Written by Jessi Cole
Companions. It’s a word that evokes an old buddy helping you drag out a deer, a good dog acting as your shadow, a cold drink on the front porch with your loved ones.
In 1993, Toxey Haas, Larry Moore, Bill Sugg, and Bob Dixon set out to bring that feeling to life in the form of a casual line of clothes that outdoorsmen would want to wear. Something for those that felt more at home in the woods than anywhere. The original idea was to pull from the three colors used in Bottomland: Dirt, Branch, and Bark.
Toxey wanted the line to be “an outtake of the elements of camouflage. We wanted it to feel like pieces of old wood and leaves and barnwood, or bark on the tree, or even dirt. My intention was really earthy clothing that would match that.”
Mr. Bob Dixon poses for the cover of a Companions product catalog.
And it wasn’t just elements of nature that they wanted to convey. In fact, the infamous tagline, “Instant Old Friends,” was the driving force behind the whole concept. These were clothes that they wanted people to have an immediate attachment to, clothes that felt as if they’d been with you for a long time, washed and rewashed until it had achieved the perfect worn-in feel. Even though you’d bought it new, it was already like “your best old friend,” says Toxey.
Larry Moore, a seasoned men’s sportswear clothing designer, was hired by Bill and Toxey to design and develop the casual line.
Larry remembers a meeting of the minds on the eventual name of the Companions line. “We sat around a room and threw out names. Instant Old Friends was too long for branding, but that was the gist of it. We went through Old Friends, a few others…and we settled on Companions.”
He says, “That first year we rolled out with washed, soft textured fabrics to give them a weathered look. We kept going back and adding more—we realized we needed a greater range of colors, so we added Leaf and Autumn, which were a green and a sort of rust color.”
By the later years, they had added a diverse range of nature inspired colors, as well as a denim option.
Once the line was developed, they started spreading the word and printing catalogs to send out and promote. Orders were taken over the phone; customers would describe which shirt or hat they'd like to buy and someone from the Mossy Oak team would package it up for them and send it on. (A foreign concept for those born in the age of the Internet.)
Descriptions in the catalog were written by one of the four, descriptions that often more than anything evoked a feeling of being outside and in nature instead of getting into the—some might say boring--product details.
“Close your eyes and dream: days end, you’re sitting by an open fire, your best friend is with you, an owl calls in the distance, the stars begin to shine as night settles in. ‘All is right in the world.’ That’s what Companions is all about,” reads page 2 in the first catalog.
Another favorite product description is for the original Dirt Shirt. It reads, “The perfect shirt for those days when you would rather be in the field. Wear this shirt and take a breath…hoppes, fireplace, bacon, old friends, memories. Grin to yourself—the aristocracy will never know.”
The product descriptions and names of the products were often working to create an emotion attached with the product--more promoting the experience and feeling of the outdoors than anything.
A two-page spread from one of the later catalogs of the Companions line.
After a warm reception and some strong years, Companions eventually went away due to a lack of manpower to give it the resources it deserved.
Astonishingly, thirty years later, the Mossy Oak Companions line of clothing from ’93-’99 is the number one most requested item of vintage outdoor clothing, according to vintage dealer Cody Young (@bottomlandridgerunners.)
Young says, “You know, it’s kind of one of those secret things, if you will. The folks that know what they have tend to keep it close to the chest. But man, the demand for it. I’ve seen an exponential increase in the demand.”
In fact, these vintage Companions pieces often sell for hundreds of dollars—hunters outbidding each other on Ebay for thirty-year-old, often worn and beat up, shirts and hats and jackets.
Friend of the brand and vintage dealer Casey Mckee (@thecamocorner) has one of the best personal Companions collections outside of Daniel and Neill Haas.
What is it about this old line of clothes that outdoorsmen love so much? That people might forgo a few new shirts for one old, used one?
One reason Young suggests is the quality. He says, “I don’t know if Mossy Oak intended on these pieces lasting for decades, but by golly they’ve done that. These things have lasted decades.”
The core reason, though, he posits, is the nostalgia and memories attached with the clothing.
He says, “I feel like that’s what folks are looking for when they don these vintage pieces. It reminds me of hunting and fishing with my grandpa and being a kid. Heck, I’m just a redneck from South Arkansas. But that’s what it means to me. You wear it with pride.”
Logan J. Webster, vintage dealer and owner of Camoretro, agrees. He says, “I would point back to storytelling. The stories those pieces have to tell—it’s inspiring. It might be the same jacket that your dad or a mentor hunted in. The stories that are special to it are what keeps the passion alive in the outdoors and reminds us where we come from. The storytelling through our goods that are handed down—it’s centering.”
He continues, “When I’m working the trade shows, my favorite things to hear are the stories that people have to tell. Someone’s grandfather or uncle wore that shirt or hat. You can see the emotions on their face. Connecting people with the pieces that mean so much to them is a really special thing.”
Toxey Haas feels “honored” by the resurgence of enthusiasm for Companions. He says, “There’s a lot of cool energy about the origins of the brand. It’s part of a bigger thing. People love finding the older stuff, connecting to the truth, the authenticity of that.” He says it’s, “another level of love for us and the brand that, man, I’m just super grateful for.”
Toxey Haas wears a Companions cap and Mossy Oak gear and holds his two young sons, Daniel and Neill Haas.
Wherever a Mossy Oak employee goes, whether duck hunting in Arkansas, deer hunting in Tennessee, fishing in Louisiana, they hear the same thing: “Bring back Companions.” It’s universal, the love for it. And it hasn’t fallen on deaf ears.
Mossy Oak has been listening to the showing of support and love for their old line, and in Winter 2023 the brand will be bringing back Companions and selling the first new clothes in the line since 1999.
After 30 years, a new generation of Haas men are helping carry on the legacy and heritage of their dad, grandad and Mossy Oak.
Daniel and Neill Haas have been working on the revival of the beloved line for years in order to give Companions the justice it deserves. They’ve cut no corners on quality; the heart and soul of the original line remains. Back are the natural colors of Bark, Branch, Dirt, Leaf, and Autumn. And back are the softest quality fabrics they could find to achieve the perfect comfort that comes with love and wear.
There’s a responsibility to doing a revival right. Especially a revival of a line so beloved. Heritage and legacy can be a hard thing to capture. Every piece has been tested, compared with the originals, reworked, and perfected.
The old Companions line will always be beloved, will always have the memories and stories to carry with them. But a generation later, the new Companions will be there for new, old friends, for new memories and stories (sometimes tall tales) to pass down and cherish for the next generation.
Daniel and Neill Haas take great care in continuing and respecting their family legacy. Here Daniel is pictured admiring Mr. Fox Haas's first Mossy Oak jacket.
Toxey Haas and Will Primos shaking hands from the memorable "Springtime's Best Have Come Together" ad.