Vancouver is home to a thriving fashion industry made up of individuals committed to its growth and success. Get to know these personalities in The Inseam and discover what makes the Vancouver Fashion scene so awesome. Every month, The Inseam’s Eco Edition focuses on the innovators that shape the green movement in local fashion.

Photo courtesy of Erin Templeton

Not many accessory designers are lucky enough to have not only their own shop, never mind one that also contains their studio and production area plus a storefront of their handpicked vintage finds. And luckily for Vancouverites, we can visit Erin Templeton at her store, see her in action, buy her handmade bags, and shop her vintage clothing and jewelry selections.

Jessica McIlroy: Tell me about your background, and how you got started making bags.

Erin Templeton: I lived in London in 1999 and 2000, and happened upon a shoe making program. I started making cuffs and small things from the scraps at school, and vintage pieces I thrifted, to sell on Portobello for beer money. After London I moved to Melbourne for a year, and took more classes, and started making caps from vintage leather pants this crazy store where I was working was importing from Germany. No surprise, the market for second hand German leather pants is never strong, and in Australia they were glad to have me take them off their hands. Then I came home and did the same thing for a while, and while picking vintage for stores, I’d collect leather. After hearing “I’m not a hat person” one too many times, I started making bags, nobody’s ever said “I’m not a bag person”.

JM: Do you feel there is more freedom creating bag styles?

ET: Sometimes I’m not inspired, but I’m lucky, bags are functional. If someone doesn’t get down with a style of mine I don’t take it to heart. My favorite ones are often overlooked, or unappreciated. I mostly just like the narrow confines of my job. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I am just trying to make functional, fun leather things. And I remind myself to be grateful that all of these challenges and problems I have are of my own doing and keep me on my toes. I’m glad I only have to pick out two leathers a season, that’s hard enough!

Photo courtesy of Erin Templeton

JM: Tell me about the eco-aspects of your work.

ET: I started out with 100% recycled leather, and now do three groups: local leather (elk and bison); imported; and recycled. This allows me to sell to a larger variety of retailers, but also some styles aren’t possible in recycled leather. It’s a lot of work to collect, dissect and remake, and the leather is usually lambskin, so it’s softer, less sturdy. I get upholstery scraps from BOMBAST, my neighbour in Chinatown. They make beautiful furniture, and are very sweet to me. The recycled clothing I get every which way, and generally we have very little waste, the linings are gross, we throw those out, but most of the scraps get scooped up, by either people here, or for crafts in the eastside.

JM: Do you design and create for a certain customer?

ET: I’m lucky, it’s pretty varied. Younger people usually go for recycled; I can keep them at a pretty nice price point. I try to design for men, but it never seems to work out. Not quite dapper enough, too cute. I keep trying, but I have mostly been working on smaller items that are unisex, baby steps!

JM: How often do you create new designs?

ET: Every six months we update the line, adding a couple things, dropping a couple. Changing up the colour scheme, and adjusting it for the spring or fall. Since we do all of our production in the back of my shop, we are basically in production 24/7. It’s nice to be able to mark the time passing with different leathers, or recycled bits.

JM: How long has your shop been open now? The shop carries your bags plus vintage items, how do you balance it all?

ET: It’s been five years. I sell my things and some vintage clothes and jewelry. I have a hard time catching up sometimes, as I do all the picking too, but I really enjoy it. I am really working on letting go of some of my jobs, but alas, I am self employed, so it’s never going to happen! Looking for vintage is great fun, totally mindless, you either like it or you don’t.

Photo courtesy of Erin Templeton

JM: What are you favourite aspects to vintage?

ET: A vintage piece is not attached to something like things are nowadays. It feels like if I saw something contemporary, I wouldn’t be making that decision alone. That the world conspired for me to like that thing the way everyone else is all at the same time. Vintage is singular. You like it, you don’t like it; it’s your own decision, not a trend. I don’t like perfect things, everything in my life that I truly love is flawed and I love all of the snags and stains life brings. I see the spirit I think. I’m sentimental, about everything, it’s a real problem sometimes!

JM: Your bags have done well and are carried at a lot of retailers around North America and Australia, is there anything in particular you feel accounts for your success?

ET: I got lucky. For a while there, I was the only person doing recycled leather bags which helped me get known. But I’ve had lots of competition over the years. I guess I had a pretty good idea and in retrospect didn’t give myself enough credit. I don’t think I appreciated it, I was too busy trying to make rent and hustling my stuff.  I definitely try really hard and make sure my quality control is dynamite. That’s what I work hardest at. I appreciate my life, but now it’s not just about me. I have people working for me, so I am extra protective of my work. I’m competitive and stubborn. I’m serious about making this work for me as long as it can but I don’t have lofty ideals about the world of fashion. People go under all the time. Thrift stores are full of labels that no longer exist, and things people simply could not live without, but then discarded. I started making bags from unloved leather to give it another chance. I try and make things people will keep and love and pass along. I don’t have high expectations about fancy things or big dreams, I just want to get this place running smooth enough so I can take off every once in a while, have my own fireplace, or a small garden for napping.

You can find Erin Templeton’s bags (handmade with love) and her vintage treasures at her shop in Chinatown at 511 Carrall Street or purchase them online.