HUFFMAN’S BUFFALO GALS
DALLAS — When you think of American buffalo, does knitwear come to mind?
For Dallas designer Ruth Huffman, the soft undercoat of the bison offers an untapped opportunity to produce luxury knit sportswear and scarves.
“It’s exciting, luxurious, different and extremely soft,” Huffman said. “It’s a luxury like mink, and it’s rare.”
It’s rare because the buffalo meat industry is small, and buffalo won’t stand around meekly to be shorn like sheep. The only way to get hair off a buffalo is to slaughter it — unless you feel like searching the pasture in the summer for tufts that have been shed onto trees and bushes.
Only about 10,000 bison are killed annually in the U.S., compared with 1.2 million cattle, according to Mundo De Los Santos, an official with the Texas Bison Association in Conroe, Tex. More than 200,000 bison roam over public and private lands in the U.S., more than 1,000 of them in Texas.
De Los Santos and another bison rancher were here for a luncheon benefit for the Kessler Park Republican Women that featured fashions by Ruth Huffman.
Besides using bison yarn, Huffman styles handknitted dresses and sportswear of organic cotton, cashmere, wool, linen and mohair. Her niche is the high end, since she uses the best-quality fibers she can find.
Huffman has made a couple of hundred ensembles and accessories for private clients in the past two years. “Some of the people in the fashion show were wearing their own clothes,” she pointed out.
Now Huffman’s angling to build a wholesale business. She claims to be the first person in the U.S. to buy a hefty amount of buffalo clippings and have them dehaired and spun into yarn by a mill. Until now, she said, only a few handspinners have worked with the fleece.
“The buffalo was probably on the cutting edge of the lean beef cycle, starting about 20 years ago,” said Rick Perry, Commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture. “The fiber will be a niche industry.” The fiber is expensive. Huffman’s buy of 1,000 pounds of unprocessed buffalo fur yielded 300 pounds of yarn costing $110 per pound, she said. With backing from Dallas attorney Doug Adkins, she plans to double her supply of yarn each year.
Her handknit bison men’s muffler in the natural chocolate color wholesales for $150, a longer woman’s scarf is $198 and a buffalo cape is $450.