The History of Kraff's Clothing and Pendleton Indian Blankets
Kraff’s Clothing has been a fixture in historical downtown Toppenish, WA, since the 1940's. Originally a clothing store for men and women, it was owned and operated by Sol & Clara Kraff who came West from Chicago. Kraff’s was purchased by its present owners, Dan & Margie Johnson, in 1970, after Mr. Kraff passed away.
Since being purchased by the Johnsons, Kraff’s has undergone many changes. Located on the Yakama Indian Reservation, Kraff’s had always stocked a small selection of Indian blankets commonly used by the Yakama’s and other tribes for many religious ceremonies and for gift giving. Brands such as Pendleton and Hudson Bay could be found in the store. These colorful blankets hung on the walls high above tailored brands of clothing such as Christian Dior, Hart, Shaffner & Marx, and Ralph Lauren-all of which are still available today. The contrasting merchandise was similar to the dichotomy of cultures that is present in the Yakama Valley. The Indian blankets were a mainstay in the inventory at Kraff’s, and as more customers requested more blankets the selection continued to get larger.
As the sales of wool blankets to Native Americans continued to grow, Kraff’s became the place to buy blankets. Dan Johnson decided that the blankets should be designed with their customer in mind. They should reflect the ideas and important figures in the Native American community. In 1976, he heard that Pendleton® Woolen Mills was going to dedicate a blanket for the US Bicentennial. He understood the depiction to be an eagle with an arrow design all in the colors of red, white, and blue. Dan requested a meeting with the Yakama Tribal Council to discuss the possibility of dedicating and naming the blanket after the late Chief Eagle Selatsee. Chief Eagle was an advocate of Native American children’s education and a highly respected and honored figure on the Yakama Reservation and throughout Indian Country. Dan approached Pendleton Woolen Mills with this proposal, and they decided that the blanket would indeed be named after the Chief. A naming ceremony was planned, and the blanket was named after the honorable and admired Chief Eagle Selatsee. For 31 years, the blanket has by far been the most popular and sought after blanket in our inventory. Sadly, Pendleton® Woolen Mills decided to discontinue this classic in 2005, despite our pleas to keep the pattern alive. The Eagle blanket, as it has come to be known, will continue to tell a story and serve as a gentle reminder of the late Chief. Its colors will remain bright, and the wool will get softer as families pass it down from generation to generation.
Blanket sales continued to be strong in the Native American community, but a new customer came to the forefront in the early 1990's. Movies such as "Dances with Wolves" and television shows such as "Northern Exposure" evoked a new interest in things western and Native. Calls started to come from all over the country, and orders were being filled for famous actors, rock and country music stars, movie executives, and government officials. All of a sudden, people were calling and asking for brochures and catalogs. Dan decided that it was important to start reaching a wider audience. Kraff’s slowly got into the mail order business, and the database of interested customers began to grow. After a couple of years of stuffing envelopes and mailing out catalogs, the "snail mail" was replaced with a new website, a far better way to reach the loyal customers who lived on the other side of the United States.
In 1999, the Johnsons decided that having a website was great, but having more of a personal connection to customers was necessary. After doing some traveling and talking to friends and customers, the pow-wow trail was discovered. The first pow-wow Kraff’s was invited to attend was The Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, NM. After being so well received there, it was decided that there would be a return the following year and the year after that. In 2007, Kraff’s was a vendor there for the 9th year in a row. It is always fun to see returning customers and friends coming by each year to say hello or to buy their annual coat or blanket.
With The Gathering came many more pow-wow trips to far away places: Denver March Pow Wow in Denver, CO, Red Earth in Oklahoma City, OK, Julyamsh in Post Falls, ID, and United Tribes in Bismarck, ND, just to name a few of them. Dan learned that going to pow-wows is always alot of work, travel, and time spent away from the store in Toppenish. He also learned that there is no other way to know your customer better than meeting them and understanding their needs in person.
He continues to go to pow-wows in order to provide new and exciting products to our customer. Kraff’s believes in understanding the heritage and endeavor of our loyal customers so that we can provide excellent products to the people who have made Kraff’s the place to buy your blankets.
Inside of Kraffs in Toppenish, WA