Sea Fur Sewing
Authentic, handcrafted indigenous outerwear, where every stitch counts
Robert Miller grew up hearing stories of his great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth John, of the Kiksadi Clan in Sitka, who sewed moccasins and sold them to tourists during the summertime as her main source of income. Inspired by the stories of his family and understanding first-hand the importance of balancing the coastal ecosystem of Southeast Alaska, he worked to start a business to help tackle the problem of sea otter overpopulation legally.
Alaska Native-owned operated, and focused on social, environmental, and economic sustainability, Sea Fur Sewing hunts in areas that will not be negatively impacted due to overpopulation of sea otters. By focusing hunting efforts on Kake, the shellfish population is able to repopulate after sea otters have overeaten, which in turn allows people to once again harvest shellfish for subsistence.
When the Alaska SBDC interviewed Robert back in 2014, he and Alaska SBDC Business Advisor, Ian Grant, had been hard at work on his business plan for Path to Prosperity, financials, hiring employees, and discussing opportunities to grow. Shortly after, Robert began working with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service on safe harvesting initiatives. He had also begun to market his fur and sell to Iditarod mushers with Lance Mackey and Jessie Holmes; proud promoters and customers of Sea Fur Sewing furs.
Today, Sea Fur Sewing remains mindful of sustainability in harvesting meat and fur, with a commitment to hiring local hunters, designers, models, and photographers. Robert shared the importance of this; “I love hiring local Alaska Natives to assist me in the shop, hunt for me, and most important – giving away all the seal meat to elders in Sitka. Over 2,000 pounds just this winter.” Through Sea Fur Sewing, Robert has employed three hunters from Sitka and Kake, as well as another hunter that prepares the fur.
In addition to his efforts in sustainability and local communities, Robert was featured in the TV show Life Below Zero on National Geographic where his work is proudly featured. Sea Fur Sewing was also recently featured in Field & Stream magazine in Are Sea Otters the Next Wolves? that discusses the environmental impact and relationship of sea otters and hunting.
When asked about what challenges he has faced, Robert discussed a relatable obstacle small business owners face; “The hardest part for me was to price an item that I think is fair, and not budge. Finding the correct price point where you are still doing the job sustainably and not underselling your self-worth.” Sea mammal fur is rare and highly valued as Alaska Natives are the only people in the world who can harvest and produce it. By learning to price his fur at the right price point, Sea Fur Sewing honors both the customer and culture.
The last two years have allowed Robert to provide his services as an independent contractor and provide fur – hand and machine – sewing classes through the SeaAlaska Heritage Foundation. With community and people at the heart of Sea Fur Sewing, Robert has donated fur hats to Elks Lodge, Alaska Waterfowl Association, Sitka Veteran’s Association, and Fallen Outdoors, USA veterans benefit event.
In considering the next phase, Robert informed us that he is in a place business-wise where he is ready to take his skill set to the next level. Always a step-ahead and daring to feel uncomfortable, he is well-poised to build on his success and in doing so, hopes to bring his trade to Angoon where his grandfather is from this year.
To stay connected with Sea Fur Sewing, learn more, and view Robert’s stunning pieces, visit http://www.seafursewing.com/, Facebook, and Instagram.