One of the best things about being a local business in the Keweenaw is the company we find ourselves in. This tiny island is home to a surprising number of talented artisans, craftsmen and entrepreneurs...and there are few things we like more than partnering with them!
Like most Keweenaw locals, we've been huge fans of Dead Miners Handmade Goods since they debuted a few years back. We dare anybody to check out their line of handmade leather wallets and card sleeves emblazoned with iconic Keweenaw imagery (the Quincy Mine, the Northern Lights, rainbow trout scales, etc.) and not become instantly obsessed. As we've been expanding our in-house product line at KCW, we've been looking for an opportunity to partner with Dead Miners--it was just a matter of finding the right project.
Then, last April, our retail manager Anna had the great notion of commissioning a reusable leather cup jacket. The result was a runaway hit--the first round of leather Dead Miners cup jackets sold out within days of putting them out.
With a fresh batch of cup jackets ready to be snapped up in our Marketplace, and more surprises being worked on as we speak, we thought it was a great opportunity to introduce you all to Ben Mitchell, the man behind the leather. Along with the amazing work he's done for KCW, the ever-growing Dead Miners product line includes a number of outdoor-oriented items that are as useful as they are beautiful. (We're already shopping for more axes just so we can get more Dead Miners blade sleeves.)
Tell us everything about Dead Miners--the name, the craft, the business.
I've had a huge fascination with the local mining history for many years and had been putting "Get Rich Or Die Mining" on designs and stuff for a while, but it wasn't really a completely unique phrase having been a slightly modified version of the 50 Cent movie Get Rich or Die Trying. So when I was ready to finally come up with a legitimate name, I was brainstorming one day and thought, "Well, I'm probably not gonna get rich. Guess I'm gonna die mining." And thus, Dead Miners was born. Then I created my logo of the miner skull and cigarette, and ordered a stamp for my products.
The very first thing I ever made was a small card wallet for myself. It looked horrible--it was some scrap upholstery leather I found at Goodwill, and I used a hammer and nail to punch the stitch holes. Not long after, I decided to order a leather crafting kit from Amazon. Definitely a huge help having some of the right basic tools.
So from there I made my first product, the Quincy, which is a very minimalist two-pocket card wallet. I posted it on Instagram and a bunch of people were really into it and thought the logo was cool. As my skills improved, I slowly worked my way up to bigger products and also began taking on custom orders, and I now have a super wide variety of items available on my website.
How does the Keweenaw Peninsula (the land, the history, the culture, etc.) influence your work?
The local mining industry plays a huge part in all of my branding and naming of products. There's a lot of influence drawn from the history of the area. I'm not sure how much this has to do with local landscape specifically, but I've been doing some different dyes lately that resemble the northern lights and copper patina, and I've also done a lot of items that feature landmarks such as the Lift Bridge or the Quincy Mine.
The leather cup jackets you made for us were a runaway hit. Any ideas for other handmade leather coffee accessories?
I have been wanting to make a leather drink holder for my motorcycle so I can take it on coffee runs. I've also had someone ask about a Chemex pour-over collar. I'm not sure about much else, but I'm certain that leather stirrer straws are out of the question. (:
Tell us about your favorite outdoor adventure in the Keweenaw.
I love riding/driving around through the woods. Anywhere up around Copper Harbor always has such gorgeous scenery in all seasons, and it's cool being able to see the peaks of Mount Bohemia, Brockway Mountain, and Mount Houghton randomly popping up in the distance. I just bought myself a dual sport bike, so I'll definitely be doing a lot more exploring this summer in places that were harder to get to by truck.
Have to ask--which KCW coffee is your favorite, and how do you like to brew them at home?
Northwoods Blend is definitely my favorite. I moved away from here several years ago and my standard of finding a new local coffee was basically, "How close does this taste to Northwoods?" I was very happy to have it in my life once again when I moved back.