Artistry blooms at Gastown's ATHENA Atelier

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      In the world of locally produced accessories, there is handmade and then there is handmade from scratch. In other words, no market-ready fabrics, no store-bought hardware, no shortcuts—just premium, detail-oriented craftsmanship from beginning to end.

      Athena Theny’s work is a great example of the latter. When she makes one of her gorgeous Eagle Beak purses (which start at $2,500), she doesn’t merely stitch together some leather panels, add a fastener, and call it a day.

      In fact, by the time the Vancouver designer is at the sewing stage, she’s already put in countless hours of work. That’s because this ambitious artisan starts out by tracking down “ethically sourced rawhides”, and she’s got a pretty strict definition of that term. The skins must come from animals that were wild, hunted for food, and then respectfully taken. Then she manually tans and smokes the hide herself without using any chemicals. And no, we’re not talking about vegetable tanning (which may sound environmentally friendly but actually requires chemicals in the rinsing cycle). What we’re referring to is all-natural softeners, patience, and quite a bit of elbow grease—a traditional art form she’s learned mainly from, and in some ways for, her friends in the First Nations community.

      “I love B.C.,” says Theny, who recently sat down with the Straight in her funky little Gastown spot (8 East Street)—which she aptly calls ATHENA Atelier. “I love where I come from and I’ve absorbed everything that’s in my surroundings, so for me, it’s about kind of embracing and paying tribute to the people and the cultures that managed to keep this place so pristine for so long.”

      After one of her high-end bags is sewn together, there’s still the matter of reinforcing the shape with some backing, lining the inside with silk fabric, and adding her pièce de résistance: a gorgeous bronze or silver clasp that she makes by casting an eagle beak borrowed from First Nations people.

      Which brings us to her jewellery lines. She has two. One is the Talismans, a collection of pendants made from animal castings. Standouts here include the Eagle Talon Talisman pendant on a hand-rolled, hand-sewn silk necklace ($150) as well as the Eagle Beak Talisman pendant on a bronze chain ($475).

      Her other jewellery line is the Wish Knots. As the name suggests, these pieces are cast from various forms of tied ropes. In terms of highlights here, there’s the Wish Knot necklace on a silk strand (starting at $100) and the Monkey Fist Wish Knot ring (starting at $140). Her Wish Knot rings (starting at $100 each), are great for stacking. The inspiration for this somewhat nautically themed collection is her grandfather, a retired fisherman and ex merchant marine.

      “He’s one of my most favourite human beings in the entire world,” she says. “And he’s just got all these great stories, so I just feel really close to the ocean.”

      While Theny has been making jewellery and accessories for more than five years now, she only just moved into her Gastown studio/storefront last November. Suffice it to say, the historical ’hood is a great place for an artist such as Theny, who imbues so much one-of-a-kind style and craftsmanship—not to mention nostalgia—into her work. But don’t be fooled by her tiny storefront. This woman has big plans—most notably, she’d like to play a part in making ethically tanned leather more accessible on the wholesale market.

      “I’m hoping to scale it to the point where it can actually shift the industry a bit,” she says, before adding, “I mean, that’s my pipe dream, but I believe in dreaming big, so that’s what I’m going for.”