Through a creaking metal gate in Vancouver’s Chinatown, down a skinny alleyway surrounded by faded brick buildings, across a sad excuse for a courtyard, and into a large garage-slash-warehouse, Matthew Churchill and Scott Schneider run a business. The space—and how you get there—is reminiscent of what the whole neighbourhood used to be: rundown and full of secrets. It’s not a far-off observation; this studio space was once ground zero for the city’s opium industry. But now it’s filled with sewing machines.
Bearded and covered in tattoos, Churchill and Schneider might not look like sewing types. Their products, however, speak to a genuine talent and pursuit of craft.
“Most people assume we just answer emails and dictate,” says Churchill. “And then they’re like, ‘Oh, you sewed the things!’” Those things being sturdy pannier bags, backpacks, and outerwear for the on-the-go Vancouverite. Under the company name HMPL, these two Alberta natives specialize in custom, one-off pieces that combine durability and style. “People just come with their wacky ideas and we’re like, ‘Sure, why not?’” Schneider says with a smile. That means HMPL will take your falling-apart Nintendo backpack from childhood, or your favourite Louis Vuitton scarf (two real examples), and repurpose it into something entirely new, using its fabric on the front pocket or straps of a backpack.
HMPL started a few years ago, when Schneider and Churchill wanted new saddlebags for their bikes and decided to make their own. Slowly their friends caught on, and it’s been pretty much just word of mouth since then. Everything is made in their Chinatown studio using Canadian fabric; to supplement the custom work, the duo—both self-taught sewers—launched Local Manufacturing, which produces small-run batches of bags for Vancouver companies.
“We pretty much just live here,” Schneider admits. “We don’t spend a lot of time away from here.”
“We’ve got a giant fishing net for napping in,” adds Churchill. He means that literally: a bright green plastic net, pulled from the ocean by an environmentally-conscious friend, has been haphazardly roped to the ceiling. It’s comically impractical, and undoubtedly uncomfortable—but like everything else about HMPL, its rough-around-the-edges presentation is what gives it charm.
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