Since its inception in 2006, Capitol Hill’s Doghouse Leathers has become Seattle’s best-known shop catering to the queer kink and leather community.
In the past few years, the store has experienced many substantial changes.
Some changes posed great challenges: In 2020, COVID-19 pandemic restrictions forced Doghouse Leathers to temporarily close its brick-and-mortar storefront, and co-owner and beloved community figure, “Daddy Jeff” Henness, passed away in 2021.
But other recent challenges led the store in a positive direction: In 2019, Doghouse Leathers moved from its old location to a new, larger location in the thick of Capitol Hill with great foot traffic, and the business has responded to evolving needs of the leather, kink, and fetish landscape by expanding its offerings – and its clientele.
On August 26, I visited Doghouse Leathers and met with its owner, Dan “Puppy” Daniels, to talk shop about the business and its place in the Seattle leather and kink community.
Dan "Puppy" Daniels, owner of Doghouse Leathers
Jason F.: Hi, Dan! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Let’s start at the beginning: Tell me about Doghouse Leathers and how it began.
Dan “Puppy” Daniels: Doghouse Leathers is a creation of Jeffrey Henness and myself. It started out as an outpost in The Cuff around 2006, but I don’t remember the exact month.
I had been to several other leather bars around the country that had small stores in them, and I thought that was pretty cool. So, one day I posed the idea that, “Well, we could do that!” and that’s where it all began.
J: How would you describe the business now?
D: As it currently is, it’s much larger than I ever dreamed it would be. That’s exciting and scary, being that I am relatively new to the actual operation portion of the business, it’s an interesting challenge.
J: For people who aren’t familiar with your business, what sorts of items does Doghouse Leather stock?
D: We offer a variety of “commodities,” adult novelty toys, fetish gear and toys. We also carry a couple of clothing lines that are also made for the fetish community. We carry a variety of locally crafted products; for instance, we carry Twisted Monk rope, which is created in the SoDo district. We carry Happy Hole toys, which are made in the Columbia City area. We also ourselves create leather products in store in our crafting space, do custom work and alterations and repairs.
We carry more for the kink client, but there’s also a little bit for everybody.
J: Who would you say your customers are? Who is walking in the door and walking out having bought something?
D: That’s really changed a lot from going from the bar setting, where pretty much every customer was gay male identified, to being on a very busy sidewalk now. It has changed dramatically. Originally, we were primarily gay male oriented with a few other folks that would stop in. That mix, since we moved to this location, has blended with the straight community and a variety of other different fetishes and identities.
J: What makes Doghouse unique in the community? Why do people come to Doghouse instead of to any of the other adult stores that are up and down the street?
D: People come to Doghouse because we are more fetish-oriented and carry a variety of gear. We carry a low grade, mid-grade and a high grade. There’s a selection, and people know we carry great quality products.
Honestly, people go to the other stores, as well. The three shops that are here on Pike Street, we bounce people back and forth all the time. If we don’t have it, one of the other two may. It all depends on what fetish item you’re looking for.
J: What do you think Doghouse Leather does best? What are you proud of that Doghouse does, or makes, the experience you provide, etc.?
D: Our crafting space in the back room, since they’ve come on board, they have developed some amazing, high-quality leather gear, and it is very popular with people all over the country.
J: That’s right, Doghouse does have an online shop as well as the physical store, here on Cap Hill.
D: The online store does alright. We actually do dramatically better in the brick-and-mortar store. Thank goodness for the web store, because that’s what kept us afloat during COVID.
J: As far as the brick-and-mortar popularity goes, I imagine customers need to come in the door to try things on, get sized for custom orders.
D: That’s one thing that I get a lot, because when you’re buying something sensual, you want what you want, and if you can’t see it or touch it first, sometimes you don’t get what you really want.
J: You’re buying it to be sexy, so you want to look your best in it.
J: Are you the main buyer for Doghouse? How does Doghouse decide what it carries?
D: In the past, Daddy Jeff took care of almost all the fine little details. I currently have a team, and Trix is our buyer. However, we collaborate as a team to make that happen.
J: You mentioned the crafting space. When did that start?
D: When we moved from The Cuff to the building around the corner, in our second incarnation of that space we added a small crafting area. At that time, there was one worktable and two sewing machines. When we had to move to our current location, the plan was to enlarge that capacity. Now, we are up to three large workstations, five sewing machines, and four people that work back there.
J: What are the things that you make in house? What are the things on the sales floor that you all make yourselves?
D: We make a lot of bondage gear. For example, we make wrist and ankle restraints, thigh restraints, neck to wrist restraints, and a variety of other restraint items. The nice thing about that is you can buy them on the floor or get them custom-made, so you can have them more in tune to your own scene.
We also make a variety of collars – and harnesses, of course. That’s probably the number one item that we sell. We make harnesses on a daily basis!
We also make vests in a variety of styles. We do have the capability of doing pants and chaps, as well, but we’re not quite as developed in that area, at the moment. We also do uniform shirts that are popular as well, especially during certain seasons.
J: Contest season and IML, and all of that.
J: With your custom work, what are some of the more interesting pieces of gear that you have made?
D: Usually, the most interesting items fall around Halloween. For instance, this past Halloween the shop made a complete head-to-toe body harness all out of red patent leather. There was some sort of under-outfit that went with it. I didn’t see the whole thing, but the harness alone was pretty amazing.
The big seller currently with custom products are the pegging harnesses that are selling like hotcakes.
J: Retail businesses often enjoy an immediate insight in terms of the wants of their customers, maybe more so than online shops or mail order. What does Doghouse Leathers see happening in the Seattle fetish community today?
D: The fetish community is so huge in the different kinds of things that you can do or be into. It’s a real challenge for a store like us to be able to accommodate all the fetishes you can find on the planet. It’s also important for us to try to stay relevant with our base clientele, which would be, of course, the leather community and the kink/fetish world. But we also have to remember that in order to stay relevant we also have to adapt along with the younger generation, as well.
J: What sort of adaptations have you made? What are things you’re carrying now that you wouldn’t have 5 or 10 years ago, scenes you might not have carried gear for?
D: The most notable are the ABU products.
J: ABU meaning the adult baby…?
D: The adult baby universe. We currently carry products from two companies, one out of Australia and one out of Everett. I was a little skeptical at first because it’s not my thing, but I have to have an open mind. We gave it a shot, and it’s surprisingly very popular.
J: I wouldn’t be surprised, having been to Fetish Night at CC’s. I’d guess at Fetish Night maybe a fifth of the attendees are ABDLs (adult baby/diaper lovers). It seems to be a big scene in Seattle.
D: It’s interesting, too, that there’s a mix of different groups that cater into that particular kink. It folds into the puppy scene and other parts of the community, too – humiliation play. I was amazed at how much of the community participates in the kink of that nature.
J: Some scenes you might not have thought of at first, not just the adult babies, because yeah, someone into watersports might want to wear a diaper!
J: You mentioned Daddy Jeff’s death anniversary is tomorrow, and I know it’s a difficult subject for you. Obviously, his passing was a significant event for Doghouse Leathers and for you, personally. What did his passing mean to the store?
D: When we started Doghouse at The Cuff, we both worked at The Cuff. Down the road, Daddy Jeff left The Cuff, and I continued. While that was going on in our lives, he was developing the store. It went from a little 5-by-7 closet to the current 5,000 square foot facility, which is an amazing jump for our little shop.
When he passed away, it was a huge – I don’t want to say, “setback” – but a big bump in the road, for sure. He dealt with all the day-to-day functionalities of the business. Of course, when someone passes away, they don’t leave a handbook. So, it’s been a year of a lot of learning. We’re still here, and it’s been a year, and we are going to continue on forward.
J: He also meant a lot to many kinksters and leatherfolk in Seattle. Who was Daddy Jeff to the community?
D: Jeff meant a lot to a lot of different people. He was a mentor. He was a teacher. He was a historian. He loved the community. He seemed to know everyone. You could point to someone, and he’d tell you their name, if they held a title, everything.
That was his thing: He wanted to continue to build community. That’s part of what Doghouse is here for. He was very big on developing a way to get all the different aspects of the community to be more cohesive, together. The leather community, the drag community, and all the other different portions of the community, as well.
J: What is Doghouse Leather doing to keep that legacy going?
D: As you know, it’s only been a year…
J: True, it’s unfair for me to say, “Hey, haven’t you already figured it out?!”
D: It’s been challenging, and I haven’t already figured it out. The plan is to continue forward in the manner in which Daddy Jeff would want it to progress.
Left to right: Doghouse Leathers Employees Rick, Ari and Knotch
J: And Doghouse now carries things like pegging harnesses and ABDL gear, which I think attracts people who might not have come to the store before and now get to see themselves as part of the community for being in the store, and I think that’s really great. I know that you guys had an education program, too, right?
D: We have a variety of different programs that happen here in store which are quite amazing. We did educational forums on a variety of topics, with a huge amount of community knowledge and support. We held community organization meetings. We also held an AA meeting for kinky folks so they could feel more comfortable about bringing their whole selves versus just bringing part of them when they go to meetings. That was great. It was nice to be able to do things of that nature.
For a period of time, we also supported the Capitol Hill Arts Walk. We were able to provide a space for erotic artists to show some of their stuff during that event on the Hill. That space is now being used as a memorial space. The leather memorial has moved from The Cuff to here, same with the Sister’s [of Perpetual Indulgence’s display]. We added a few new things to the memorial, as well.
J: You’re talking about the community memorabilia that hung in The Cuff before the bar was sold to its new owners, correct?
J: It’s late 2022, and we’re kind of starting to get out of the pandemic, and things are beginning to normalize. What have been some of Doghouse Leather’s biggest accomplishments or wins in 2022 so far?
D: The biggest win is that we are still here! When COVID happened, we had to let almost everybody go. That next day coming into the building completely empty, no employees. It was scary. I cried. We had only been new in this facility.
J: We’re glad you’re still here. How long was there between moving to the current location and the start of the closures, that would have been March 2020?
D: We moved here in May 2019, so less than a year before we had to close for COVID.
J: How else did the pandemic affect the business? What was that span of time like, between everything shutting down and life beginning to reopen?
D: It was a learning experience. It was a very good thing we had the web store. Although the web store wasn’t fantastic, it’s better than it was. The two or three of us that stayed on board developed a routine of pulling packages and shipping stuff out to people. The same small group of people, when the time allowed us to do curbside pickup, we did that. With a small amount of ingenuity and the help of a couple of devoted folks, we managed to keep things going.
J: Has it changed the way you do business now?
D: Of course, because COVID is not 100% gone, there are things we are aware of and pay attention to, which, realistically, we should do in general life, anyway. Extra cleanliness, extra knowledge about illness and how to deal with it.
Store hours have also been a big factor. When we were first able to reopen, we were only open a couple hours a day and closed on Sundays. Jeff was pushing for us to get more of the hours back just before he passed. However, the climate outside the building really wasn’t comfortable enough to do such a thing. We can stay open, but when somebody has to go home at night, they have to go through that mess. After dark, it was really scary. Our hours reflected that. This summer, we have managed to bump our hours back up to 10:00 p.m., which has been helpful. I think the more people realize that we are closer to regular hours again, the more things will improve more.
J: What is next for Doghouse Leathers? What do you think your business will look like a year from now, five years from now?
D: I hope the physical location doesn’t look too different than it does now! Haha.
But you know, the plan or the goal or the want of Doghouse is to try to continue the vision of Daddy Jeff and myself, but also to be able to expand it and become a more welcoming, engulfing establishment. We want everybody to feel that they’re welcome here, because the world outside is a total mess, and we have to be able to feel safe someplace.
J: Ending on a fun note, a lot of retail businesses – and I imagine especially adult retail businesses – get some colorful characters coming in and some very interesting customer interactions. Are there any of those you’d like to share, any interesting stories about working here? You don’t have to name names.
D: Because we are of the adult store nature, like you said, we have some very interesting clientele.
I think because there are adult stores with a slightly different nature to them, people automatically think all adult stores are like that. I’m referring to those that have video booths and things of that nature. So often, people will just assume because we’re an adult store we have those kinds of options, as well. Some folks come in looking for action and don’t find exactly what they’re looking for.
J: Has anybody ever “found what they’re looking for”? Have you caught people trying to mess around?
D: There are people who are overly friendly on occasion. There are folks that, if you’re standing on the ladder messing on some display with your hands above your head, they decide to come over and stick their hand up your shorts, that can be a little surprising! Because not everybody is good with consent.
Find what you’re looking for at Doghouse Leather’s storefront at 175 E. Pike St or on their website, doghouseleathers.com. You can also keep in touch with the business by following them on Twitter @doghouseleather.
Our thanks to Dan and the folks at Doghouse Leather for the interview.
Photos by Davin D.