Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Grace Teng. I was born and raised in Dallas, TX, and currently live in Brooklyn, NY. With a background in sculpture from Cornell University and the Rhode Island School of Design, I went on to work as an accessories designer in the Meatpacking District of NYC before moving back to Texas where I started Death and Texas.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I’m told I still sleep and eat like a teenager.
What would be the title of your memoir?
In This World Nothing Is Certain but Death and Texas.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Old meets new, masculine meets feminine — my inspirations are simultaneously inspired by the relics of classic Americana and the spirit of Brooklyn and downtown NYC fashion. It’s fitting as I started DNTX because I was looking for something rooted in tradition but not confined to it.
What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade means giving us the choice to create our own heirlooms.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
My dad. He used to take me to gun shows and antique shops in Fort Worth and buy little switchblades and vintage coin purses for me while we sifted through cool junk together. That sense of discovery is still something I try to keep close to me. He surrounds our family with beautiful things, from koi ponds to pigeon coops, orchid greenhouses to giant indoor terrariums (complete with waterfalls and bones buried within mountaintops pressed up against the glass), from his antique sword collection to his rocks-that-look-like-other-things collection. Outside of his hobbies, my parents are both self-made entrepreneurs and their success inspires me to think big and work hard.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
I know that I’ve always drawn. It was something that I did very naturally. When I broke my right arm in kindergarten, I drew the koala on my hospital gown, upside down and with my left hand. Even now when I make bags, I still start with a drawing.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
Kate Spade. I know she sold her business a long time ago, but I still admire her ability to design clean and classic bags, building a successful brand at a time when most handbags were still designed by big fashion houses. Her bags weren’t handmade, but I’ve heard stories of her crafting her first iconic bag out of paper and naming her company Kate Spade before marrying Andy Spade… that takes guts.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
When I graduated from high school and was about to move away from Texas, my dad took me to a local western wear store and bought me my first pair of cowboy boots. I think he only meant to buy me a souvenir to remind me of home, but instead, we walked away with an extraordinary pair of handmade ostrich skin Lucchese boots. At the time, my tastes leaned more towards sneakers, but even then I knew beautiful leather when I saw it. The boots moved around with me for many years like a trophy, only to be appreciated but never worn, until one year when I finally broke ‘em in. They’ve rarely been off my feet since.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
For me it’s not so much getting out of a rut as working through one. It’s a simple thing that I often forget. The most important thing I’ve learned as a designer and entrepreneur is the value of momentum.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
Ten years ago I was walking down the streets of SoHo in Manhattan. It was night and I had my head down, my face hidden behind my hair, so I barely noticed the beautiful older woman dressed in head-to-toe black leather approaching me to ask for the time. We exchanged only a few words, but I’ve never forgotten her elegant demeanor and husky laugh. In a way, I like to think that she is who I am becoming. So it’s less of where do I see myself in ten years and more of how do I see myself in ten years — and that is confident, compassionate and with a saucy smile in my heart.