Buffalo hair makes elegant and functional clothing

Sunday, November 13th 2005, 1:10 pm
By: News On 6

WYNNEWOOD, Okla. (AP) _ An Oklahoma woman has created the world's only buffalo hair processing plant, where she designs everything from buffalo hats and gloves to coats and pillows.

It's an endeavor that's been years in the making, but it has grown to have worldwide implications, Ruth Huffman said.

``I never imagined the scope of this,'' Huffman said. ``We've had shops in Amsterdam and Scandinavia wanting to carry our yarn. Buffalo is an elegant, wonderful fiber, but it's very down-to-earth.

You don't have to treat it like something that's going to break. You can wash it in the washing machine and dry it in the dryer.''

Huffman, who once studied chemistry and history at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, started her journey as a buffalo hair entrepreneur in 1994, when she read a National Geographic article about the rise in buffalo herds. She had always designed clothes, without a pattern, but had taken up knitting then, she said.

She said she learned that most everything could be spun into yarn, and she figured buffalo hair was no exception.

As it turned out, Huffman had a corner on the market.

After two years of developing the process, she got a patent, a 20-year right to turn raw buffalo hair into finished yarn, which has never been done commercially before, she said.

``It's an American product made in America,'' she said.

At American Buffalo Designs, located in Wynnewood, Okla., three shifts of employees work nearly around the clock on various tasks. When the buffalo hair arrives, it's sorted into three piles: long, short and coarse hair. The hair is washed, dried, ``picked out'' and ``dehaired.''

The final two steps open up the fibers and separate the coarse hair from the super-soft down.

Huffman said she loves using her design creativity with buffalo hair. But it's the qualities of the hair that make it such a wonderful fabric to work with, she said. It has been tested in the coldest of regions, and buffalo gloves keep wearers warm while keeping moisture away.

Huffman has created a variety of products, so far all in the rich chocolate brown of buffalo hair. However, she is developing creamy white and black without a textile dye, she said.

Huffman's designs can be seen online or in her gift shop section of the factory. Hat wear, gloves, a full-length coat, poncho, cape, socks and scarves are among the offerings.

For the more daring, there is a buffalo bikini, which has been modeled in Paris. Buffalo leather driving gloves will be ready by Christmas, she said.

The long, short and coarse hair all have different uses in products, she said. Some of the coarse hair will be used in rugs, and the soft down is best next to a person's body. The company is now getting hair ready to send to Stetson, a buyer that uses buffalo hair in its hats.

Huffman also has done a lot of custom work for people across the world. Among her buffalo aficionados is actor Kevin Costner, who invited her to the opening of his buffalo museum in South Dakota.

The best is yet to come for American Buffalo Products, Huffman said. She is growing her yarn industry and plans to open a buffalo processing plant in Canada. She is hoping to team with an Indian tribe to make the expansion possible, she said.

Meanwhile, she's enjoying this dream-come-true career, as well as giving tours of her factory.