Darlene Wright says Herd Wear products are Buff Tough. “Bison down is so warm because it has a moisture regain 12 times that of any other natural fiber. Unlike wools or synthetics, it holds your body heat even when wet. It is naturally hypo-allergenic and most are machine washable. Wearing only makes them softer and stronger.
When most of us think of buffalo, we may be inclined to recall the old west when these majestic creatures were plentiful and a primary staple for everything from clothing to meat for Native Americans. It turns out buffalo – or bison – still number in the hundreds of thousands and continue to provide clothing and sustenance for the discerning buyer. Darlene Wright and her husband Cecil Miskin are spreading the word and providing quality products through their Herd Wear stores in Las Vegas, New Mexico and Goodnight, Texas.
ORP: In one sentence, what is Herd Wear Retail Store?
Darlene: The Herd Wear Retail Store is a showcase for Buffalo Gold Herd Wear brand bison fiber products such as our socks, beanies, gloves, and scarves, along with all things bison we carry at both stores.
ORP: Your business is new in Las Vegas, N.M. How long have you been open and what prompted you to choose Las Vegas?
Darlene: My husband, Cecil Miskin, and I chose Las Vegas because this is where we come to relax. Most of our travels are business and bison related, but when we want to wind down, this is where we land. Late last year we heard that one of the storefronts on the Plaza was going to become vacant and that put the idea in our heads to expand. We tossed around the idea for a few months and made a few more trips back to Las Vegas before making the decision around the first of March to have a second store. We are so glad we did!
ORP: This store is an extension of an existing business. Talk about the concept behind Herd Wear and how you got started in Goodnight, Texas.
Darlene: The original Herd Wear Retail Store is in the small town of Goodnight, in the Panhandle of Texas, 40 miles East of Amarillo on highway 287, the road to Dallas. In 2011, Cecil made the decision to sell the ranch in Burleson, Texas, to open a storefront. The online storefront for Buffalo Gold Premium Fibers at buffalogold.net had been in operation for several years, but he wanted a brick and mortar store for the Herd Wear brand of the bison wearable products we produce. I found information that the Armstrong County Museum in Claude, Texas, was restoring the Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight Historical Ranch House, which had been donated to the museum. We took a trip there and visited with Montie Goodin, who was born in the house and whose father was Cleo Hubbard, the son of Goodnight’s maid. The Goodnights raised Cleo as their son, since they had no children of their own. It was Montie’s dream to have the ranch house restored, and to have buffalo back on that land, since Goodnight is credited with saving the last of the Southern buffalo herd from extinction. That’s where we could see us as supporting this project, providing a home for the bison, and a store for us on Goodnight land, next to the historical landmark. It’s been a great decision and we have met so many wonderful people and learned the history of the Panhandle from their lives and the lives of their ancestors who settled West Texas.
ORP: You are an artist specializing in wildlife and pet portraits. How does that tie in with Herd Wear?
Darlene: I have always been an artist since I was old enough to hold a pencil and draw on anything, including the blank pages of the encyclopedias we had as a child. Now I sketch or paint whenever I have a free moment. Animals are my passion, so they are my subjects! We have plenty of wild critters, including bison, right outside the front door in Goodnight to paint. The Herd Wear Retail Store in Goodnight has an art gallery, with original paintings by well known artists – many from Texas – who have become good friends. I have some of my works, as well as other artists, here at the store in Las Vegas. Most people consider their pets as part of the family, and love to have a piece of art to remember their baby. I love working with animals and making them come alive with my paintings.
ORP: What do most want people to know about Herd Wear and its new location in Las Vegas, NM?
Darlene: Until people put their hands on bison fiber products they have no idea how soft and strong bison fiber is. People are amazed when they see how many products can be made out of bison: knit goods, leather products, horn and teeth jewelry, horn flutes, rugs, felt hats and on and on. We use every part of the bison that we possibly can.
ORP: What is the difference between buffalo and bison?
Darlene: We use the name buffalo and bison interchangeably, but bison are not buffalo. American Bison (Bison bison is the scientific name) are native to North America and Europe, while buffalo reside in Africa (Cape buffalo) and Asia (water buffalo).
ORP: There is a tendency to think of buffalo as being part of history with little impact in today’s world. What value are bison in the modern world?
Darlene: Bison co-evolved with other indigenous plants and animals to thrive on native grasslands without damaging them. Healthy grasslands contribute to better air quality by pulling carbon from the air. This is why bison ranchers can produce high-quality bison meat without a high price on the environment. Traditionally, buffalo meat was prized as an essential part of the Native American diet. Today, bison are thriving due to smart ranch management and breeding efforts and restoration of their native grazing land. By purchasing bison meat and bison products, you are helping to continue a ranching tradition that has been a way of life for hundreds of years.
ORP: You emphasize American Made Matters. Talk about that and how it relates to your operation.
Darlene: In today’s world, it is much cheaper to have goods made overseas or in Mexico. We could do the same, and we would have a less expensive product and reduced quality. But we choose to have our products made by Americans for Americans. It matters to Cecil, to me, and probably to you, too. We are a very small mom and pop store in the whole scheme of the world today, but Herd Wear does provide jobs for Americans, as well as provide our customers with American Made products. I read labels, and it is very hard to find many “Made in the USA.” But when I do, I buy them. It makes a difference.
ORP: What types of products can be purchased at Herd Wear?
Darlene: The store in Las Vegas, N.M., has our Herd Wear knit products made out of bison down yarn: socks, full finger and fingerless gloves, beanies, scarves, shrugs, blankets/throws and leg warmers. We also have hand-knit sweaters for both men and women. Bison leather boots and tennis shoes, suspenders, belts, purses, portfolios, luggage, hat bands, moccasins. Hand-loomed bison fiber rugs. Lite-felt, crushable bison fiber hats. Bison horn flutes and “critter calls.” Bison horn jewelry and bison tooth jewelry. Bison skulls, some with mosaic artwork. Bison hide coats. Bison artwork. T-shirts, books, cards, silk scarves, hand painted gifting feathers, bison tallow soaps and moisturizers. Garment tanned bison robes. Plenty to choose from.
ORP: Where do you get the fibers for your bison products?
Darlene: Our bison fiber is a by-product of the meat industry. When the fiber is prime during winter, we harvest the hair from hides at bison meat packing plants, after the bison no longer need it. Leather companies purchase the hides, and we pay to shear the longest down, or soft undercoat, to be turned into our yarn. The hair that cannot be used for yarn is made into our hand-loomed bison rugs and felted bison hats.
ORP: What do customers say about your products?
Darlene: Customers who use our Herd Wear products love the softness, comfort and durability, that most are machine washable, and the uniqueness. They also appreciate very much that our products are made here at home, such as our high quality Chacon bison leather belts, made locally by Bruce Erickson, in Rociada, N.M. The bison meat at the Las Vegas store is provided by a bison ranch Northwest of Taos.
ORP: You have a unique guarantee. Talk about that and how it forms your business philosophy.
Darlene: Our three promises:
If it can be made in the USA, it is. That is very important, not only to us, but to all Americans today. We want to provide American made products to Americans.
All our Herd Wear is personally and continuously field-tested. We use our fingerless knit gloves for fly fishing in the Northwest and in Canada (and anywhere else we can find time to fish). Same with our socks, for fishing and hunting. We test these products ourselves, and all of our family, for durability, wearability, and comfort. I wear bison leather tennis shoes most days in the store. We wear the leather boots and leather gloves in the pastures to handle the bison, as do other ranchers. We get feed back from customers using our products throughout the world: Alaska, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Scotland, and all over the USA. We use that feedback to improve, change or add new products.
We unconditionally stand behind all our products. If someone purchases a product on the website or in one of our stores, and are not happy for any reason, they can return, exchange or get their money back. That is our guarantee. We want happy customers who will tell their friends and families about our products. That is our best advertising, word of mouth. You can’t buy that kind of advertising, but you can try your very best to make customers return time after time when they know they can count on you and your products, and they get the word out about us.
More about Herd Wear
Hours in both stores: 10 am – 5 pm daily
unless otherwise posted
Herd Wear Retail Store/Goodnight, Texas
2000 US Highway 287
(at County Road 25 – next to the
Charles Goodnight Historical Ranch House and Visitor Center)
40 miles East of Amarillo
Herd Wear Retail Store/Las Vegas, NM
167 Bridge Street (next to Korte’s)
Photos: Darlene Wright