The Shop’s TJ Schneider Talks Denim, Five Years in Chinatown and Dining with Brad Pitt

Paving the way for quality denim and leather goods requires paying homage to the past – in particular, a bygone era when things were made to last and indelibly imbued with the hands of real people with genuine passion for what they do and create. Arguably, no one in Vancouver is more familiar with or passionate about this intersection of love and craftsmanship than TJ Schneider, owner of Chinatown’s The Shop. The only type of “fast fashion” you’ll find at this one-of-a-kind Vancouver retailer is the kind that can hold up to the motorcycle life – one of Schneider’s many other interests. Hold on tight and try to keep up…

What neighbourhood are you living in, and why there? I’m just off Commercial on Pender. I’m here because I can’t seem to get more than a few blocks off Pender in either direction. It’s nice and close to everything I need, though.

Where’d you grow up? Red Deer, Alberta.

Your ancestry? English-Irish on my mom’s side; American-born German and Polish on my father’s.

Your first memory? My first memory is actually eating shit on my bike when I was like three or four-years-old. I built a small jump out of some wood I piled up on the side of the road and, when I hit it, it collapsed. I tore so much skin off my body. I remember going into the neighbour’s sprinkler shortly after and it burnt so badly. Ahh, youth!

What was your favourite after school activity when you were a kid? Definitely skateboarding. That was my first true love.

Three words that would describe you as a child? Should be dead.

Dogs or cats? Dogs. Cats love pissing on my shit.

Shoe of choice? Usually Chucks.

Coffee or tea? I can’t really drink straight coffee because I go insane. I really like when people make tea. These days I’ve been running the latte game but I hate that milky taste. I need to up my coffee game.

What’s for breakfast at home? Oats and fruit.

Your go to, no-frills place for dinner? No Frills – I live pretty much next door to the No Frills on Hastings and I’ve been eating at home a ton. I love it.

Your go-to recipe when you’re cooking for yourself at home? Salad. That’s pretty much all I eat. Organic baby greens, avocado, carrot, egg and cucumber, with a bit of this mustard-ish dressing. Perfect.

Your drink of choice? Water. I don’t drink too much but I do occasionally enjoy a Good Company beer with some homies.

The thing that is bad for you that you will never stop eating? Probably cookies, but a few days ago I bought a bag of them and they are so gross. So, hopefully I’m done with that…. Nope.

Your neighbourhood haunt? My bed… it’s haunted.

TJ outside The Shop, five years in

The thing you dig most about Chinatown? I think that it’s just a little more chill than the rest of town. We have a lot of great stuff going on.

Favourite Chinatown building? 126 Pender is a great space. It’s such a bummer that there’s an office in such a potentially beautiful retail space.

What keeps you up at night? My little brain. I don’t know what’s going on in there these days, but it likes to keep me up late and wake me up a little too early.

What do you do when you can’t sleep? I’ll usually start painting. I used to make a lot of paintings back in my snowboard days.
A lot of them wouldn’t start until well after midnight.

A Vancouver artist whose work you dig? Bonnie Gaskin and Cairo Justice. I’ve known Bonnie for years and I’ve always loved her work. She seems to make huge oil paintings with ease and it blows my mind. Cairo used to serve me coffee and it also blew my mind when I saw the shit she makes. I dig their work.

The last concert you attended? The Chuck Ragan show at The Biltmore. Amazing show.

Professional snowboarder, graphic designer, video producer, shop owner, bike fixer – is there a career path out there you haven’t conquered that you’d be interested in pursuing if time wasn’t a factor? Career? I have no idea what that is.

Three films you would gladly watch again? 1) “The Blind Side”. That’s my favourite movie. 2) Midnight in Paris. 3) Moneyball. I dig all those ones.

The strange talent that you possess? Sometimes I think I’m psychic. I’m sure a lot of people think that, but there have been a number of times things have been brought up and happen within moments for no reason. I think that’s why sometimes I get pretty bummed when I can’t shake a feeling. I’m a master of messing up my own shit.

The talent that you wish you possessed? I wish I was better at music. That’s one thing that I can do, but I can not do well. I wish I could find a way to make thoughts into melodies. Years ago, I spent some time on the road with Conor Oberst when he caught a ride back with us from New York to Omaha. I remember watching him in the back of the van, stringing together a song that seemed to come out of nowhere. I have a lot of respect for people like Conor, David Dondero, Kevin Devine and Rocky Votolato. They have an ability to capture things we think and string them together so damn well. I wish I could figure that out.

Your major character flaw? Probably that I’m too impulsive and impatient with ideas. Alhough it’s not really an issue for me, it seems to put people off quite a bit. People tell me I’d probably save a lot of money and stop making a ton of mistakes, but I’ve always found that doing things right away leads to me doing other things. If I put things off, they don’t happen. If I want to do something, I’ll do it now.

The character flaw in others that you can’t stand? Being late. If you’re late, you’re letting me know that you do not respect me.

Your biggest vice? I don’t really have any vices, except maybe stickers. I like to play with stickers on my fingers. It’s a weird little tactile OCD thing.

If you could visit any era in history, which would it be and why? Vienna, 1900-1916. For some reason, I feel like this is an era I would have loved and thrived in. When I was in Vienna, Google Maps and the iPhone didn’t exist, so I found myself just exploring the city by bicycle with nothing guiding me at all. While I was exploring I managed to stumble upon the studio that Egon Schiele lived and met his wife in, and that he worked and talked about opening a school in. I walked through the forest that he wrote poems about, the studio he died in and also his grave site at the top of a giant hill behind a school where a nun caught my attention and I followed her around the building. I’m sure it’s just because I’ve always loved Egon Schiele’s work and I like to think that I have some extra kind of connection to it, but it all felt very “Midnight in Paris.” I’d like to feel like that a little more.

Where do you find creative inspiration? I don’t know, it’s just a feeling that happens. I paint a lot of nudes but I haven’t really figured out what makes me want to paint certain people. I know most people think that it’s simple – I’m attracted to them and want to have sex. But that’s not it. I sometimes feel like some people just vibrate at the same frequency or have an aura that works. Those people are my inspiration.

The last dream that you remember? Just the other night I had a weird lucid dream inside of a dream. I was laying on a couch, falling asleep, and as I fell asleep I knew that it was happening and that I could control it. It was weird that in that second dream layer I remember saying, “Hmmm, weird … this one doesn’t feel the same as the usual dreams I can control.” Right away I woke up in the dream and was told by my sister’s ex-husband, who passed away about seven years ago, that I need to take down a wall in the spare room. It was so weird to control a dream within a dream, but to wake up from that dream and not realize that I was still asleep. When I actually woke up, I was confused.

On the day before The Shop’s launch in September, 2012.

Three role models? 1) My homie, Eddie Lee. I’ve known Eddie for over 20 years and I only recently realized what a huge impact he’s had on me. Most notable was when a few years ago he left a great job to follow his dream of being a full-time photographer. He set out on a two-year project to shoot and document a collection of American-made pre-1920 motorcycles and produced an amazing book out of them. Shortly after he told me that, I really started to move The Shop in the direction that I wanted to see it go from the beginning, when I was too scared of it failing.

2) Lou Rogai is another guy that I met in my early 20s. I remember when he told me he was going to follow his dream of doing music full time. He was like, ‘Fuck it, this is what I want to do, Ill make it work.’

3) My friend Matt Sharkey is another one of those cats that I’ve always looked up to. When I was 24 or so I remember looking through some of Matt’s nude photos he’d shot and talking about doing that sort of artwork while in a relationship. I remember him saying that it takes awhile but eventually you find someone that believes in you and what you’re doing.  Matt’s done a little bit of everything. He was the tour manager for No Doubt; a marketing and branding guy; a brilliant photographer. Now he owns a store down by SF called Bleacher Critic. I love this cat. I’ve looked up to him for years.

Those guys really set in me the idea that it’s possible to follow your dreams even when it seems like everyone around you is telling you that it isn’t possible, right or what you should be doing.

Couple of books that made an impact on you in your formative years? 1) The Art Spirit, by Robert Henry. I’ve read this book a thousand times, but never from front to back. I’ll open the book, pick a page and find something that resonates.

2) The Book of Wisdom or Folly, by Aleister Crowley. There’s a lot of crap in Crowley books, but he also sprinkles in moments of genius. I read this book at a time when I started to form a lot of ideas about what sort of life I’d like to live. For better or worse, it’s made an impact and opened me up to a lot of ideas about forming my own ideas, rather than just following what other people think.

Two historical personalities, one good and one bad, that fascinate you the most? Egon Schiele and Aleister Crowley.
Around 2001, my friend Mike came home and told me that he’d found an artist whose work reminded him of mine, and he showed me Egon Schiele. My mind exploded and, since then, I’ve tried to learn as much as possible about him and his work. Crowley, I’ve just found to be such a weird character. He’s been named the father of modern satanism, and the most evil person to have ever lived. Many of his writings are that of a total wing nut.

A character from a movie that you’d love to share a meal with? Maybe Brad Pitt in “Moneyball”. I feel like we’d get along.
I mean, he likes bikes, I like bikes; he’s handsome, I’m handsome. It’s easy.

The first album that made you love music? The Smalls, S/T “white album”. I remember hearing that for the very first time when I was a little skate rat in ’94. One of the older kids had the tape and was listening to it in his car when we drove to some skate spot. That album made me go to my first punk show at the Red Deer College with a homie of mine. SNFU opened for The Smalls, and I was 14 and terrified that I was going to get kicked in the face by some crazy punk kids.

Oddest place you’ve ever slept? Newark, New Jersey. A couple years ago I broke down at this sketchy-ass hotel in downtown Newark. The hotel guy sat behind 3″ bulletproof glass and had to escort you to your room. People were yelling and pissed off because they couldn’t get rooms. It was wild.

Last place you sat around a bonfire? My mom’s place just outside of Lethbridge. It was a little celebration of life for a boy my mom used to watch. It wasn’t the best circumstances that brought us all together, but I remember surprising her when I showed up and later that night watching my mom sing and dance. She was bummed but celebrating that she was able to care for a boy for 18 years who wasn’t supposed to live to the age of two.

Local mountain of choice? I don’t know my way around the local mountains too well but I have always loved going up Mount Seymour. It’s just so fun with little jumps and bumps all over the place.

The most beautiful place in the world? I haven’t found it yet.

Favourite Vancouver park? I’ve really been loving Woodland Park. It’s close to home and in the eve it’s super chill.

The strangest place you’ve ever been to? The DTES.

Your favourite curse word? I say “fuck” a lot. I recently read that that’s a sign of intelligence though, so I’m going to go with it.

If you had to have something tattooed on your forehead, what would it be? Probably a dick. I mean, if you’re gonna have a forehead tattoo…

A current trend that you think should die? I hate when people give cameras the middle finger like they don’t want people to be taking their picture. And then they post it on Instagram to prove what a badass they are. No more middle fingers unless you’re actually telling someone to fuck off.

Scariest situation you’ve ever been in? Too many from my old snowboard days. One of the scariest moments that stands out was standing at the top of a ski jump landing about to hit one of the biggest jumps of the time at a Red Bull contest in Germany. I remember a buddy of mine saying, “We’re bigger than these guys. So, I think if we go straight from down there, we should make it.” There was always that second that you make the choice to point your board downhill towards the jump for the first time – those were some scary-ass moments.

Your biggest fear? Turning into my Dad.

What was the unluckiest moment in your life? A few years ago, I had a pretty unlucky day…It started at 5 am with losing a couple thousand dollars out of my pocket. Then I blew a tire on the highway, which I needed to get a tow to fix. That ended up costing an arm and a leg because it was after hours and a holiday. I had a little luck finding a tire shop that could patch my tube but the day just kept on that downhill slope. As we rode though one of the worst storms ever on Deadman Pass, my electrical blew out. I froze…but we lived, so that was cool.

Your tombstone inscription? “He’s finally dead.”

Most memorable road you’ve driven (on your motorcycle)? I can’t really say there are memorable roads, just memorable moments. It can be hard to for me to slow my mind down long enough to see things for what they are. Hours into a trip you seem to find moments to just reflect on things and that is the best part.

A myth about motorcycle culture that you’d like to debunk? That you have to be a douchebag. I feel like a lot of people are still pretty intimidated by people that ride bikes, but also people like to play up that badass vibe. I don’t like that shit.

Your second-favourite mode of transportation? Two feet and a heartbeat.

What object of no monetary value will you keep dearly until you die? A bunch of little pieces of paper I’ve collected over the years. Cards, numbers, fortunes, scribbled notes – just a bunch of stupid shit that means nothing to anyone other than me.

Your last big splurge? I bought myself a nice new sheet and duvet cover set when I moved.

Favourite item of clothing? My Stevenson Overall La Jolla 727 jeans. I love them very very very much. I also have this old Levis shirt from the Montreal Olympics that I just can’t seem to get rid of. All the side seams are blown out and have been for over ten years. I’d like to get that fixed because it’s actually my favourite.

Best vintage find? Years ago I found an old 80’s vintage motorcycle club of Washington shirt for, I think, two bucks. That shirt is insane and it’s hanging up in The Shop.

Your dream collaboration? I think it would be pretty amazing to work with our friend Mohsin at Endrime. Mohsin is a weird little denim genius out of London. I love all the brands we currently work with, but I know that if we did something in collaboration with Mohsin we would really be able to do something unique with fabrics, the cut and overall design.

Best retail city in the world? Tokyo is by far the greatest place for retail. That place is so insane. Everything you are into, you can find.

Your perfect leather jacket? There’s more than a few out there. We have the Flat Head horsehide “D Pocket” coming in soon. That one is amazing! I love the classic Schott and Lewis jackets, but that Flat Head that’s based off the old Buco… Damn, it’s pretty much perfect.

In ten words or less, why invest in good denim? Denim that lasts and changes like you do is better.

Your first pair of denim? I’m not sure what my very first pair was, but my first notable pair was an vintage pair of Wranglers I found at a Value Village in Calgary around ’99. I wore those jeans a ton! When I got them they were already pretty worn in with that perfect vintage look, but by the time I was done with them there really wasn’t much left. I don’t know what ever happened to them.

What was your first raw denim, ‘breaking in’ experience? It wasn’t great. I remember not being able to sit with them on for quite awhile. Eventually they fit perfect, but it wasn’t a great opening experience. I wish I would have kept those pants, but I have a tendency to eventually get pissed off at my clothing and either destroy or donate them. Over the last 12 years my style has changed a bit so breaking in new jeans isn’t so bad. I’m not buying things as tight, so its mellow now.

Favourite brand of jeans? That’s a really tough one… There are some denim brands that I really love, but I’ll have to say our house brand, Mr. Clarke (@MC_Collective). The idea of this denim company started with a friend of mine around 2002, and it finally came to life in 2016 when I decided to to produced a riding jean for our motorcycle customers at The Shop. Designing and producing a jean was a goal of mine for a long time. There are a million things I’d do differently now, but I am proud of what we made.

US versus Japanese denim: if forced, which side would you take? Japanese denim for sure. It just has so much more character than the denim milled in the US.

Your three favourite brands, currently? 1) Stevenson Overall Co. I just really like Atsu and his wife. Visiting them in Japan, I’ll never forget when Atsu said, “I could make things cheaper, use cheaper fabrics and do less stitches, but I don’t want to. I want to make it how I want it. It’s more expensive, yup, that’s the way it is.” I respect that.

2) Glad Hand. I love this company, the cats that run the brand are cool as hell and they pretty much destroy it with everything they do. I was so hyped that they let us be one of their only accounts to sell their stuff outside of Japan.

3) Ironheart. The same as Atsu and his wife, Giles and everyone there are really great. They have the same feeling that they could do their stuff to a lower standard, but they don’t want to compromise their vision for the brand.

For me, it’s as much about the people behind the brands as it is the products they make, that makes something great.

Recommended denim for the novice, experienced and pro? Tellason is a really great introduction to a good jean for someone trying to get into the denim world. All their fabrics are sanforized, so you won’t be seeing a drastic surprise if you happen to wash your jeans wrong. Their products are made in the USA and they hit a really nice price point. Experienced denim cats don’t really need my advice but, in The Shop, Stevenson Overall Co., Flat Head, Iron Heart, Mister Freedom… these are some of the heavies. The denim is pretty crazy and can change a ton if you don’t know what you’re doing.

How did The Shop come to fruition? What was the first conversation catalyst? For me, the seed was planted a few years before The Shop opened, with a conversation with my friend, Tyler. He used to own Super Champion and, shortly after he sold it, we were talking about doing something along the lines of clothing and motorcycle culture, but he didn’t want to do retail. A while later Tyler’s wife introduced me to Brett at Born Free 3. I don’t remember how the conversation went, or when I mentioned it to him, but I do remember when I was selling him a seat set he came to my garage and asked if I was serious because there was a space open that he thought would be a great location.

How has The Shop changed since it started? It’s more focused on quality goods now rather than just being motorcycle specific. For a while I forgot how important it was for me to be hyped on the shit that I’m doing. As soon as I remembered that, we stepped the game up and moved The Shop in the direction of having one of the best selections of Japanese and American denim brands.

The Shop on the day before launch in September, 2012

  • co-owner TJ Schneider
  • The Shop Vancouver
  • The Shop Vancouver
  • The Shop Vancouver
  • The Shop Vancouver
  • The Shop Vancouver
  • The Shop Vancouver
  • The Shop Vancouver
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  • The Shop Vancouver | Under Construction
  • The Shop Vancouver
  • Kitty! | The Shop Vancouver
  • The Shop Vancouver
  • co-owner TJ Schneider

Where do you see it in one year? 5 years? Some days I have a tough time seeing where The Shop will be next week… In a year, I hope that we will have established ourselves as more than “That motorcycle shop,” and start being known as a place that sells some of the best shit around. In five years I’d like to see it in a new location; maybe one where I don’t have to worry so much about a leaking roof.

The worst thing about your work? I think the worst part is people telling me I can’t do what I do in this town. It’s weird to feel like a lot of people are almost hoping you’ll fail just so they can say, “See, I told you,” or ,“You should have done this.”

How do you find the lines/labels that you carry? It’s a mix of the Internet and meeting the people involved in the brands. I go to a few trade shows and I’ve spent a lot of time in the past checking out a lot of other really great stores. When I find things I like, I’ll look them up. Usually it takes meeting people for me to really commit to brand. I know that if I like the people involved, I’ll be that much more hyped to share their product with people. I’ve never really thought of it as selling people things. It’s more that I get to share our friends’ creations with them and, hopefully, they dig it.

Operating a business on the location that you do, you must have had experiences with the DTES Community that led to moments of reflection on both good and bad aspects of humanity. What have you learned from / what do you find inspiring about the community? Being in the DTES is pretty wild. You see a lot of things that a ton of people normally do not see and you find yourself getting pretty desensitized to the situation. It’s pretty wild that people shooting each other up into the neck, or overdosing doesn’t really phase me anymore. I just pick up the phone, call for help and say, ‘Yea, that’s crazy…’ I’ve  also gotten to know a lot of the people down here. It’s pretty frustrating when you see people come down here, point fingers, pull out their phones, laughing, and saying “Look at all these junkies.” For some people it seems tough to remember that they’re people… “Crackhead” turns into Jason; that “junkie” – no that’s Dom and Dom’s actually 4 months sober. I think more people need to spend some time down here to really see the “Crackhead Problem” as a major mental health issue and as a problem with how society deals with shit.

What would you like to change about Vancouver? It would be pretty damn near perfect if there was surfing at Third Beach… But I’d actually change that people get paid what they deserve for the job they do. I have countless friends that have chosen to live here and make 30% less doing what they do and pay 30% more for everything, so they can be here. It’s a city that makes it really hard for people to do things that are less about making a ton of loot and actually about a passion for something. I don’t get paying someone the bare minimum to do something because it fucks over everyone.

There is 1 comment

  1. I went to school with Tj at Oriole Park elementary. I remember him back in grade one, we would eat lunch together. He was so sweet and I was awkward. Lost touch with Tj when I moved away. Glad to see you’re following your heart and living your dream Tj! This was such a great read.

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