Dan Ewing holds a hide he'll use to create some of the leather products he sells at Ewing Dry Goods.

Dan Ewing holds a hide he'll use to create some of the leather products he sells at Ewing Dry Goods.

Making Local Work: Ewing Dry Goods

Dan Ewing’s been through dark times, but he considers himself blessed — with his family, his business, and his faith, all central to his life.

Ewing, who grew up in Juneau and graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1995, got into heroin when he was only 16. It’s something that in time, all but one of his best high school friends would die from.

After high school, he left Juneau for the Lower 48 and punk rock. He was in and out of jail, and he overdosed — multiple times.

“I was pretty bottom of the rung,” he said. “I was addicted to crack and heroin on the streets — the type of person you would see at their worst (and think) ‘There is no hope for that guy.’ Now I see people so far in the grip of their addiction … I have to remind myself that was me.”

With a pastor for a father, he grew up immersed in Christianity.

“It was almost like I was fist-fighting God,” he said of his period of addiction. “I knew what I should be doing. I think that’s why I got so low… (my family’s) prayers were ‘Just take him home.’ It was just tortuous on my whole family.”

Then he met his wife, Ashleigh. She supported him as, nine years ago, he got clean. They got married. He quit smoking. Now, they have two young girls, Imogen, 3, and Ruby, almost 5. And they have a successful business in Ewing Dry Goods, a leather-working business based out of a storage unit in Lemon Creek.

Ewing was able to quit both heroin and cigarettes on his own, with the support of his wife and his faith. He said he preferred, when getting clean, to focus on his future rather than his past.

Ashleigh Ewing is “the rock,” Dan said.

She handles the financial aspects of the business, he said, and “the hardest job of all — raising two daughters of mine.”

“Being in Juneau, Alaska, working out of a storage unit… I never thought that (I’d be so successful) at all,” he said. “I always say we’re blessed. Sure, it has a little to do with me… but I’m not by any means the world’s best leather worker. I think the Lord just blessed us and allowed us to do it.”

He began the business a few years ago, unable to find the kinds of things he wanted to wear. He’d stay up late after working his state job. A year into it, he quit that job to work leather full time.

He began his business right before leather “blew up,” he said.

“That probably was a big advantage for me,” he said. “Nobody was doing what I was doing, especially with bear bones, bear claws, bear teeth.”

Friends that hunt donate items like those above; he gets the items that need it cleaned by the flesh-eating beetles at friend Jesse Ross’s business, Southeast Taxidermy.

“It’s all stuff that gets thrown away,” he said.

He uses leather from three American tanneries for his products, all byproducts from the meat industry. Sometimes he does special products for different shops, working with them on an idea.

“I love little details,” he said. “The weird little details that no one will ever know, except for the owner.”

He collaborates quite a bit with the artists at High Tide Tattoo in Juneau. Milo Irish recently created scrimshaw designs on cut and polished walrus teeth. (Scrimshaw is a technique of etching a design and then filling it in with ink. These designs are incredibly minute and detailed.)

He also collaborates with Alaska Native artists like Dave Lang, the owner of High Tide Tattoo, or buys pieces from them that he then incorporates into his designs. Appropriation is something he’s careful about.

“As a white guy, you want to be careful of getting in someone else’s zone,” he said.

His business has grown primarily through word of mouth and Instagram (an image-based social-networking site) on which Ewing Dry Goods has more than 18,000 followers.

“I was going to make a shirt that said ‘Instagram saved my life,’” he joked.

In Juneau, he sells products at Annie Kaill’s and Kindred Post — different products at each store. But local sales aren’t the majority of his business. Men’s fashion is picking up, especially outside Alaska, he said.

“I fly to LA a lot,” he said. “That’s our niche.”

Ewing sells his products in Japan, Singapore, Australia, Europe, California, Texas, and other states, collaborates both with local artists and big companies like Rogue Territory, and has been featured in denim lifestyle magazines internationally. The actor Adam Goldberg is also a big supporter and has become a friend, he said.

Ewing’s family is central to the business.

“That’s why I went into this,” he said. “So we could spend more time as a family.”

Though he still works until two in the morning sometimes, the family is planning to move to Washington in a little more than a month. They recently bought a home that will allow him space to work inside it, he said. He also wants to hire an employee, something he said he’s had difficulty with here in Juneau.

The move is something that he feels God is pushing him and his family to do, he said.

“He just started showing us He’s moving us out,” he said. “That’s really why we’re moving. I’d like to say it’s for the business, but we don’t know what’s going to happen with the business, honestly.”

Just the same, he’ll be back in Juneau quite a bit.

His family is deeply involved with Calvary Fellowship, a church that meets at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School, of which his father was pastor, and of which his brother is now the youth pastor. Dan is an elder. Before they even bought a house, they traveled to Vancouver to find a church they fit with.

“We are a family of believers; those who were lost in our sins, but have found freedom in the grace of Jesus Christ,” the church’s webpage says.

“I’ve got a rocky past,” he said. “There is hope. It’s hard for especially parents to see when their kid is in the midst of that. It’s hard to see any hope. But there is. Never give up on people.”

 

• Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@capweek.com.

From left to right, Ashleigh Ewing, Imogen, age three, Ruby, who will turn five in January, and Dan Ewing.

From left to right, Ashleigh Ewing, Imogen, age three, Ruby, who will turn five in January, and Dan Ewing.

Dan Ewing of Ewing Dry Goods holds some cut walrus teeth with scrimshaw designs done by Milo Irish, an artist at High Tide Tattoo.

Dan Ewing of Ewing Dry Goods holds some cut walrus teeth with scrimshaw designs done by Milo Irish, an artist at High Tide Tattoo.

Dan Ewing in his shop and studio, a storage unit in Lemon Creek. In the foreground are some strips of leather he's cut for custom-made belts.

Dan Ewing in his shop and studio, a storage unit in Lemon Creek. In the foreground are some strips of leather he’s cut for custom-made belts.

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