Templeton brings cool leather to Shanghai Alley

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      The Modernize Tailors sign still adorns the window above the door, just below a red paper lantern. And Erin Templeton has put her sign, with its bold white letters, in the window right beside it. It's a perfect embodiment of what Templeton's work is all about: taking the old and building something new.

      Templeton recently opened her shop (511 Carrall Street) next to the famous Sam Kee building (supposedly the world's narrowest) in Chinatown. The store–and Carrall Street outside–are still a work in progress, but she's confident that it's a good place to establish herself.

      "I live down here, and I like it down here. Things are going to change down here," she said from the doorway of the store as she looked down the street.

      And recently, traffic was steady at a sample sale that featured Templeton's leather shoes and bags and included local designers like Allison Wonderland and Imaginary Friend. "I hope to do more of these [events]," she said.

      Although Templeton's name only recently went up in the window, she's no stranger to the location. For five years, she worked in a 175-square-foot space in the back of the shop: "It was enough space for me”¦just what I needed when I started out."

      When the Wong brothers, who ran the tailor shop, moved to a new location, Templeton grabbed the retail space. "It's amazing," she said, still marvelling at getting the spot facing onto Shanghai Alley.

      Templeton makes shoes, belts, and leather pouches and purses. Roman-style strappy sandals and leather belts are her signature items.

      She also makes hobo bags–from both leather and found materials such as thick wool blankets in rich, bold patterns and colours. With their hidden pockets and roomy interior, she said, people like to use them as diaper bags.

      The belts come in a range of colours, including rich burgundies and buttery creams, and run from $45 to $125. Bags are available in electric blue and more subdued shades of tan, and go for $125 to $180. The shelves and racks also feature vintage clothing and accessories, from dresses to shoes to jewellery.

      It's Templeton's first storefront. Along with making leather goods with a big green shoemaking machine in the back, she's now busy renovating the store and sourcing products for it.

      Before landing in Chinatown, Templeton studied leatherwork and shoemaking in Australia and England. She's now venturing into jewellery-making, and is focusing on giving new life to vintage pieces.

      "I'm a ridiculous collector of things. I have a suitcase full of things that will become new things," she said.

      She held a necklace in her hand that she'd recently made–a black stone set in hammered gold on a long chain. Personally, she said, she prefers simple pieces, and only wears her grandmother's necklaces.

      Eventually, Templeton said, she'd like to add clothing to her repertoire.

      Templeton also sells her belts and handbags at Gravity Pope (2205 West 4th Avenue) and the Block (350 West Cordova Street), and through stores in Los Angeles and New York.

      When she first came to the Wong brothers looking for a small studio space, Templeton said, Bill Wong told her, "You're never going to make it."

      Looks like she's proved him wrong.