We all know those moments when you see a spare piece of material, whether that be a textile, vintage bauble, or old photo, were we wonder if we could make something new out of it, something our own. Handbag and accessory designer Erin Templeton used her own fascination with forgotten leathers and love for the past, and has become one of Canada’s most recognized bag designers. Born just outside of Vancouver, Templeton studied shoemaking at Cordwainer’s College in London where she began to make leather accessories, later moving on to hone her leatherwork skills in Australia, before returning home to Vancouver where she began to concentrate on handbags. She found the boiler room of a local tailor shop in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown to rent as a studio, and by 2007 she had moved upfront making the old tailor shop her own studio/storefront open to the public. All of Templeton’s pieces, minimal and sleek, yet warm and tactile, are handmade in-studio.
When did you realize that perhaps shoemaking wasn’t your true passion?
It’s an expensive endeavour, the lasts and components, I mean, shoes would be great, but I will leave the actual making to the professionals, I don’t need to make them myself.
What made you choose the field of handbag design?
I made hats for a bit, and sizing was an issue, and people would say, “I’m not a hat person” or something like that. I like bags because one size fits all, and I have never heard anyone say they aren’t a bag person.
Has studying shoemaking techniques helped you in designing handbags in any way?
I guess when you are learning design, it’s good to remind yourself that there isn’t any one way to do anything, it’s a lot of problem solving. I’m glad I went to school for constructing something, but my schooling was sort of haphazard and mixed in with a lot of travel, so I think I’m mostly grateful I got as much in as I did! I defiantly do put things together in a funny way sometimes, and that might be why!
How would you describe your style as a designer?
I try to make things as simple as possible, but I am also probably my biggest critic. So I think I could strip it down more than I do. Ideally, things would be timeless, unable to be dated by trend. I worked as a vintage picker for many years, and could pretty easily date something, by experience, or film. I wanted to make things that wouldn’t fall into a trend that way, that would attract people with personal style, not influenced by others as much as texture or quality.
Do you see yourself always continuing to use locally sourced materials in the future?
Using recycled leather is my first love, so I want to always use that. Using the locally sourced leathers has been an amazing luxury. I wish that I was a large enough business, and the locally tanned leather would be available to me forever, I love getting my leather there. As far as local support though, we make everything on site in our studio store front, so it is always locally made, it’s a lot of work, but also totally worth it.
Although you use beautiful materials and handcraft everything, your pieces are still at an accessible price range; do you feel it’s important to keep it this way?
Very much so, I really try and use absolutely everything, and we really do try and keep the prices fair. Though I should charge more for some items, I don’t want to exclude my existing customers, I think it’s good to have something for everyone.
How do you typically begin your design process?
Do your final designs reflect your original idea?
If they don’t, I tend to get bored and they don’t get made usually.
Your pieces are minimal and functional; have you always had this aesthetic?
Yes, I think it’s because I don’t know any other way to do things.
Is there an element (or elements) you will never see yourself including in your designs?
That’s hard, this year I started to accept that I didn’t want to hold fast to my stringent ideas about no hardware, or 2-3 functions etc., but minimal and functional is ok. But I can’t picture myself using a lot of hardware, I like to keep things light, and I feel that's what dates the bags, but who knows? Appliqué?
Do you have a favourite material to work with?
I like the way the bison wears after it gets worn in, I like all of it, more or less at different times. I like veggie tan right now, and I never used to. I guess I’m just learning that I don’t know what I like!
Any other materials you would like to explore?
I have worked with wool and fur; I don’t know, I guess I will know when I see it!
What do you look for in a good handbag design?
It has to be functional, hopefully, just absorb into your life. Don’t think about it, just use it.
Do you have a favourite piece from your collection?
Right now it's the straight and narrow, I tested one out and it hasn’t left my side in months, I went from a back pack to a tiny wallet on a string. It has been a liberating experience!
Who would you most like to see wearing one of your designs?
Geez! I don’t know! One time I met 2 sisters, an aunt and a mom, all with my bags, and that was amazing!
If you could speak to any designer/artist dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Joni Mitchell, and I would say thank you and try not to flip out.
Any plans for expansion beyond handbags and small accessories?
That would be fun! I would like to add more to the line, clothing or footwear. But I wouldn’t be making it on-site!
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I don’t want to take over the world or anything, doing our own production keeps me pretty humble, and tied to the studio. I would like to grow enough so that I can have more personal freedom, to travel for example. I like to make plans, but am totally aware that life doesn’t work like that. I like the idea of being in a place 5 years from now that the person I am today couldn’t imagine, I feel like 5 years ago Erin would be proud of me today. I trust it will go the way it’s supposed to, I guess I just want to be happy, healthy and have a lot of love in my life.