Jewelry and clothing designer Da’Mon Butler’s unconventional creations are gaining attention

For 17 years, Butler has been designing jewelry and accessories utilizing unorthodox materials like inner tubes from bicycles, medical tubing and upholstery.

Feb 8, 2017 at 11:57 am

click to enlarge Da’Mon Butler (center) and models wear his clothing designs at a recent show. - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Da’Mon Butler (center) and models wear his clothing designs at a recent show.
If there’s a living example of the idiom that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” it’s Da’Mon Butler. For about 17 years, Butler has lived in Cincinnati designing and selling jewelry and accessories, with some pieces made out of unorthodox materials. And he has lately expanded into clothing.

Butler sells through his business, Nomad3176 (“Nomad” being his first name backward and 3176 reflecting his birthdate of March 17, 1966), and is active on Facebook. He refers to his designs as “icing.” Just like the way a glaze can make a cake spectacular, Butler says a piece of jewelry can do the same to an outfit. “People dress really nice, but it’s always like the last piece you put on that takes that outfit sort of over the top,” he says.

Working retail for Ralph Lauren about 25 years ago kick-started an urge for Butler to set himself apart from his shirt-and-tie-wearing co-workers.

“I used to make these brooches out of found materials that I could wear on my suits,” Butler says. “Whether it be broken glass, marbles, stones or just about anything I could find, I’d put on a brooch.”

According to Butler, these unique designs would be immediate conversation starters. He originally found his unusual materials at thrift stores like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, but eventually started ordering materials online and vending his works at events like art fairs. He then realized he had a great deal of competition. 

“I found myself in a sea of other jewelry designers all competing for the same customer,” Butler says. “I thought, ‘I need to figure out a way to set myself apart from everybody else and not do what everybody else is doing.’ ”

To do that, Butler began pushing further into the unconventional materials. He started using inner tubes from bicycles and Segways, as well as medical tubing — his own keychain is made of inner tubes — with more traditional items, like beads.

Butler says an early influence was his trips to a landfill with his father to throw out their garbage. That influenced his views on sustainability as well as his choice of design materials. He also lived in Germany for seven years and found people there to be much less wasteful than those in the United States. 

“I’d rather you wear it and pay me to wear it than for it to be in a landfill and mess it up for everybody else,” Butler says.

Not all materials have worked as well as inner tubes or medical tubing. Butler attempted to make necklaces out of water bottles, but the translucent nature of them “didn’t translate well,” he says. However, he still hopes to make them work someday. 

His work has garnered devoted fans. Pamela Myricks, a friend of Butler’s, says she and her husband Lennell have been longtime collectors. Myricks, who owns 21 necklaces and three bracelets designed by Butler, say she can’t choose a favorite. “I love them all for different reasons,” Myricks says. 

Butler, who did not originally intend to sell his jewelry, says he has one client in mind when creating his designs: himself.

 “I design everything for me, and then I happen to sell it so I can buy more material to make stuff for other people.” Prices for Butler’s jewelry range between $10 and $100, while his clothing prices range between $30 and $200. “It’s never going to be outrageous, because I would never pay $200 for a pair of pants,” he says.

For his clothing designs, Butler has used a diverse array of fabrics, including Ultrasuede, denim, upholstery and wool to create outfits from ponchos to pants. Rather than making outfits with a specific pattern in mind, Butler prefers to let the fabric guide him. “I sort of come up with designs depending on the fabric,” he says. 

In April 2015, Butler learned to sew at the downtown public library and had 12 outfits featured at a fashion show hosted by the Africana Studies Department at the University of Cincinnati that year. Last year, Butler was treated to “an impromptu photo shoot” with his jewelry after he met a photographer at Second Sunday on Main. “For her to take two, almost three, hours to do a photo shoot with my jewelry on Main Street, in the middle of the street, was just kind of cool,” Butler says. 

Butler has been promoting his work at Second Sunday on Main for 11 years now, but notes a significant upswing in interest in recent years. “The last Second Sunday that we had, I sold 11 pieces, which is a lot,” Butler says. 

Butler is already making strides in the new year. On Jan. 7, his work was showcased at a fashion event at downtown’s PRVLGD Lounge & Bistro. And this Saturday, he will have a pop-up shop at Chicken Lays an Egg in Northside. At the PRVLGD show, Butler wore a shirt and jacket made from a disaster relief blanket, along with a pair of pants made from a pair of faux leather curtains given by a friend, and a necklace made of pony and ponytail beads. 

While his designs are unisex, Butler likes to use male models because it increases the chance of another man buying one of his designs. “Women, when they see my stuff, they have no hesitation in buying it,” he says. 

Butler has a preference for African-American male models, as he believes “they’re the most overlooked models.” He adds: “A lot of designers don’t use African-Americans (or) they only use … a select few.”

In the United States, Butler sees how those who are unique, artistic or not, can be unfairly ostracized. 

And he is concerned about that. “Sometimes we, as Americans, are quick to judge and criticize people for being different, when we should embrace and encourage that,” Butler says.

With some 1,500 pieces produced to date, Butler has made his ambition and drive clear. 

“If I couldn’t create, I don’t think I would want to exist,” he says. 

Northside’s Chicken Lays an Egg hosts a NOMAD3176 pop-up shop 6-10 p.m. Saturday. More info: