Introducing our VISIT series. Join ZANE as we visit places and spaces in the city and around the world. Follow us as we explore our neighbourhood, discover the new go-to spots, and chat with the most interesting people along the way.
For our first stop, we met up with Kealan Sullivan of 69 Vintage at her denim warehouse. She gave us a sneak peek at her capsule collection (Keep it Punk) for our upcoming denim pop-up event on July 8. Kealan has been Toronto’s vintage fashion maven since 2004 when she opened her first shop. Since then, she has become known for her unique and quality denim selection.
“I’ll give girls 6 pairs to try, and they’ll buy 4 every time. They ask me how I do it. Well, I look at their body and I look at the shape of the jeans, and I know how it’s going to fit and what it’s going to do to their butt.”
We asked her a few questions about her business, her new capsule collection, and vintage shopping in general:
Z: What is your favourite way to style denim?
K: I go through different phases, from boho to super grunge. For a really long time, I was wearing whatever ratty jeans I had with a lot of gold and prints—that look is always really gonna work for me. Then there’s grunge. I mean, who doesn’t love grunge? I always pair my filthy denim with a crisp, white tee, so I don’t look like I’m actually dirty. I like really rugged, worn and abused denim—when it’s authentic. I don’t have any time or taste for the phony. I don’t get it. There’s a reason why hardcore jeans with a classic sneaker or heel is such a great aesthetic. Anyway, style for me is very impulsive, in the mood.
Z: What are your thoughts on the Canadian tuxedo?
K: I think it’s great. I think it’s hilarious. I wear it a lot, so I can’t really say anything negative about it even though I am tempted to. Before “norm core” existed, it was a very norm core thing, a very dad thing. You’d wear your jean jacket with your jean shirt and your jean pants; they were the same wash and all came from Mark’s work warehouse. That’s how the Canadian Tuxedo became a thing. We’re on the map now; it’s fun that we’re given credit. It’s a great look, but the important thing is not to have the same wash!
Z: How long have you been collecting for?
K: I have literally been collecting clothing since I was about 8, and that’s not a joke. I went to my first vintage store around that time and was blown away. I never had a taste for new clothing—I was a kid, so I still loved my Roots sweatshirt—but I would buy men’s oversized coats, and I wanted to wear my mom’s clothes. Collecting and buying both go hand in hand; the collecting is all about the selling.
Z: How hard is it for you to part with some of your favourite finds and not just keep everything?
K: I just don’t part with them. I have bins and bins to prove that. I have every pair of jeans I have ever worn. When you’re exposed to so many pieces and do what I do, you don’t decide what to keep. I just look at it and it’s mine and that’s the end of that. If I didn’t have a business, I would have kept a lot more I’ll tell you that. I had some pretty amazing pieces that I could have kept and sold to collectors or for a lot more down the road, but I was happy and able to keep my business going.
Z: How do you think vintage shopping has changed?
K: Now is a really crucial time because I was riding with the wave of the vintage trend that happened. A lot of the people that care about vintage now are almost too young to remember a time when there wasn’t such a thing like Etsy or online shopping. No one went to Value Village. Maybe we had it, but nobody talked about it. Nobody went there for fashion. That didn’t happen until like 2008 by my calendar.
Z: How do you think you have evolved from your first store to now?
K: When I opened my shop, the timing was just so perfect. People saw things about 69 Vintage on MTV. Some came for inspiration, some in vans from Whitby. The shop was 2000 square feet. It was a massive space, and it was full. I only cared about getting as much quality stuff in, getting it clean and getting it out; that was my job. There were new pieces every week, but that changed dramatically. A lot of people got the same idea. I didn’t invent vintage, but as a young person who had their own shop, I was unique. Older people had shops in Kensington, that stayed there. I brought it to Queen Street. As those stores opened and people found their niches, I had to find my niche too.
Z: How would you describe your niche?
K: I was doing men’s and women’s heritage stuff. Every guy was wearing a pair of Red Wings. There was no such thing as a pair of Levis on the streets, no one was wearing them. In 2011, I started to see them in fashion and on kids again. I thought to myself that this was good because no one was really selling them either.” So I opened up a store just with denim.
I slowly started to buy less and cater to a more specific customer which was closer to my age. I didn’t do men’s because I didn’t like men’s vintage clothing. I didn’t want to see a guy in those shirts or those pants, but I liked the shoes. I sold a lot of shoes back in the day before I completely stopped men’s. Last year, I decided that I didn’t wanna inventory a store anymore—it started to feel inauthentic. I want to sell what I want to sell, not what I have to sell to make rent.
Z: What was everyone’s reaction?
K: People couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t mean that I was stopping, stopping, stopping. I’m stopping, so I can start again. I now feel like I’m actually starting the business I wanted to start 15 years ago. Which is: find the stuff, make it cool—there’s tons of cool stuff, but make it my idea of cool—then sell it. I’m not a designer but kind of, and I don’t want to be known as a designer but I definitely want to be known for my work. So now we’re at that stage, and I look forward to it actually becoming a thing.
Z: What’s a good tip you could give people when searching for the right fit?
K: I used to have girls come in and tell me: “I can’t without you!” I would give girls like 6 pairs and, they would buy 4 every time. I’m looking at your body and I’m looking at the jeans and I can see them on you without actually having them on. I know what it’s gonna do to your butt cheeks. If you’re trying to fit your round butt into a square pair of boy jeans (if you can even get in them), it’s gonna flatten your butt and the rest is gonna spill out. So they might not fit even though they say they are your size. It’s about shape; the numbers don’t matter.
Z: Can you shed a little light on the whole DIY trend happening these days?
K: You know, DIY was what people did for fun, not social media. In the 60’s and 70’s, girls would meet up in parks and embroider their jeans. People would make stuff! If you had an event like prom, you would make your dress. Home Ec was being taught. That’s just such a different time that we have no grasp on. DIY is getting back to that idea where we are capable and don’t need to buy it already made for 9.99 at the mall. And that is the most important trend that has ever happened. Ever. And I want to be a part (look I’m getting emotional) of that in every way possible.
Z: What are you creating for the event?
K: I’m exploring punk now. I felt like a bit of a fraud; I’m not into the music or the lifestyle, but the aesthetic has always knocked me over. I’ve stopped people on the street and talked to kids for years, like: “How long did it take you to make those jeans?” Everything is about sending out a message, and their favourite bands, and whom they align themselves with. It’s true branding and it’s fascinating!
I am deconstructing and reworking. I’m taking the jeans apart and putting them back together. I wanted to do something more extreme and reshape the clothes. I don’t sew, but I can put them together and that’s where the punk aspect comes into play for me. And I can’t stop thinking: “Ughhhhhhh! I can’t wait to be done these clothes so I can start wearing them all summer because they are actually really cool!” They’re not so throwback, they’re definitely more modern and tailored and more than just punk. I’m just using that punk influence. There’s a bit more of a fashion take on it. There’s nothing dirty. That’s not the girl I’m selling to. I’m not selling to punks, they’re making their own stuff. The dyes are fun, but it’s definitely really clean… it’s been washed like 30 times, haha!