Eleven Minutes With Kleah Michnik, Owner Of Chinatown’s Charlie & Lee

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by Thalia Stopa | There’s something about the atmosphere of Chinatown’s Charlie & Lee boutique that makes it more than just one of our favourite places to shop. It’s also an environment that we can imagine living in. That’s in large part due to its owner, Kleah Michnik, who is responsible for the thoughtful curation of clothing and housewares from local, independent and ethical brands. Michnik’s eclectic tastes and worldly spirit add an authentic bohemian aura to the cool, airy, cement-floored space on Union Street. We recently caught up with the businesswoman, mother, wife and wanderer between travels (recently returned from Mexico and preparing to head to Toronto) while unwinding with some wine and a laundry list of questions…

What neighbourhood do you live in and what makes it home? I live in Hastings-Sunrise and the deck we built last summer makes our rental house feel like home.

Coffee or tea? Both. I was all about teas and I still drink teas in the evening, but coffee has slowly crept in and now I am making coffee with an aeropress at home most mornings.

Your current favourite piece of clothing? Anything washable and comfortable. I am loving my Black Crane and Ilana Kohn jumpsuits.

If you had to wear only one outfit for the rest of your life, what would your ‘uniform’ be? Loose high waist pants, cropped tee and a kimono-style layering jacket.

What spring/summer trend are you most excited for? I think I am just excited for summer! And not having to wear socks.

What fashion trend from any era would you most like to see revived? I always love the 70’s and the ringer tees, high pants, button-up shirts and tomboy influence. I loved looking at my mom’s old photos because she had some very cool clothes, many that she had made.

The cliché that you overuse? “Slow and steady”, or anything regarding being a parent! Once you have a child you are like, ohhhhh yeah I get all of these now, but they also annoy the hell out of you. “Enjoy the moments”, “It gets easier”, etc.

What keeps you up at night? Mostly all the random questions I had throughout the day. I end up researching late at night and it drives my husband crazy but comes in handy. I am often kept awake worrying about business related things, and I occasionally worry about the people I love dying and what life would be like without them. I know this is quite depressing but sometimes I can’t help it.

Dogs or cats? Dogs for sure, and donkeys! I am crazy about them.

Shoe of choice? A flat – mule, d’orsay, moccasin or hurrache.

Your three role models? I feel like I take little bits of inspiration from everyone and anyone, so I don’t have any specific role models. My favorite way to learn and be inspired is by total strangers I meet along the way.

Favourite rainy day Vancouver activity? Driving in the rain with a warm coffee to somewhere like the Bloedel Conservatory. Or, I love walking through the forest when there is a light rain and you only get misted.

The thing that you are most looking forward to doing this spring/summer? Road tripping in our camper van, staying in Canada and rediscovering the places I went when I was young; visiting friends and family.

A bad habit? Pulling and twisting my hair when I am thinking. I feel like all bad habits are pretty gross!

A guilty pleasure? Drinking wine or beer with my husband in either of our parents’ hot tubs while they watch our son.

The Vancouver restaurant you wish was open 24 hours? Ask for Luigi – then it might not be so jam-packed all the time!

Your favourite Vancouver building? UBC Museum of Anthropology.

First album that made you love music? Oh, there are so many! It started in the early 80’s with Boy George, Bob Marley, Tina Turner and Cyndi Lauper; but once I was old enough to buy albums, The Beatles was the first.

What was the last live concert you saw? It has been FAR too long, so they all blend together now. I think it was Timber Timbre. I’m way overdue.

Your all-time best Halloween costume?
The Penguin from Batman Returns. It was epic. Top hat, fake nose, big belly.

What game did you love as a kid? Making forts in the woods – maybe not exactly a game but we would hide out from the younger kids.

A sentimental piece of clothing or accessory that you will never let go of? I feel like a have a lot of little things, but I will always keep my wedding dress. I had it made and it doesn’t take up space, so it wouldn’t make sense to part with it.

A trend that you participated in that still makes you cringe? Overplucking my eyebrows – I’m so glad they grew back. It made everyone look strange and ruined all of my high school photos.

What’s the one thing about Vancouver’s fashion retail scene that you want to see changed the most? More local support and appreciation, and a few focused concept shops.

A little birdie told me that Charlie & Lee is working on a house line of clothing… We ended up not being able to produce the pieces we wanted at the final prices the local manufacturers gave us – we just found out a couple of days ago. It is a bummer because we put a lot of work into it. So that project is on hold till further notice. We are going to keep working on some home products and that is a go for sure. Right now we are making some beautiful throw pillows out of vintage Peruvian wool ponchos my sister sent me, and some neutral woven linen pillows to go with everything. There are a few more in the works but I should not say anything until it is done!

The different career path that you could have gone on? Interior & Product Design or farmer.

Three films you would gladly watch again? Natural Born Killers, Garden State, and Dazed & Confused.

Three favorite boutiques in YVR? 7e7, The Good Spirit and One of a Few.

The last book you read? I am trying to finish Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. I keep leaving it for a bit and then have to re-read where I left off. I feel like it is a book to finally finish when I take a proper holiday.

Who, living or dead, would you most like to meet? I would like to meet my ancestors, from all sides.

Restaurant in Vancouver that you most want to eat at, but still haven’t? Kissa Tanto, but I never seem to make it.

Your most regrettable purchase ever? I don’t worry about that stuff – it would drive me crazy if I did!

What was the luckiest moment in your life? There are so many to list, but when I became a mother I felt pretty lucky we were alive, healthy and had access to modern medicine.

It’s been a long day – what’s your beverage of choice? A 33 Acres of Darkness.

What are you the most proud of? I never feel proud in the moment, but looking back I am pretty proud of the businesses my husband and I have started, and most importantly my son – he is my biggest love and source of pride.

Favourite Vancouver music venue? I always love concerts at The Commodore.

What are you the least proud of? Any time I was angry or mean and didn’t realize the impact of it at the time.

The best thing about having your own business? Flexibility.

The worst thing about having your own business? Worrying about everything and anything.

If you could be any animal, what would you be? A wolf or a sloth.

If you could be any person for one day, who would you be? Bob Dylan.

If you had a motto, what would it be? “Slow and steady.”

Scariest situation you’ve ever been in?
Walking deep in the woods along a super faint trail in the moonlight, after smoking weed as a teen (can I say that?). I was a thrill seeker.

Your favourite curse word? Shit.

Least favourite word? Shoppe – I don’t know why but I really dislike this spelling.

The most beautiful place in the world? Anywhere with flora and fauna. There are so many, but I was pretty taken aback by Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Life is put into perspective and it is a very humbling experience.

Your first memory? I feel like some of my early memories are only memories because of photos I have seen. Something I remember pretty fondly was singing at the top of my lungs in my car seat in the back of the car.

The song that you could listen to on repeat for an hour? Always changing, but I can have Reverberation Radio mixes on repeat and never seem to get sick of them.

The best way to go, in the very end? Without pain, in nature.

How would you like to be remembered? As a loving, kind and interesting person.

  • Photo: Rebecca McColgan
  • Photo: Rebecca McColgan
  • Photo: Rebecca McColgan
  • Photo: Rebecca McColgan
  • Photo: Rebecca McColgan
  • Photo: Rebecca McColgan
  • Photo: Rebecca McColgan
  • Photo: Rebecca McColgan

OTHER INTERESTING VANCOUVERITES

There is 1 comment

  1. I know Kleah and can vouch for the fact that she is a loving, kind and interesting person. This article is great, the questions truly serve to capture Kleah’s personality and spirit. I was happy to read it and learn that the words Kleah chose to describe how she would like to be remembered are the exact words I would choose to describe my experience of her, loving, kind and interesting. She is also creative, self-assured, inquisitive, relaxed and fun to be around. Kleah is interesting but what makes her exceptional to me is her interest….