It goes without saying that domestic production has become an important facet of menswear over the past few years. Many hoping for a well-made product with great historical value can often look close to home and with good reason. The folks of Parabellum have been some of the best known purveyors of American-made accessories with their beautiful bison leather bags and accessories. We were fascinated by the unique interest they have in bison leather which in itself is a bit of a rarity. Here lies an interesting look into some important steps that go into the making of a Parabellum bag, most notably the “Medicine Man” Duffel Bag. Of course not all steps are shown here but it should give you a good idea of what exists in America’s storied production landscape. Unfortunately due to the sensitivity of the craft, we were unable to show some of Parabellum’s beautifully-crafted ceramic work but the processing of leather and the creation of the buckles are both presented.
The herd, the hills and the sky that lasts forever. Thanks to our friend Jason Stevens for welcoming us to his Colorado Bison Ranch. Jason grew up on a Cattle Ranch in Pennsylvania, but wound up in a big city office, working in Corporate America. Eventually, he gave up on the rat race and come back to the animals and the great outdoors where he bought a 100 year old working ranch in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
The return of the bison is the greatest comeback story in American history. From the edge of extinction to 500,000 strong in less than a century this is mostly due to the actions of dreamers and idealistic ranchers like Jason Stevens. Bison meat has become popular over the last few decades due to its fat content, absence of hormones and antibiotics and free-range nature. Meat outstrips hide demand and Parabellum uses the finest, most deeply textured of these hides for its leather Goods.
Bison can live for 30 years and weigh nearly 3000 pounds. Their strength is epic and they are raised with space to wander. In this picture, Jason Jones, Creative Director and Founder of Parabellum hand feeds a bull. Bison see a pick-up truck as one very large animal and do not usually get aggressive. But, humans that step away or fall off are often gored or trampled, especially by large herd bulls. Thus the term Bully.
Bison can withstand colder temperatures than any other bovine in the world. Instead of seeking out shelter in trees or riverbeds like moose or deer, bison are notorious for facing straight into the most wicked of winter storms. To prepare for frigid conditions, their fur and under-fur thicken throughout the fall to keep them toasty warm throughout the winter. Blankets made of these winter hides are highly sought after and have provided shelter and warmth to Native Americans for thousands of years.
A by-product of the meat industry, bison leather is amongst the strongest and most durable in the world. Across the world, many of the world’s biggest and earliest factories used bison leather belts and pulleys throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. When the bison almost went extinct, both the utility and fashion aspect was largely forgotten. This has changed in the last few decades due to the resurgence of bison.
The Measuring Machine
This is a Correct Upright Measuring Machine used to measure the square footage of leather. Built around 1920 at a time when leather was sold by the square foot, this came in handy as most hides were irregular in shape and very hard to quantify. After a hide is tanned, it is fed through this machine. Each wheel measures the amount of leather that passes under it and the sum is the total square footage. Mass production tanneries use state of the art lasers to measure.
The Cutting Dies
Old school cutting dies are used for punching out shapes and patterns. The use of dies are at the heart of leather working in addition to most crafts and manufacturing processes.
The Barrel Dye
Barrel dyed, one batch at a time. Every tannery has its own proprietary coloring recipes, which are fiercely guarded secrets. The barrels spin during the coloring process with the dye and hides. Lighter tones can be very difficult to duplicate, especially with leather that is as porous, thick and as deeply textured as bison. After each batch of leather is finished, the barrels are meticulously scrubbed clean by hand.
The Parabellum Micro-Tannery
Sneak peak of the Parabellum Micro-Tannery… Family owned and operated at an undisclosed location in the Mid West.
The Extra Dye Barrels
Extra dye barrels from the 1930’s… Still in use.
The Metal Shop
Making hardware in the metal shop in downtown Los Angeles.
Copper requires a tremendous amount of hand-work. Due to it’s porosity, 3 out of 4 get re-melted. Every Buckle is unique. Hand polished corners for a perfect finish.
The Lost Wax Process
“E Pluribus Unum – From Many, One.” Each Parabellum Buckle is made using the 9 step “Lost Wax Process.” It is the same technique used to make bronze statues, and it requires single use plaster molds.
The copper buckle is being cleaned to bring out the best of its red-gold hues.
The Final Step
The final cleanse is the last step before the competition of the buckle.
The End Result
The finest copper belt buckle in the world, proudly crafted in Los Angeles.
The Medicine Man Duffel
Over 300 individual pieces of hand-cut leather, four pieces of hand-made copper and 28 inches of hand polished zipper all go into the Medicine Man Duffel. Adjustable handles and shoulder strap, suede lining, hand stitched handles and built to last forever. This is the most complicated leather duffel ever constructed in America.