December 2nd, 2010 Walking Home Project’s Fashion Walk in Gastown & the Downtown Eastside

December 2nd Review
Written by: Maia Rowan

Walking Home Carrall Street, Fashion Walk:

We met at Interurban Gallery for today’s fashion walk. During the introductions each participant explained having a love of, or an interest in fashion, and excitement about having this opportunity for the walk with Catherine and Walking Home Projects.

Before leaving Interurban, Catherine talked about Vancouver based artist and clothing designer Natalie Purschwitz, an Emily Carr University alumni. Nathalie had a store, studio and gallery – Hunt and Gather – in Gastown for five years, in the same space where the store LYNNsteven is currently located.

Catherine highlighted a project completed by Natalie in 2010 called MakeShift, where Natalie made and wore only all of her own clothing, shoes, and other essential weather-appropriate pieces for one whole year. Catherine pointed out that a strength to this art and research project was the substantial timeline of one year, and how Natalie framed the project, telling people about it ahead of time, creating awareness and hype, but most likely adding lots of pressure and support as well.

The creativity is plentiful in Vancouver at Gentille Allouette (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

One of Natalie’s assumptions during the project was that – at the end of the year – going back to wearing normal clothes (made by someone else) would be more comfortable. Wearing normal clothes on the first days after the end of MakeShift, Natalie reflected on her blog that the most comfortable piece of her outfit that day was the shirt she had made herself.

After Catherine’s talk about Natalie, we went to LYNNsteven Boutique, the former location of Hunt and Gather. When Nicole Dennis Durnin took over this great corner storefront at 225 Carrall St at Blood Alley, she knocked down a central wall, having MGB Architects create an award-winning circular change-room placed in the middle of the store – made of 6000 used books found on craigslist. The books are glued and screwed together, the bottom half attached to big sheets of metal for structural support.

On the way from LYNNsteven to erin templeton the participants stopped to explore at Gentille Alouette – getting some tips on finding thrifted clothes.

Erin Templeton showing a few of her backroom treasures (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

The next stop on our fashion walk was erin templeton. The group went in to discover an array of vintage clothes and shoes, accompanied by erin’s own very popular leather bags made with love.

In her early 20’s, erin travelled around Europe for some years – being a vintage clothing picker, while learning how to make shoes. When she returned to Vancouver she decided she wanted to open her own shop where she would make shoes. Erin told us a crazy story of spontaneously buying shoemaking equipment from a retiring shoemaker, but having no studio to work in. A friend recommended that she talk to Bill and Jack Wong who owned Modernize Tailors because he had heard they were retiring. When Erin walked into Modernize Tailors (then located on Carrall Street) it was filled with wool for suiting, much of it moth-eaten. Erin explained to the men that she was looking for a shoe-making space, and they clarified they were not retiring but did offer her a 350 square foot studio in the back of their store.

Daydreaming of our own fashion lines (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

The tailors mentored Erin as a new designer and business person, and truly helped her out. Erin explained that prior to meeting Bill and Jack she thought of herself as a hard-worker, but soon realized she did not truly understand the meaning of hard work before working alongside the tailors for many years. Erin said many times how kind the Wong family has been to her, sharing so much guidance, perspective, and support.

The final stop for the fashion walk was the current location of Modernize Tailors located in the historic Chinese Freemasons Building at 5 West Pender Street. The building is on the corner of Pender and Carrall Streets. The façade on Carrall is in western European style, while the building is decorated in a Chinese style on the Pender Street side. The building is now owned by Milton Wong, who offered the space to his brothers Jack and Bill Wong, if they were willing to move their shop across the street. Our tour guide Steven, the son of tailor Bill Wong, showed us a photo of the tailors with actor Sean Connery, a celebrity client they are very enthusiastic about.

Steven Wong shows us a historical tribute to Modernize Tailors (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Steven talked about how tailoring consists of both working with ones hands, and problem solving, making garments fit properly. The tailors are still making suits, and are also doing alterations of off-the-rack items since those items often don’t fit perfectly. When a client comes to get a suit made they get to choose the colour, texture and weight of the wool. They choose the number of buttons, from 1 to 3, and a single or double-breasted jacket style. Steven also explained that there is a disconnect with younger generations not knowing where their clothing comes from and how it is made, including how much work and effort goes into making a single garment.

Still busy after all these years (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

We were invited upstairs into a room full of fabric, stacked floor to ceiling, to watch a documentary about Modernize Tailors, called Tailor Made. The film was directed by Len Lee, and narrated by JJ Lee. The film highlighted the historical importance of Modernize Tailor, having started in 1913, and continuing as a business today. Modernize spent 40 years at 5 West Pender, before it moved across the street to where erin templeton now has her shop at 511 Carrall Street, working there for 50 years. Now Modernize is back at 5 West Pender, but in a much smaller space. Jack and Bill Wong are still looking for someone to take over their business from them, so that Modernize can continue, once they retire. Both Jack and Bill are in their eighties now, and continue tailoring. A few of us had some intimate time with Bill at the end of our visit, seeing the famous Singer button-hole machine in action, and meeting Horne, who has worked with Modernize since the 50’s!

The group was touched by the opportunity to visit pieces of past and contemporary history in action, and enjoyed the fashion walk along Carrall Street. Thanks to those who welcomed our visits. We learned a lot!

Maia Rowan


The Map of Where We Went – December 2nd, 2010:



Participant Reviews

Tara Anderson
Walking Home Projects Guest
On December 2, 2010 I joined Walking Home Projects for their Fashion Walk in Gastown and the Downtown Eastside. Having an interest in fashion, DIY ethic and realistic commercial models in Vancouver, I was happy to tag along! We met at Interurban Gallery where founder Catherine Pulkinghorn shared the history of local designer Natalie Purschwitz’s Makeshift Project. Natalie bravely made her own clothing for an entire year – even underwear! Dreams are important but many hours of hard work lay ahead before your vision can be realized!

We continued our journey at LYNNsteven boutique in Gastown with fashion-forward pieces similar to those you might find in NYC. We browsed through a beautiful collection of designer clothing but the focal point of the store was the dressing room. Owner Nicole Dennis Durnin commissioned North Vancouver architects MGB to design a circular dressing room constructed from paperbacks. Many of them trashy romance novels – so awesome!

We then visited Erin Templeton who has a self-titled boutique on historic Carrall Street. She designs and produces leather bags and supplements income with unique vintage pieces. Her presentation was a realistic but funny commentary on how hard work, luck and patience helps her maintain a successful shop. Her constant message was that entrepreneurial work will make you work harder than you ever thought possible!

The final part of the day was at the amazing Modernize Tailors. They have been in existence in Vancouver’s Chinatown since 1913! We watched the touching CBC documentary, Tailor Made and got to visit with the famous patriarch Bill Wong. I arrived interested in such a historic business in Vancouver but after the emotional documentary realized that this place is more than a shop – it’s a community! In a world of technology there is a comfort in honest hard work and longevity.

I’m thankful to our wonderful facilitators Catherine Pulkinghorn and Laurie Dawson for their insight, organization and humor! Walking Home Projects offered me an insider’s perspective on Vancouver fashion history and I left feeling hopeful for our city and a real sense of community! Good things are happening in the DTES!

Bill Wong from Modernize Tailors showing us the famous button-hole machine (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

Laurie Dawson                                                                                             December 2nd,2010

Most of the Walking Home Carrall Street walks I have attended have been with large groups -20 or so people- crammed together on a sidewalk, huddling in towards the centre in order to hear a presenter’s voice compete with an onslaught of traffic, sirens, construction and people chatting to each other.

It’s been a part of the experience and definitely a part of getting to know the city.

But the Walking Home Projects Fashion Walk in Gas Town & the Downtown Eastside was a tiny group in comparison. Eight people.

In this smaller group, the feeling was much freer- we moved away from having to follow or even think about regular “large group rules” such as getting out of the bike lanes, only so many people fitting into a place at once, putting up your hand if you have a question, and not fidgeting with your zipper, so everyone can hear. You could fidget away! Freely! And fire away as many questions as you liked without worrying that you were encroaching on anyone else’s question-asking time.

But this is what I missed about being in a large group: the varied responses to what we were learning/hearing, the lack of self-consciousness, the opportunity to hide behind someone else, and a bit of the large-group attitude where you can take over a sidewalk for five glorious social-mores-breaking minutes because you are just so large and substantial.

What I enjoyed so much about being in a small group was the intimacy of fully expressing my responses to what we were learning. I loved listening to erin templeton talk about her life and what it takes to run her store, even being so brave as to ask her personal questions such as “are you happy?” which I would never have the guts to do in a large group. And letting my tears fall watching JJ Lee in the documentary Tailor Made, as he received tough fatherly advice from Bill Wong about his future as a tailor. In a larger group my reactions wouldn’t have been so immediate, and probably a bit more guarded- but in a small group I was able to let them roll.

Sitting at one of the work spaces at Modernize Tailor (photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)