in Buffalo Shoes
by George Everett
- The way that Harrison Trask
tells his story, it begins with a trout fishing trip on the Madison
River inside Yellowstone National Park.
- At that time he was a regional
sales manager for Reebok taking a break from the business he
had been in his entire career. Watching a herd of bison grazing
on the bank, he thought back to a time when Native Americans
across the continent coveted foot coverings crafted from deerskins
and bison leather.
- "I had been in the shoe
business all of my life and I had never seen shoes made out of
bison leather," says Trask. "It turns out that bison
leather is a material that is really a phenomenal leather. It
is soft and mellow but wears like iron."
- A great idea for a new company
based on a very old idea was born. Trask launched his company
H.S. Trask and Co., Inc. in 1994 and today the 35-employee Bozeman,
Montana company sells an extensive line of footwear and accessories
made from bison, with a smaller line made from elk and longhorn
cattle also being commercially raised for meat. These are not mocassins, however.
- "We are one of the fastest
growing men's shoe brands in America and we're not even five
years old yet," says Trask. "We're in about 800 of
the finest shoe stores around the country with national distribution
and a few accounts in Canada."
- H.S. Trask & Co., Inc.,
shipped its first orders in October 1994. In 1995, it shipped
45,000 pairs of shoes; this year it expects to ship 200,000 pairs.
The company is aiming at the $1.5 billion rugged/casual dress
footwear market, with particluar emphasis on men ages 35 to 60
for whom Trask shoes may evoke the romance and freedom of the
Old West, Trask says.
- Trask points out that no wild
animals are used in the business. "Our bison leather is
obtained from a broker who arranges with ranchers all over America
to supply hides from commercially raised bison herds."
- These growers are in the business
to meet a growing demand for buffalo meat and the hides are a
byproduct. According to Sam Albrecht, Executive Director of the
National Bison Association, there are about 190,000 bisons in
herds scattered across the country in all 50 states.
- Hides come from suppliers such
as the bison herd on Ted Turner's Flying D Ranch near Bozeman,
Montana and from herds that are members of the Intertribal Bison
Cooperative, a coalition of Native American bison growers on
reservations throughout the West.
- "All of our shoes are made
in the USA," adds Trask, "at a time when only 5 percent
of all shoes sold in this country are made in the USA."
- Trask attributes the success
of his shoe line to the trend toward more casual wear in the
workplace. "Our shoes are a perfect fit for use with khakis
and other casual wear."
- Trask shoes are sold in Butte
at Wein's Men's Store
in Uptown Butte.