Tough enough: Griffin crafts chaps for a cause
Powell – After B.J. Griffin decided to go back to college to get a business degree, she came out with both a degree and plans for a successful business.
“In order to graduate, I had to run a bogus business for a capstone project,” says Griffin. “After I was done, my instructors encouraged me and said, ‘You should do this for real.’”
In 2007, Griffin launched her business by making a pair of pink chaps, complete with a breast cancer awareness ribbon and the Wrangler logo. Her talent for leatherwork and passion for cancer awareness, however, were developed long before.
“I’ve been working with leather since I was in seventh grade with 4-H projects,” she says, “and cancer has been a really bad major part of my family.”
Griffin lost both of her parents and her brother to cancer, and she notes, “It is something that is near and dear to my heart to help people that are sick and to help their families if I can.”
Griffin’s business, Leather Design, has partnered with Wrangler to increase cancer awareness. She donates a portion of her profits to area charities, local cancer charities and Big Horn Basin Women’s Wellness, and tries to help local efforts.
“We’ve started working with a couple of rodeo committees that are involved with Cowboys Kickin’ Cancer, too,” says Griffin, mentioning that the benefit raises money for all types of cancer. “They auction a pair of multi-colored chaps every year at the Colorado State Fair to benefit the organization.”
On a larger scale, Griffin recognizes the importance of research efforts, but says, “I don’t want to play with the test tubes. There are quite a few big corporate efforts supporting research, and I want the money generated from these chaps to help people who are sick. That’s a big thing with me.”
For anyone who orders a pair of chaps, Griffin keeps materials on hand to assemble chaps, but she also has a pair of pink Wrangler chaps she lends out.
“They have been to Alaska, and Miss Rodeo Florida wore them for a couple of weeks,” she says, adding that each person who wears the chaps signs and dates them, and they will likely be auctioned in the future to benefit cancer charities.
A family affair
Griffin’s son Jake, who has been professionally competing as a saddle bronc rider for almost 12 years, also wears her chaps to promote the cause. Jake is also a part owner in the business.
“Jake wears the chaps for two years and writes where he rode in them,” says Griffin. “Then, we auction them off.”
Jake’s chaps are donated to a rodeo committee they select and proceeds go to local cancer charities.
“The chap auctions put money in their own communities,” she explains. “In Riverton, last year they brought $55,000 to the Tough Enough to Wear Pink fund.”
Since the beginning of her business, Griffin says some rodeo committees have been buying chaps for auction for six years, and over $350,000 has been generated from the sale of chaps and chinks at various auctions. She has sold cancer awareness promoting chaps to Miss Rodeo America, Cheyenne Frontier Days, the Colorado State Fair and others.
One particular story that Griffin is passionate about is that of Tacey Raulerson of College Station, Texas. As an infant, Raulerson was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye. After numerous chemotherapy treatments, both of Raulerson’s eyes were removed to prevent spread of the cancer.
“Tacey’s mother emailed me and told me her story,” says Griffin. “I thought, I have all of these spare pieces, so I’m going to donate these chaps to her.”
Griffin says that, at only 13 years old, Raulerson travels around the country, attending rodeos, visiting children in hospitals and raising funds for cancer charities.
“Tacey is completely blind, but she goes around to rodeos, packs the flag and runs the barrels,” adds Griffin. “She is an amazing child.”
“There are a lot of different stories,” says Griffin. “If I can be a part of making a difference, even if it’s a few dollars, that’s why I do what I do.”
More than chaps
Griffin’s business extends beyond simply crafting pink leather chaps; she has launched a line of make-up bags recently and makes a variety of leather goods.
Custom chaps and chinks, as well as accessories and home décor items, make up the rest of her business, and Griffin encourages people to contact her with questions or ideas, noting that she creates a wide range of products, all satisfaction guaranteed.
“I’m a perfectionist,” says Griffin, “and the whole time I build a pair of chaps, I am thinking about the person they are for. A lot of my heart goes into every pair of chaps.”
Visit Griffin’s website at leatherdesign.net to contact her or see her work. Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.