and the Return of the Rugged Gentleman
By Gene Fowler
“Honor your wild.”
It almost seems a travesty to deem such a noble, stirring phrase a mere motto, but in the case of Buffalo Jackson Trading Company, the leather goods and clothing outfit that lays claim to the spirited maxim, the three simple yet profound words are well deserved. This year, the e-commerce establishment, with a lone brick and mortar Trading Post in Matthews, North Carolina, turns 10 years old.
Today, Buffalo Jackson’s fine leather products—made with buffalo, elk and cow hides—include jackets, boots, shoes, belts, bags, backpacks, briefcases, totes, purses, notebook covers, laptop cases, Dopp kits, wallets, watch bands, and dog collars and leashes. Additional leather accessories include luggage tags, coasters, cord tacos, sunglasses straps, key straps, key fobs, money clips and camera straps.
It’s no wonder, then, that one visitor to the Buffalo Jackson Trading Post reported that “the scent of their cured leathers” evokes the imagined—and often realized—memory of a time “when men pioneered the great outdoors.” And the story of the company’s conception is just as organic as the materials that go into its products, crafted by artisans in Mexico, India and the USA. It’s also a story that springs from a deep concern for the legacy of those pioneer men, while navigating the impact of social change on the 21st century man.
Company founder Xan Hood explains that after graduating from the University of Tennessee in Nashville, he sensed that there was some vital element missing from his full self-realization. He soon decided that he needed to undertake a journey toward that realization and it involved a passage from the “pastel Polo shirt” world of Brentwood, Tennessee (a posh Music City suburb), to the rugged West. By following the westward paths of so many trailblazers who had shown Americans the way in the past, Xan felt that he was also blazing an inner trail, discovering what it meant to be male in an age in which he felt that masculinity, for a multitude of reasons, has been somewhat under siege.
Settling in Colorado Springs, he determined that there were a lot of young men who had “lost themselves,” as he had while growing into adulthood, and who needed mentoring to learn “the values and lessons that our grandfathers learned and that we had missed.” To meet that challenge, Xan founded the nonprofit Training Ground, an outdoor leadership program for 18- to 25-year-old men.
“So the business Buffalo Jackson,” Xan commented in a recent podcast, “came out of spending months with these guys, living life and wrestling with the question of what it means to be male in our modern world and figuring out who we are. The brand is an extension of the experience of seeing these young men kind of come of age. I asked the guys what they’d think about a brand that embodied this life style, and they said, ‘Yeah, we’d love that.’” The Buffalo Jackson founder added that he hopes to inspire people to inhabit a deeper nature of character and values exemplified by the resurrected archetype of the rugged gentleman.
“Buffalo Jackson Trading Co. is the story of that rugged gentleman,” Hood explained in another recent statement. “He is a flesh-and-blood character that once symbolized all that was good about this country. He is embodied by names from the old days: names like Teddy Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln and John Muir. And he lived by those distinctly American values of grit, honesty, pride and joy.”
Hood often jokes that he was an unlikely candidate for starting a clothing line. “When I first told my wife, she said, ‘You’re really not even that good of a dresser.’” But he started the company with a small launch of caps and t-shirts, operating out of his Colorado Springs garage. As Buffalo Jackson slowly grew, he added to and refined the line of flannel and twill shirts, down jackets, fleece pullovers and other garments rugged enough for the great outdoors, but refined enough for nights on the town. After relocating the enterprise to North Carolina in 2013, he added women’s clothes. Buff Jack even sports silk bow ties imprinted with wisdom from Honest Abe and founding father Thomas Jefferson. All along as the company grew, Xan and his team continually “invited” the customer into the story of Buffalo Jackson, deepening the consumer experience with the company’s mission and values.
Dakota. Denver. Jefferson. Roosevelt. Madison. These and other timeless names grace the titles of the company’s leather bag collections. Dakota bags are “built for everything the great outdoors has to offer – from your backyard to the Badlands.” Denver, “a name that is as rugged as it is refined,” embodies “the balance of sophisticated distinction and rugged utility” that has come to define the Buffalo Jackson brand. The Ruidoso Bison Leather Western Boot was described by one customer as “similar to Red Wing Pecos boots, but with a little more Western style and much softer leather.” The classic Thompson Leather Jacket is designed to bring out a wearer’s inner James Dean.
In terms of leather education, the Buffalo Jackson website is one of the handiest I’ve seen for the non-expert. A section on aniline leather, which the company uses for many of its ladies’ bags, explains that it is “dyed using only soluble dyes,” which “preserves the hide’s natural surface….Simply put, aniline leather is the most natural, buttery soft leather that exists.”
There are also handy sections on leather cleaning and care, as well as tutorials on telling the difference between “real and bonded leather” and the difference between bison and buffalo leather. Even leather experts might be surprised to read their post about the countries producing the most leather. China leads the pack, followed far behind by Brazil, Italy, Russia and India. The good old USA comes in eighth.
But, learning about the timeless art of leather production and craft is only part of the Buffalo Jackson mission. “I believe it’s time that the rugged gentleman staged a comeback,” says Xan, leaving no part of life for the modern male unexamined. The company even produces “the manliest diaper bag you’ve ever seen,” the “resolute” and “durable,” Elkton Diaper Bag.
“Buffalo Jackson Trading Co. began with this goal in mind,” adds the founder, “to create a clothing line that fits a man who knows how to tie a bowtie as well as a dry fly. A man who knows the Lord’s Prayer as well as the national anthem. A man who knows honoring the past doesn’t necessarily mean repeating it. A man who knows you can tell a lot about someone by the story they wear.”
And above all, a man who knows that the rugged gentlewoman also honors her wild.