John Durante is one of those guys whom I have known of for many years. However, I don’t believe I actually had the pleasure of meeting him until the Philly Tattoo Convention early last year. Since then, I have ran into him at a few conventions and have always enjoyed talking to him, so I felt sure the modblog readers would enjoy hearing from him as well.
John is a good example of a body mod renaissance man. He is actively involved in so many facets of this industry/community that he is hard to keep up with. Perhaps later, I will have to interview him again to dig deeper into his piercing and scarification work, as well as his extensive traveling and involvement with ancient and modern body rituals alike. This time though, we are focusing on the body jewelry company he founded, Evolve.
For the interview, keep on keeping on.
The following is from a Skype chat I had with him a while ago, combined with some of the amazing pictures he has shared with me.
John Durante: Hey bro!!!
Sean Philips: Hi man, how’s it going?
John Durante: Good, working super hard, rearranging the Evolve office and work shop, setting up a larger work area. We finally got the rest of our stone machines set up here!!!
Sean Philips: Very cool, where is Evolve out of anyhow, your always on the road. But I assume there has to be a home base somewhere.
John Durante: We are based in Seattle, WA. Actually, right next to Laughing Buddha, the studio I work at.
Sean Philips: Awesome, that sounds extremely convenient! So I guess the best place to start the interview is with the start of Evolve. What’s the history of your company?
John Durante: Well, I moved to Seattle between 6-7 years ago. I moved here from kuala Lumpur Malaysia, where I had been working at Borneo Ink. I started the company with my business partner, Michelle Hamilton, about a year later, so about 6 years ago.
Sean Philips: …and how did you personally get your start in the production and distribution of organics?
John Durante: I have spent 13+ years extensively traveling and living all over SE Asia. I had made the connections with many carvers and material suppliers many years before I actually began my company. So when me and Michelle started Evolve we utilized many of those connections, as well as starting our own US based production on top of that.
Sean Philips: When I think of Evolve, I think of all the road sales and traveling, what brought that about?
John Durante: I always wanted to be able to connect directly with our clientelle, learn directly what people want, what works, and what does not. Plus it’s fun, and makes the good ol’ USA a much smaller place!!! But mainly it is piercers connecting with other piercers, not just some salesman.
Sean Philips: It definitely seems to work, Evolve seems to be in most of the shops I have visited that carry decent jewelry. I assume a lot of that is because of the easy accessability of the traveling sales people.
John Durante: We work hard at it, and I hope it makes people happy!!!
Sean Philips: Speaking of happy people, how about your carvers? How is Evolve’s relationship with them?
John Durante: They are Evolve, whether they be our carvers overseas, or our carvers here in the USA. I am happy to have been able to positively impact the lives of our carvers all over the world. I personally am friends with, and spend a good deal of time with our carvers/artists here in the US and abroad. Evolve is a big family that spans so many countries.
Sean Philips: John, I am going to backtrack a bit, because my brain refuses to work in a congruent order…… How did you get your personal start in body mods?
John Durante: Hahaha, cool. I began my facination with piercing and body art around 92′, but did not start working full time as a professional piercer until late 94′. I can honestly say that I was in the right place at the right time living in Los Angeles, around old school Gauntlet croud as piercing was coming out of the closet so to speak, from a primarily gay and S&M subculture. Remember the Aerosmith video??? As soon as that video aired, all of a sudden piercing became mainstream!!! I started my professional piercing career at Puncture Body Piercing in 1994, and since then have worked at so many of our country’s best studios, and for that matter many of the world’s best.
Sean Philips: Oh yeah, Aerosmith and Alicia Silverstone set a trend that has long since became a staple of our industry in that video. God bless that big lipped bastard, and his video writers for inadvertantly setting the stage for our careers.
John Durante: Im serious, and its funny, I later had the chance to thank him myself when he came in to our studio in Los Angeles.
Sean Philips: That’s awesome that you got to meet and thank him for that. That video was a long time ago, you are definitely dating yourself with that reference. Hell, I got my start in ’96 and people are amazed I haven’t jumped ship or totally burned out, you have 2 years on me, what’s kept your heart in it so long?
John Durante: I have such a passion for piercing and this art, but honestly I have an equal passion for world travel and exploration. That travel is usually oriented around piercing, or jewelry, or anthropology, or better yet ethnography. So the time I give myself to travel I believe greatly saves me from burnout!!!
Sean Philips: Sounds like you got it figured out pretty well. Back to Evolve, what seperates Evolve from the countless other organic companies that have popped up in recent years? Does Evolve make any political, humanitarian, or ecological type impacts?
John Durante: L.T.D indeed!!! First, Evolve is a company founded out of an almost 2 decade passion for this industry, founded by piercers for piercers, and jewelry lovers. Not like so many popping up to simply try to exploit what some business people may see as some fad to capitalize on. I have been here, and will be here through good and bad for life. I can’t say I try to get overly political, but we do go out of our way to take care of our carvers around the world, here and abroad. Exploitation is no part of how we do business.
Sean Philips: LTD is Live the Dream, correct? I see that on a lot of Garza’s stuff as well, how did that all come about?
John Durante: Hahaha, well LTD is a crew of close friends and family who share a passion for life, and traveling the world. Myself, Ron Garza, Chris Glunt, Dave Gilstrap, Wayde Dunn, and more. One thing to add about what sets Evolve apart is how much we are focusing on our custom work here in the USA lately. We’re now producing almost any custom stone or wood right here in Seattle.
Sean Philips: Are there any custom pieces or styles you are particularly proud of?
John Durante: Alot!!! Our wood is second to none these days, produced here in Seattle with high end exotics. Our new stone production here is also coming along very nicely. Some awesome weights, labrets, conch pegs, and plugs!!! And to add to the LTD thing, essentially it’s more of a mindset!!!
Sean Philips: Ironically enough, someone is buying some Evolve jewelry from me at this very moment. The black onyx facet cut ones, to be exact. (I do most of these interviews at work, so sometimes I have to deal with customers in the middle of them. It was cool to be talking to a customer about the Evolve plugs while also talking to John about Evolve simultaneously.)
John Durante: Hahaha, AWESOME, thats what I like to hear!!! Nice, the onyx is super clean!!!
Sean Philips: The facet cut stones really fly off my shelves.
John Durante: We just got in a bunch of faceted opalite, smokey quartz, onyx, carnelian, and rose quartz.
Sean Philips: Very cool. Does evolve also do custom pieces?
John Durante: We do indeed, we just finished getting the last of our stone tools set up for plugs. We have been doing custom wood for a while, now lots of custom stone labrets, conch pegs, some stone weights, and specialty materials. Much, much, more to come. We also do some teflon, we do custom for various mod procedures.
Sean Philips: I didn’t realize you did teflon, that’s good to know.
John Durante: We dont really advertise it, but sure enough!!!
Sean Philips: You should, that’s a good niche that isn’t really filled by many companies.
John Durante: Indeed I should. We do alot of things like TS (trans scrotal) plugs and such that are not so common.
Sean Philips: Are there any long term employees you want to mention and if so, what role do they fill for Evolve?
John Durante: Well Michelle Hamilton my partner, Sophia who is our manager/road manager, James Woodsmall is our head carver here, and Chris Jakubiak, who is as well one of our awesome carvers. As well as many of our road team we have out yearly.
Sean Philips: Very cool. Lets see we got some history some current how about the future?
John Durante: Well I hope to expand our production here in the USA, and getting more international distributers. We may soon open an Evolve studio for piercing and jewelry production, as well as working more with distributing some publications for tattooed kingpin, modern primitives, the Godoy brothers, and Ron Garzas LTD productions.
Sean Philips: So if any modblog readers want to contact you, what’s the best way for them to do so?
Much thanks to John for taking the time to Skype this conversation with me and get me all of these pictures. If you see him running around a tattoo convention, a Mayan temple or anywhere else for that matter be sure to say hi. He is one of the nicest, most down to Earth and knowledgeable guys in the industry and he is always willing to talk your ear off.