For the last six months I’ve been wearing a leather cuff adorned with a real bear knuckle, made by hand and with love by Dan Ewing of Ewing Dry Goods up in Juneau, Alaska. Dan makes unconventional jewelry, scourging the forests around his home for the bones and teeth of wild life and fashioning them into cuffs, wallets, belts, and hats in his workshop. His macabre accessories have done so well, he recently left his job with the State of Alaska to work exclusively at his craft.
Dan: Hang on let me wash my hands, I was just in the woods.
Carlos: Oh yeah? Find anything.
D: I found where a bunch of eagles were eating. It was a mess, a lot of stuff everywhere, but they always bring bones and stuff. I found one with some tissue still on it so I’m sanitizing now.
C: That’s a spooky way to start the interview.
D: (Laughs) okay, I’m ready.
C: Let’s start with the basics. What started Ewing’s Dry Goods?
D: Well, I guess it was about 15 years ago. I was around a lot of leather, working for Red Wing shoes, back when it was only for working men, and I would always do stuff with the scraps. Just kinda putting stuff together. I was a punk rocker for a really long time so that was back in the (beats on chest) good ol’ days. I was just always attracted to leather. I’ve always been into men’s clothing and bones, and I just mixed the two. I started making them for myself and I posted pictures to Instagram (@EwingDryGoods). It was really bizarre for me that people loved it. So that’s where it got its start.
C: And the bones?
D: I love collecting stuff. Juneau, despite being the capital of Alaska, is a really small town that you can only fly or take a boat to. Even when I worked for the government downtown, I would take a 15 minute walk and wind up in the middle of the woods. It’s everywhere.
C: I want to know if I have this distinction: am I the first to wear a Ewing’s Dry Goods cuff with a suit?
D: The first that I’m aware of, especially with the bespoke stuff. I did at work, but folks normally wear the belts. I think you’re probably the first to wear the bone stuff with suits. (laughs) And you pull it off well!
C: Thanks, I was at my local coffee shop, and the barista asked me about what was on my bracelet. So I told her that I was in a motorcycle accident and they amputated one of my toes
D: (Laughs) No! did she believe it?
C: I haven’t told her otherwise. This is more on the #menswear side of things, but there’s this growing trend of Mewlery, men’s jewelry, like folks wearing pinky rings like Sinatra or a billion bracelets. I love the dichotomy of wearing a beautiful watch next to a bear-fat rubbed leather cuff from you.
D: (Laughs) I love your stuff just for that! I’m a huge accessorizer. It’s what sets you apart in my mind and really makes the outfit. I guess that’s because I’m in the accessory business. When I was working for the government, I had to follow a dress code but I would always bend the rules. We had to wear ties but they never specified what kind, so that’s why I started making those bolo tie things. I would tie a handkerchief around my neck and call it a tie; no one argued with me.
C: What’s the strangest material or bone that you have scavenged?
D: Gosh…sea lion skulls.
C: Sea lion skulls!
D: Walrus bones. You can find animal penis bones anywhere. (Laughs) I’ve found some scary stuff, like eagle skulls. You’re not allowed to keep them, but they’re a cool looking skull.
C: I was just about to ask you about that; I know you started using whale’s teeth.
D: Baleen! It’s the teeth of a humpback whale.
C: Mother of God, how did you get that?
D: Living in Alaska you make a lot of connections. I’m friends with whalers.
C: My favorite thing is that these goods are made in a cabin in Alaska. Do you think the “made in the USA” movement has helped you?
D: I’ve been a big supporter of made in America. Not that I think that everything made in the US is better; I can show you some Japanese denim that’s better than USA denim. But it’s putting money back in our country. It’s a great way for us craftsmen to support the American “family.” I think it’s helped me. My shoe obsession really got me into researching the highest quality leather. Two and a half years ago I went to Tanner Goods and I remember thinking “I could make one of these with the leather I want!” I really love natural leather.
C: I love that shade you use; I’ve never seen anyone use it before.
D: That helps me too, it really pops out against the black, and it ages so well. If they stop making it, I’ll cry.
C: The best way to express my love for denim or leather-works is “patina porn,” the ability for something to break in beautifully.
D: It does get better and better, doesn’t it?
I love the look of brand new, natural leather. As it wears it takes on another dimension that’s even more beautiful.
C: You’ve also started a murdered out [i.e. all black] ‘Stealth’ line which includes a hat. Are you going to venture into more traditional clothing?
D: The hat is a collaboration with Ebbet’s Field, a brand that specializes in vintage baseball-inspired gear. I love black stuff. I would wear it all the time, but I fear looking like a goth kid. I always wanted a black wool hat with felt so, again, it’s making stuff you want to make. I tied on a little piece of leather that hangs off, maybe it’s my trademark.
C: You’re notorious for your collaborations; you have this beautiful tattooed cuff and you’re also sewing patches on jeans, too, what’s up with that?
D: (Laughs) I’ve got some stuff coming up. Some of it’s practice, some of it is just seeing what happens. I’m not at liberty to talk about all of them, I’ve recently posted some pictures of carved walrus teeth and eagle head; that’s all collaborations. I really like to help out the local artists, give them credit.
C: What inspires your creations? I’ve seen some of the walrus teeth necklaces with jade, and they’re killer.
D: Native American art for sure! I have a pretty big collection; I’m probably going to open a shop downtown and incorporate some of my stuff in it, too. I’m obsessed with it. My shop is full of it, ivory carvings and bone and Jade carvings. It’s my inspiration. It seems that Southwest Native art work is everywhere, but north west isn’t too well known so I jumped on that springboard. Bring some respect to the tribes.
C: I know you’re a family man. You have two beautiful kids and your wife is prominent in your pictures. I wanted to know how it went over when you said “I’m leaving my career to pursue making bone jewelry.”
D: Forfeiting the federal insurance, that was a pill to swallow. But my wife was a big proponent, actually, she wanted me to get out. My last 6 months working for the government, I was staying up until 1 in the morning trying to finish orders. It was just getting worse and worse. She was a supporter, she said “you either have to do one or the other and I think you should leave.” I was working a stressful job as a government contractor and (pause) my stress has been down since I left. It’s great, my kids come to the shop and help out, so my wife really pushed me. It’s been a blessing.
C: Got any advice for folks who want to start a business?
D: Don’t be afraid.