve the re­main­ing tex­tile and tan­ning fac­to­ries, as well as a treat­ment for in­dus­trial waste­water. “Forty-five mil­lion gal­lons of pulp pa­per waste were go­ing into the An­droscog­gin River every day. It was a sewer,” Chap­pell says. “The gov­er­nance of those cor­po­ra­tions felt they couldn’t com­pete with some­thing that was made with dirtcheap prices in man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties that paid no heed to en­vi­ron­men­tal con­trols.” All of this be­gan to shape Chap­pell’s view of what kind of en­tre­pre­neur he wanted to be. “There was noth­ing wrong with busi­ness it­self,” he says. “It was just the moral agents who were the prob­lem.”

By the late 1960s, Tom and Kate had thrown them­selves into organic gar­den­ing and started an al­ter­na­tive school. “We weren’t hip­pies or free-love types,” says Kate, but the cou­ple shared the era’s con­cern over mod­ern meth­ods of farm­ing, man­u­fac­tur­ing, and ed­u­ca­tion. Chap­pell, us­ing what he’d learned about for­mu­la­tion chem­istry in his fa­ther’s busi­ness, got the idea to make nat­u­ral clean­ing prod­ucts. Their first, Ecolo- Out, was a phos­phate-free com­pound for dis­in­fect­ing dairy equip­ment. A con­sumer ver­sion, ClearLake—a biodegrad­able laun­dry de­ter­gent— came in a plas­tic con­tainer along with a ship­ping la­bel so that cus­tomers could mail it back to Ken­neb­unk for re­use. Tom’s of Maine soon branched off into per­sonal care, de­vel­op­ing the prod­uct that would even­tu­ally make the com­pany fa­mous—tooth­paste.

Through the Erewhon Trad­ing Com­pany, a nat­u­ral-foods whole­saler co-founded by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Paul Hawken, the Chap­pells’ prod­ucts found their way into spe­cialty health-food stores. Their folksy mes­sag­ing (“Dear friends, write us back

and tell us what you think”) and in­sis­tence on list­ing in­gre­di­ents be­fore there were fed­eral la­bel­ing re­quire­ments res­onated with an emer­gent con­sumer con­scious­ness and earned them a small but loyal fol­low­ing. But Chap­pell had big­ger am­bi­tions. In 1981, he hired con­sumer spe­cial­ists from Gil­lette and Proc­ter & Gam­ble and stocked the Tom’s board with vet­er­ans from Booz Allen Hamil­ton and Har­vard Busi­ness School. Tom’s of Maine was soon do­ing a few mil­lion in sales, and had be­come one of the first nat­u­ral prod­ucts to land in na­tional su­per­mar­ket and drug-store chains, reach­ing shop­pers who wouldn’t be caught dead in a nat­u­ral-food store.

The com­pany was grow­ing at an an­nual rate of 25 per­cent, yet in Chap­pell’s view some­thing had been lost. “I wasn’t liv­ing on the edge of some­thing cre­ative. I felt dead in­side,” he says. In 1986, the prac­tic­ing Epis­co­palian en­rolled part time in Har­vard Di­vin­ity School. He con­tin­ued run­ning Tom’s while pur­su­ing a four-year mas­ter’s de­gree in the­ol­ogy, im­mers­ing him­self in philo­soph­i­cal teach­ings dur­ing his com­mute to Bos­ton twice a week. The ex­pe­ri­ence helped re­vi­tal­ize his core val­ues, along with his com­pany’s mis­sion. Chap­pell be­gan invit­ing phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sors to speak with his board of di­rec­tors, he com­mit­ted 10 per­cent of Tom’s of Maine’s pre­tax prof­its to char­ity, and he en­cour­aged work­ers to spend 5 per­cent of their paid work time do­ing vol­un­teer ser­vice. “Bu­ber, Kant—these are my dead men­tors,” says Chap­pell. “Busi­ness the­ory all comes out of phi­los­o­phy any­way.”

In 2006, hav­ing run Tom’s of Maine for 35 years, Chap­pell felt it was time to sell. He was tired of be­ing a man­ager, and Kate had re­turned to her pre­vi­ous work as an artist. He was also con­cerned that com­peti­tors would get bought out by big­ger com­pa­nies, erod­ing the mar­ket share of his $45 mil­lion busi­ness, which lacked the dis­tri­bu­tion and R&D as­sets nec­es­sary to grow. “We had run out of en­ergy,” Chap­pell says. He sold his life’s work to Col­gate for $100 mil­lion.


Chap­pell and his son Matt flew to Wales for a two-week trek. Hik­ing eight hours a day through sun and rain, he was irked that the var­i­ous base lay­ers of cloth­ing he’d packed—cot­ton, polyester, and wool— did not keep him at once warm, dry, and smelling fresh. From his dad, Chap­pell knew his way around the wool tex­tile in­dus­try. What would it take to start his own com­pany?

When he re­turned home, Chap­pell im­me­di­ately be­gan school­ing him­self in wool. The nat­u­ral fiber had a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing warm but itchy, and had fallen out of fa­vor with out­doorsy types, who pre­ferred the syn­thetic base-layer per­for­mance ma­te­ri­als that emerged in the 1980s. More re­cently, how­ever, a num­ber of brands, such as Ice­breaker and SmartWool, had re­vived some ex­cite­ment around wool by em­ploy­ing a softer merino im­ported from Aus­tralia and New Zealand. Wool has the unique abil­ity to wick away mois­ture, pre­vent germ growth that causes body odor, and in­su­late the body from both heat and cold. It didn’t take long for Chap­pell’s re­search to morph into his next big busi­ness idea: Make a light­weight, com­fort­able wool per­for­mance shirt, in the U.S., and free of chem­i­cal ad­di­tives.

“My good­ness, all over again?” Kate re­calls think­ing when her hus­band told her his plan. “This was even harder than mak­ing tooth­paste.” This time around, Chap­pell wanted to build a com­pany that had his ethos wo­ven through every de­tail. The wool-man­u­fac­tur­ing process—from rais­ing the sheep to cre­at­ing the fab­ric to sewing the ap­parel—would take place in the U.S. and ad­here to the high­est en­vi­ron­men­tal and la­bor prac­tices. In build­ing this com­pany, he’d also cre­ate a busi­ness for his chil­dren to carry on. “It had the emo­tional div­i­dend of hon­or­ing my fa­ther,” says Chap­pell. Within weeks, he had com­mit­ted nearly $5 mil­lion of his own cap­i­tal to hatch Ram­blers Way.

Chap­pell an­tic­i­pated a chal­lenge, but not that it would take him seven years to build a sup­ply chain. At Tom’s of Maine, he never had to look far to find a source of pep­per­mint oil for fla­vor­ing tooth­paste, or a humec­tant, an in­gre­di­ent to keep it moist. But af­ter mak­ing calls to the Amer­i­can Ram­bouil­let Sheep Breed­ers As­so­ci­a­tion ( like merino, Ram­bouil­let is a high- qual­ity, soft-fiber wool), as well as tex­tile mills and knit­ters from South Carolina to Maine, Chap­pell dis­cov­ered that a do­mes­tic sup­ply for what he wanted to make was prac­ti­cally nonex­is­tent.

Most Amer­i­can sheep ranch­ers don’t fo­cus on rais­ing sheep for wool, which gen­er­ates less rev­enue than their pri­mary busi­ness, meat pro­duc­tion. An av­er­age flock of Ram­bouil­let yields wool with mi­cron counts (a mea­sure of how fine and well-combed the wool is) be­tween 23, which is still course, and 17, the finest. To make a wool shirt soft enough to wear against the skin with­out be­ing scratchy, Chap­pell needed to find wool un­der 19 mi­crons. “No one could tell us how much of it there was,” re­calls Chap­pell’s son-in-law Nick Ar­men­trout, who had a farm out­side Ken­neb­unk and knew a thing or two more than Chap­pell did about ranch­ing, which was noth­ing. That’s when Chap­pell de­cided to buy that 85-acre farm and hatched the am­bi­tious plan to breed 1,000 Ram­bouil­let sheep. He ended up pur­chas­ing 125 of them, but soon pulled the plug— ul­ti­mately con­vinc­ing ranch­ers in Mon­tana, Nevada, and Texas to sell him Ram­bouil­let wool fibers at a pre­mium.

Next, Chap­pell needed to fig­ure out who could process the wool. He be­gan search­ing for man­u­fac­tur­ers, most of which had moved over­seas decades ago. Thanks to a World War II–era rule stip­u­lat­ing that the De­fense Depart­ment give pref­er­ence to Amer­i­can-made or -sourced cloth­ing, he found a few that pro­duced blended wool items for the U.S. gov­ern­ment. But when Chap­pell reached out to them—in­clud­ing a large tex­tile maker in North Carolina—he hardly found will­ing col­lab­o­ra­tors. “I said, ‘We need it to be knit­ted into ex­tremely light­weight fab­ric,’ and they said, ‘That can’t be done.’ I said, ‘Why?’ They said, ‘Let us tell you how it’s done,’ ” he re­calls. Chap­pell, who had re­cently started tak­ing hand-spin­ning lessons, was learn­ing to speak to the in­tri­ca­cies of wool tex­tile pro­duc­tion. He also had more than three decades’ worth of ex­pe­ri­ence per­suad­ing peo­ple to do things that were un­con­ven­tional at the time. “I had to be a bit of a hard ass so they knew I wasn’t an­other crafts guy, but that I had busi­ness in mind,” he says. Within three months, the North Carolina man­u­fac­turer did Ram­blers Way’s first fab­ric run and Chap­pell fi­nally got to hold the wool he had been imag­in­ing all this time—so light, it was al­most like a sec­ond skin. “There was no go­ing back,” he says.

Ram­blers Way’s first prod­uct, launched in 2009, was a light­weight wool jer­sey. The early shirts were nei­ther fash­ion­for­ward nor even that com­mer­cial—be­cause the dye­ing process in ap­parel man­u­fac­tur­ing is so toxic, Chap­pell in­sisted they come only in “blond,” the nat­u­ral off-white color of sheep’s wool. Soon cus­tomers were ask­ing for more col­ors and styles—pants, but­ton- down shirts, sweaters—which got him think­ing that Ram­blers Way could be­come more than just a per­for­mance wear busi­ness; it could be­come a full-fledged ap­parel brand.

To do this, Chap­pell spent the next sev­eral years cob­bling to­gether more pieces of a sup­ply chain. He en­rolled in a pro­gram at North Carolina State Univer­sity to learn an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly com­mer­cial dye process. Un­able to find a do­mes­tic sus­tain­able dye­ing fa­cil­ity, he built his own in Ken­neb­unk. Since there was no organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for treat­ing Amer­i­can wool to be ma­chine wash­able, Chap­pell came up with a sys­tem of ship­ping raw U.S. wool to a cer­ti­fiedor­ganic fiber-clean­ing fa­cil­ity in Ger­many, and then re-im­port­ing it to a cer­ti­fied-organic yarn spin­ner in Maine. He lo­cated a weaver in Worces­ter, Mas­sachusetts, who could pro­duce her­ring­bone wool fab­ric, and a cou­ple in New York City’s bor­ough of Brook­lyn who pos­sessed a ma­chine com­monly found in Italy that can knit fine-wool sweaters. Chap­pell even dou­bled as Ram­blers Way’s own en­vi­ron­men­tal-im­pact as­ses­sor, draw­ing from the knowl­edge he’d gained work­ing in his fa­ther’s wastew­a­tertreat­ment busi­ness. “We had to keep putting pieces to­gether just to get an Amer­i­can-made so­lu­tion,” Chap­pell says.

With all the tech­ni­cal hur­dles be­hind him, 2015 should have been the year Chap­pell could fi­nally take a deep breath. He had put so much en­ergy into as­sem­bling the sup­ply chain; he now had to ac­tu­ally get peo­ple to buy the gar­ments. His strat­egy had been to sell Ram­blers Way cloth­ing through in­de­pen­dent stores. To re­duce risk, he’d given re­tail­ers his prod­uct to sell on con­sign­ment. But many of them were get­ting hit by the shift to e-com­merce and weren’t par­tic­u­larly mo­ti­vated to ed­u­cate con­sumers about an ex­pen­sive, no-name organic-wool brand. “I knew that with Tom’s of Maine we could make lit­tle mis­takes

“The per­cent­age of con­sumers will­ing to pay more for made-in-Amer­ica ap­parel is small, yet the ma­jor­ity think it’s a good idea. What’s the prob­lem? Price.”

but were saved by a health-food in­dus­try that was grow­ing rapidly,” says Chap­pell. “But good re­tail­ers around for gen­er­a­tions were go­ing out of busi­ness.” Those shut­ter­ing weren’t pay­ing Ram­blers Way or send­ing back prod­uct. Sales were lack­lus­ter. By the end of that year, the com­pany was on the verge of go­ing out of busi­ness. “We didn’t have a win­ning propo­si­tion,” con­cedes Chap­pell, who at that point had per­son­ally in­vested $14.5 mil­lion in the com­pany. “I knew I was about to lose all we had built and gained. I asked my­self, ‘Do you pack it in, or is there an­other way?’ ”


store in Hanover, New Hamp­shire, half a block from Dart­mouth Col­lege, has all the up­scale ar­ti­san sig­ni­fiers in place— ex­posed brick, check­ered ter­razzo floor, and me­tal wire bas­kets. When Chap­pell opened it in De­cem­ber, it was af­ter a painful year and a half reimag­in­ing his com­pany’s busi­ness model. His wife and daugh­ter had urged him to ex­pand Ram­blers Way into re­tail. Con­trol­ling the en­tire shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence, they ar­gued, meant the brand could be­come its own pitch­man. So Chap­pell had scrapped it all— dis­solv­ing his sales force, pulling out of 150 re­tail ac­counts, and ditch­ing trade shows and ad­ver­tis­ing. “We just aban­doned it,” he says.

Over the next five years, Chap­pell plans to go full throt­tle into re­tail, rolling out 14 more stores across the coun­try. He’s re­cently raised an­other $2 mil­lion for the blowout, spend­ing top dol­lar for leases—1,500- to 2,000-square-foot show­rooms—in prime mar­kets, and re­cently re­launched the com­pany’s e-com­merce site, all to court a con­sumer the com­pany de­scribes in­ter­nally as the younger ur­ban­ite who travels “from Bos­ton to Boli­nas.” Be­ing a ver­ti­cally in­te­grated Amer­i­can-made re­tailer, Chap­pell ar­gues, also gives Ram­blers Way—which now sells ev­ery­thing from a $250 asym­met­ri­cal wool wrap dress to a $460 men’s worsted wool jacket—a unique ad­van­tage, since it con­trols the in­ven­tory down to the wool.

But Chap­pell’s ap­proach of learn­ing on the fly has left him sus­cep­ti­ble to mis­takes that might be ob­vi­ous to vet­er­ans of fash­ion. “We didn’t un­der­stand as a com­pany that fit was im­por­tant. Not just fit, but qual­ity of de­sign,” con­cedes Chap­pell of the brand’s cloth­ing, which un­til this year, he says, fit in­con­sis­tently from one sea­son to the next. In­stead of try­ing to re­cruit the most cov­eted mer­chan­dis­ers and de­sign­ers across fash­ion and re­tail—ar­guably the most ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive way to give the nascent brand a boost— Chap­pell has re­lied mostly on his daugh­ter El­iza to lead the com­pany’s de­sign. Only re­cently, 10 years into the busi­ness, has he hired a women’s wear de­signer to work along­side her, as well as two sea­soned de­sign­ers from Tim­ber­land and Columbia Sports­wear to run menswear.

Chap­pell’s bet on tra­di­tional re­tail is risky, and at times he sounds overly con­fi­dent. “You put a store in Hanover, and all of a sud­den it’s a mil­lion dol­lars [in sales],” says Chap­pell, who’s cur­rently try­ing to raise an­other $5 mil­lion. “And if I put a store in Portsmouth, it’s $1.2 mil­lion.” But that cal­cu­la­tion is wildly op­ti­mistic. “The fail­ure rate of spe­cial­ties [re­tail­ers] runs about 43 per­cent within the first three years,” says NPD ap­parel an­a­lyst Mar­shal Co­hen. “With the on­slaught of in­ter­net com­merce, that rate is ac­cel­er­at­ing.”

Chap­pell also has to con­vince con­sumers they should fork over more for lo­cal, sus­tain­ably sourced cloth­ing that is more ex­pen­sive to pro­duce—some­thing that many brands have tried and failed to do. “The per­cent­age of con­sumers will­ing to pay more for made-in­Amer­ica ap­parel is small, yet the ma­jor­ity of them think it’s a good idea,” he says. “What’s the prob­lem? Price. And a lack of knowl­edge of the cost to the world and other peo­ple glob­ally.” He’s hop­ing to ride the bur­geon­ing move­ment in “slow fash­ion” (see “Fashionably Slow,” page 94)—peo­ple car­ing about eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion of their clothes— to help win Ram­blers Way the loyal cus­tomer base that Chap­pell once en­joyed with Tom’s of Maine. “You just need to start with a tar­get au­di­ence to fi­nance your ven­ture by their will­ing­ness to pay 50 per­cent more,” in­sists Chap­pell, not­ing that in its early days his tooth­paste cost twice as much as Crest be­fore he was able to re­duce the price.

Chap­pell has dis­cov­ered that build­ing an Amer­i­can-made sup­ply chain is never a fin­ished job. The en­tire en­deavor is at once ex­haust­ingly prac­ti­cal and re­lent­lessly quixotic. As his vol­ume of or­ders grows and new wool up­starts like Duck­worth and Voormi emerge, he’s hop­ing the de­mand will per­suade more Amer­i­can tex­tile sup­pli­ers to get organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. But these new com­peti­tors are also fight­ing over the same limited do­mes­tic sup­ply of low-mi­cron wool, which means Chap­pell might even­tu­ally have to source his from a pro­ces­sor in Ger­many. If that hap­pens, the cost of Ram­blers Way cloth­ing could come down, but it would par­tially be at the ex­pense of the com­pany’s mis­sion. Mean­while, a few years ago, the coun­try’s first organic-cer­ti­fied yarn dyer sur­faced in Saco, Maine—only 15 min­utes from Ram­blers Way head­quar­ters— so Chap­pell has since been able to re­lo­cate some of his dy­ing process there. “Per­haps it was a naive idea want­ing to do tex­tiles in Amer­ica again,” says Chap­pell, sip­ping tea in his farm­house. “But all the forces are go­ing in our fa­vor now.”

“An op­ti­mist is not nec­es­sar­ily some­one who looks on the bright side of things, but some­one who un­der­stands prac­ti­cal ways things can hap­pen.”

THE MAINE DE­SIGNER El­iza Chap­pell, who leads the brand’s cloth­ing and store de­sign, says of her fa­ther, Tom, “Busi­ness is his min­istry.”

REROUTE TO RE­TAIL Af­ter years as a whole­saler, Ram­blers Way re­cently piv­oted to re­tail, with its third new store—this one in Portsmouth, New Hamp­shire—and 14 more in the pipe­line.

LO­CALLY GROWN Al­most all Ram­blers Way man­u­fac­tur­ing— in­clud­ing sewing—is done within 300 miles of Ken­neb­unk, Maine.

YEARS IN THE MAK­ING Top: Be­fore co-found­ing Tom’s of Maine in the late 1960s, Chap­pell and his wife, Kate, cre­ated ClearLake, a biodegrad­able laun­dry de­ter­gent. Bot­tom: Tom’s of Maine tooth­paste was one of the first nat­u­ral prod­ucts to land in na­tional drug store chains.

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