GREENLIGHT: Inside The Tiny “Athena Atelier” Pop-Up In Gastown’s Parking Spot
by Claudia Chan | Local designer Athena Theny has set up shop in a 120 square foot space on the southeast corner of Cordova and Carrall. The space is the revolving pop-up host cGREalled Parking Spot. It’s a small showcase room offered free to local creative entrepreneurs who want to explore and develop their art and ideas. Recently, several UBC Masters of Architecture students transformed it into Athena Atelier, where Theny creates and displays her most exquisite collection of traditionally tanned leather goods and nautically inspired jewellery.
I paid a visit to temporary store to take a look at all her wares. The small space has a beautiful aesthetic; adorned with a stretched hide against the wooden walls, tanned leathers, furs, antlers and even a rope swing that hangs from the ceiling (I couldn’t resist having a few swings myself).
Deeply inspired by traditional aboriginal practices, Athena makes ethically sourced, environmentally sustainable and socially responsible leather necklaces, bags, vests, moccasins, mitts, clutches and pouches. She also has a line of jewelry consisting of rings and necklaces cast in the shape of nautical knots, alluding to family stories told to her by her grandfather who lived in the wild and her great grandfather who was a fisherman.
Theny explains that most of the world’s leather products are tanned with chemicals such as chromium, which damages ecologies and vulnerable populations in third-world countries such as India and China (the chromium is washed off from the hides and seeps into their drinking water). The trade’s sourcing of animal hides is often questionable as well.
Having learned from various mentors in her First Nations studies at Simon Fraser University, a local urban aboriginal group as well as with the Algonquin peoples in Québec, Theny uses traditional leather tanning practices. She spends at least 20 hours processing hide. This entails removing the flesh and hair on either side of the hide and tanning it with the brains of the animal. You can also tan it with something as simple as Sunlight soap. She explains, “Tanning the hides in this way produces a leather that’s more water-resistant, that has a softer texture and that’s longer lasting, and therefore maintaining the integrity of animal skin.” Theny sources her materials from hunters that she’s cultivated relationships with over the years. She highlights the importance of being aware of how the animal was honoured, how all the parts its body were used and how she can trace the hide back to who killed and ate the animal.
To learn more about Theny and her designs, you can visit the atelier at 8 E. Cordova. The shop is open by appointment during the weekdays and on Saturdays 12 – 7. And when you stop in, make sure you give the swing a try!
Claudia Chan is an advocate of all things green. Born and raised in Vancouver, she is inspired by the work of local urban farmers, eco artists and policy makers who make this city the most lush and livable to work and play in. Her mission with Scout and her “Greenlight” column is to impart her enthusiasm for bike lanes, community gardens, farmers’ markets and more to her fellow Vancouverites.