As the young man came out of the chute aboard a bucking horse, many people noticed the tan and pink chaps the young man wore more than his ride. What they didn’t realize was the young man was doing his part to support cancer awareness by wearing the pink chaps his mother had made. The chaps were set to be auctioned, and the money donated to charity.
Ranching and rodeo have always been a part of BJ Griffin’s life. When the Powell, WY woman divorced after 30 years of marriage, she found herself at loose ends trying to make a decision of what to do with the rest of her life.
“I was what they called a displaced homemaker,” she says. “I had been a rancher’s wife most my life, then that was gone. I finally went with the two other things I knew how to do best – leatherwork and survival.”
Griffin loved leatherwork from the beginning. In seventh grade, she had the opportunity to take an industrial arts class.
“We learned how to make belts and coin purses,” she said. “It was there that I got my original set of tools. I still distinctly remember the coin purses, and buck stitching the belts I made. I never learned how to stitch leather with a sewing machine until much later. Back then, we hand-sewed everything.”
Over the years, Griffin continued with leatherwork. “I just enjoyed doing it,” she said. “It was relaxing to me. It was like my egg or milk money. I made wallets and belts for people for extra money.”
Griffin also sewed clothing for her family. “I did lots and lots of home sewing,” she says. “I made shirts for my husband, and clothes for myself and the children. Sewing on leather is similar, but a little different. When you make a mistake on fabric, you can just rip it out and no one knows the difference. When you make a mistake on leather and rip it out, it leaves holes behind. Precision is very important when sewing leather.”
After her divorce, Griffin went back to college and worked toward a business degree. To finish her degree, Griffin created a company and her business plan centered around making pink chaps and marketing them to rodeo committees. Little did she know that her plan would turn into a very successful business.
“Cancer is a very personal issue to me,” she says. “I have had several close family members succumb to the disease. I wanted to make something out of leather that would help raise money for cancer awareness, so I decided to make a pair of chaps and donate them. My youngest son, Jake, is a PRCA saddle bronc rider, and when I asked if he would wear a pair of pink chaps at the NILE, he said absolutely no way. So I approached him again about wearing a pair of chaps that weren’t all pink, but had pink on them, and he said okay.”
Jake not only wore the chaps during his ride at the NILE, but also at the Mountain States Circuit Finals, before donating them to raise money for Lancasters Barrel Race for Breast Cancer.
“They auctioned them off right after he rode his bronc, and they brought $4,000. I was really excited about being able to contribute to their fund,” she says.
That first pair of chaps also attracted the attention of some representatives from Wrangler.
“Three weeks before the NFR, I received a call from Wrangler,” she said. “They asked if I could make a pink pair of chinks for Karl Stressman, who was the CEO of Wrangler at the time. He is now with the PRCA. That pair of chinks was the first of many chaps and chinks I have made since I became connected with Wrangler.”
Through her relationship with Wrangler, Griffin received permission through proprietary rights to use the Wrangler logo on the pink chaps and chinks she makes, as long as she donates a percentage of what she sells to a cancer charity.
“I make several pair of pink chaps and chinks each year and market them to rodeo committees,” she said. “At this point, all I make with the Wrangler logo is the chaps and chinks. I really haven’t had time to explore other opportunities, although I have thought about making purses or something like that.”
Although she may be best known for her chaps and chinks, Griffin said she still enjoys making belts and check book covers more because of the tooling involved.
“I really love to do the tooling,” she said. “It is fun to be able to tool leather and make something unique and creative.”
While Griffin is honored to be able to contribute to promoting cancer awareness, she encourages her customers and the various committees she makes items for to keep their money locally.
“I want to make chaps and chinks for these groups so they can raise money for their communities,” she says. “Some of the chaps and chinks I have donated have helped these committees raise money to buy mammogram machines for their local hospitals, or they have even given money to those who are sick.”
One particular tear jerker for Griffin was learning about lady who had received a $2,500 check from the Lancasters Barrel Race for Breast Cancer fund.
“She could have used that money for many things, but she used it to have Christmas with her children,” Griffin said. “A few months later, she passed away. I like to think that money was what helped that family have one very last special moment together. That what it is all about.”
Jake also continues to promote cancer awareness by wearing his pink chaps anytime he draws up in a pink performance. He keeps track on the inside of the chaps who he rode and what he scored. Eventually, his chaps will be donated for the Lancaster auction, and Griffin will make him a new pair.
Because there are also many other forms of cancer, Griffin has also created chaps to represent all the types of cancer. During the Colorado State Fair, she started a Cowboys Kickin’ Cancer campaign, where she made some more colorful chaps with 23 different colors on them.
“I created the logo myself,” she said. “I designed a boot with a spur so it looked like it was kicking. One pair of the chaps was auctioned off during the Colorado State Fair to raise money for cancer awareness.”
Her most memorable contribution was a pair of chaps and a pair of chinks she contributed for a cancer awareness campaign in Riverton, WY. “They sold for $61,500,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. They took that money and started a Tough Enough Cancer fund for their community.”
Making chaps is no quick feat for Griffin. Depending upon the intricacy of the design, some chaps can take up to 18 hours to complete.
“I have all the patterns, and I have made them for so long they are all familiar to me, but when there is something new, it takes longer and is more of a challenge,” she said. “I work completely by myself. It is really difficult to hire anyone who knows anything about leather or is willing to learn. Right now, I have 18 pairs of chaps to make before the end of July. From the first part of March on, it is busy here.”
Griffin has made chaps for Cheyenne Frontier Days, Calgary Stampede, Garden City, KS, Chief Joseph Days and the Cody Stampede among many, many other rodeo events.
“I want people to realize that I do make chaps in other colors besides pink,” she said. “I have received lots of clients just from them seeing the chaps my son wears.”
griffin’s website is: http://leatherdesign.net. she can be reached at 307-754-4646 or by cell phone at 307-254-2178.