A Marine Corps veteran who suffered devastating injuries during his military service is using skills he learned during recovery from surgery to do what he can to help Ukraine, including friends there.
Jordan Bulluck, who served as an intelligence specialist in the Marines, relocated to Brownsville from his home state of Minnesota in October and plans to open a shop in a renovated historic building downtown to sell his handcrafted wallets, holsters and other custom leather goods. He’s signed a two-year lease on the former Layton’s Grocer & Market at 540 E. Monroe St., a stone’s throw from the Brownsville Police Station, and aims to open soon.
It will be the first brick-and-mortar retail location for his business, BM Custom Leather, or Bulluck & Malinen Custom Leather. Malinen is Michael Malinen, Bulluck’s best friend, who helped out with the business in the beginning but is off doing something else now, Bulluck said.
For now it’s appointment only, though Bulluck can also be found with his truck and wares on display at Boca Chica Beach next to SpaceX on days when State Highway 4 isn’t closed, the weather isn’t terrible and the wind isn’t blowing his display stands over. The profits on anything he sells, wherever he sells it, go to Ukraine.
“Literally 100 percent,” Bulluck said. “I don’t use any of it for myself. It’s all going straight to Ukraine, either Ukrainian citizens or the Bank of Ukraine.”
Classified as a 100-percent disabled veteran according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he receives federal compensation and so doesn’t depend on the business to make a living. Bulluck said he just really enjoys making things out of leather. As anyone who’s seen his products can attest, he’s very good at it.
“My wallets are really nice,” Bulluck said. “It sounds kind of cocky, but I know my skill level and I know I make really nice wallets. … I use really good leathers from Italy.”
In addition to the custom exterior designs, the sky’s the limit when it comes to the lining fabric he sews into each one. Peaking out from an opened BM Custom Leather wallet may be La Catrina, Batman, Old Glory, spaceships — you name it.
It all started with a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis requiring surgery on both feet while Bulluck was in the Marine Corps. After surgery came redeployment, which his doctor OKed based on assurances from a senior officer that Bulluck’s duties would not require walking, but that turned out to be false, he said.
“I had to walk miles every day and my feet collapsed,” Bullock said. “Then they discharged me and I got out. They did x-rays and said your feet are completely destroyed and I needed to have them reconstructed. … Since 2010, every year I’ve had at least one surgery up until 2019.”
In 2014, after his second foot reconstruction, he was faced with “six months of just sitting,” he said.
“It was so boring and I needed to find something to do,” Bulluck said. “I googled ‘things men can do sitting down.’ There was a list of 10 and one of them was leatherworking.”
That one piqued his interest.
“I knew a couple of the tools and a couple of the techniques,” he said. “I don’t know why I knew them or where I learned them.”
His first project was “absolutely atrocious,” though he had fun making it and kept going. Bulluck eventually cranked out some 500 custom cases for Leatherman multi-tools, a very niche item, “because he had the time and needed something to do,” he said. Bulluck then learned how to make wallets by watching YouTube videos and “started making a little bit of money,” he said.
“I don’t know why, but making wallets are one of the most fun things in the world to make,” Bulluck said. “Whenever I have leather, there will be months where I just work night and day and just do that for fun, even if I have plenty to sell and I don’t need to make more.”
Because he does it for fun, he’s not compelled to charge premium prices, he said. While a handmade, hand-stitched, luxury leather wallet easily sells for $150-plus, Bulluck said, his are priced between $40 and $80.
“I don’t like charging for the time I spent, when I was doing it for myself to begin with,” he said.
Bulluck has a five-star-rated Etsy store, BM Leather Shop, though that’s on pause temporarily while he gets set up in Brownsville. His online business through Instagram was hacked and is now in the hands of the hacker, with apparently no way to retrieve it, said Bulluck, who admitted he hates social media.
“I had like three days of really being upset because someone stole my stuff,” he said. “But at this point I do not care at all. It gives me more time to do the (Ukraine) charity and I have a plan that I think is going to be more financially viable and more fun.”
Bulluck’s new business model, prompted by the Instagram hack, involves traveling “town to town, city to city, state to state, selling at all the craft and gun shows,” he said.
“It’s forcing me to do that, which I think is going to be much better anyway,” Bulluck said.
It will also involve plenty of overland camping, sort of a cross between off-roading and camping, which enable him to enjoy the remote outdoors without the use of his feet. Bulluck said he was attracted to Brownsville in part because of SpaceX. He said he loves all things space and thinks what’s happening at Boca Chica/Starbase is “one of the most historic moments in all human history.”
“It seemed perfect, he said. “And then I get here. The weather is incredible. Because of my surgeries my feet are really sensitive, and this heat is incredible for it.”
As for the Monroe Street shop, he’s “mostly moved in” and a few people have already come by to check it out, Bulluck said.
“When I have all the stuff that I have in my truck for the charity setup, it essentially can be open,” he said. “I just want to have the last little bits so it looks how I imagine it.”
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