Ethical City Guides: Vancouver
Though I have called the prairie city of Calgary home since I was a young child, I was actually born elsewhere -- Vancouver. The city of rain, of sea, the bustling metropolis kissing the Pacific, the city that's both ever-blue and ever-green. They say it's a little too wet, a little too grey, but I happen to feel quite myself in both. Perhaps because I am comfortable with melancholy, with that poetic sort of sadness accompanying dark skies and foggy windows. It feels a part of me.
Even in my youth, on occasional family trips to visit old friends left behind in Vancouver, I felt an enigmatic connection to the city. That even though Calgary was my home, I was always meant to live in Vancouver. The deep green of the rain-heavy foliage, the tangy breezes drifting off the sea, the skyscrapers reflecting an aqua-blue hue. It all rang truer to me than dry prairie grass and a patina of snow. It's difficult to put my finger on the sensation, but it is always there when I visit. I enjoy imagining that this connection can be attributed to my being born there.
And then, somehow, blessedly, I married a man who was born and raised in Vancouver. And I get to visit his wonderful family, and this city, a couple times a year. Over time, I've compiled a mental list of the places I'm most fond of -- and on my most recent trip last month, I made it a special task to focus on finding stores that sell ethical clothing. This guide is the result of those efforts.
So, here is my list of recommendations. Ethical clothing shops, eco-friendly stores, slow home goods. And of course, fuel for all that browsing: my favourite spots for tea, coffee, and ice cream.
Bear in mind that most of these are just my personal favourites, and I still haven't seen or done everything... But I hope you find these suggestions helpful for a future trip to one of my favourite cities in the world, or a fresh perspective if you call Vancouver home.
Where to Shop (for the conscious consumer):
Most of these shops are conveniently located in Gastown, so be sure to set aside a whole day to explore this quaint part of Vancouver.
1. Nettle's Tale - A gorgeous and affordable ethical swimwear brand with a cute storefront in Gastown. Also sells products by other local makers.
2. Arc Apparel - A beautiful retail space in Gastown curating a variety of responsible fashion brands, including Matt and Nat, Groceries Apparel, LACAUSA, and many more.
3. Hey Jude - Also in Gastown, this aesthetically pleasing little shop sells a variety of slow home goods, beauty products, vintage clothing, and Hey Jude's own clothing line.
4. Lloyd - They don't have a storefront per se, but they do have a lovely studio just a short bus ride from Gastown where you might be able to stop by for a visit or try on some pieces. You can find their garments online or in these Vancouver shops: Hey Jude, Charlie & Lee, and Oliver & Lily.
5. Community Thrift and Vintage - A great option for secondhand and vintage shopping! Add this stop to your Gastown shopping day.
6. One of a Few - Beautiful, airy shop in Gastown selling coveted slow fashion brands (like Lauren Manoogian, Rachel Comey, and Jesse Kamm) as well as beauty products (snagged myself some J. Hannah nail polish while I was there), swoon-worthy home goods, and accessories.
7. Front and Company - A lovely storefront tucked away on a corner along Main Street. They have a wonderfully curated selection of consignment clothing and shoes on the right half of the store, as well as some sustainable brands like Matt and Nat. Their house brand does not appear to be ethical, however.
8. The Soap Dispensary - Not clothing, but a stunning collection of eco-friendly and sustainable home goods, cleaning products, kitchen tools, soaps, the list goes on! They also sell bulk spices, jams, and more that you can take home in a jar. Find it along Main Street.
9. Old Faithful - A popular and aesthetically pleasing general store in Gastown, selling a gorgeous selection of slow home goods.
10. Oliver & Lilly's - A minimal, clean space that sells a variety of slow fashion brands, including Lloyd clothing, Ilana Kohn, and Mother. Located along 6th Ave (next to the most delightful place to have brunch, The Farmer's Apprentice).
11. Charlie & Lee - A store I didn't have time to check out in person, but I've heard wonderful things about their generous selection of slow fashion brands, including Ozma of California, Lloyd, First Rite, and Bare Knitwear.
12. Still Life - A clothing and accessory boutique selling mostly responsibly made brands, including LacaUSA and Agolde. Located on Main Street (they have a second location in Victoria, BC).
13. Hunter and Hare - One of the prettiest consignment boutiques I've ever stumbled upon, Hunter and Hare is a carefully curated selection of contemporary and vintage styles, as well as some local goods. A must-see for any secondhand shopping lover. Find them on both Pender St and Union St.
14. The Main Exchange - Another great option for secondhand shopping, this consignment boutique is full of coveted brands and styles. Located along Main Street.
15. Devil May Wear - Locally made eco-friendly garments with a colourful, vintage flair. Canadian-made undergarments are hard to fine, so this shop was an exciting find. You can pick up a pair of the softest bamboo briefs for $20. Find them on Granville Island and just off Main Street.
16. Black Spruce - A collection of cool, effortless Vancouver-made clothing and linens, located along Water St in Gastown.
17. Atelier St. George - The shop I don't want to tell you about, because it feels like one of those hidden gems a person could easily keep to themselves. More a work of art than a shop, this moody, ethereal space is a slow living advocate's dream, selling handmade clothing, ceramics, and home goods. Shares a space with Wild Bunch, a dreamy floral studio. Located on East 7th Ave, open Thursday - Saturday.
Tea & Coffee:
La Forete - A breathtaking coffee shop in Burnaby, just outside Vancouver. What looks like it used to be a large industrial garage, has been brilliantly transformed it into an airy, sunlit space bursting with foliage and lots of seating. They also sell a variety of baked goods (including my hubby's favourite, tiramisu in cute little jars).
Matchstick - The coffee shop I have to visit every on every trip, because their London Fog tastes just like my favourite one made in Calgary at Monogram (it's a really unique way of making it). They have three beautiful locations in Vancouver.
Nemesis - A coffee shop with one of my favourite interiors, conveniently located in Gastown so you can grab your much-needed caffeine as you visit all the shops.
Revolver - Often said to be the best roast in Vancouver, this brick-walled space is a popular destination for true coffee lovers. They also have a little marketplace selling coffee-related merchandise. But be warned, it can be tough to grab a seat here!
Le Marche St. George - Another must-see for me whenever I visit. Le Marche is part coffee shop, part cafe, and part general store. It's an easy one to miss, because it's tucked away inside an old house in the heart of a neighbourhood, but that only adds to its charm. It's rustic interior is the perfect place to hide on a rainy day.
The Birds and the Beets - A coffee shop and cafe with an eye for design, located in Gastown. Give me aaalll the blond wood and hanging plants. They offer coffee, bites, and a selection of high quality teas.
Nelson the Seagull - If you're gluten intolerant (like me) you might want to rethink stepping into this coffee shop -- the intoxicating smell of freshly baked bread might give you some serious SOMO (the sadness of missing out... that's totally a thing right?). Part bakery, part coffee shop, this rustic space hums with the sound of crackling vinyl and kitchen activity on the edge of Gastown.
Nana's Green Tea: Just going to tell you right now, this is my absolute favourite place to grab a cold treat in Vancouver. Located in Kerrisdale, their menu is entirely comprised of the tastiest green tea drinks and desserts. My personal favourite is the Matcha Shiratama Frapp. Expect a lineup on a warm day!
Mister: Ice cream that's frozen right in front of you using liquid nitrogen to yield a super soft and creamy dessert. I love their Hong Kong Milk Tea flavour!
Earnest Ice Cream: Possibly the best ice cream in Vancouver, this small-batch artisan ice cream company has three locations. London Fog and Matcha are my two favourites, but Whiskey Hazelnut is the crowd pleaser.
My Frosty: Giant bowls of ice flakes (like shaved ice, but super soft and fluffy, like a cloud) with a variety of flavours and toppings.
Bubble Tea: There's bubble tea all over Vancouver, and it's all pretty amazing. The family favourite is Milk & Sugar Cafe, but I've heard good things about Boba Boy, Boba Monster, and you can never go wrong with one of Chatime's many locations.
There are two main things I look for when I explore a city: beautiful stores and coffee shops (yes, I'm that person). However, Vancouver is a much more complex and vibrant city than simply a shopping destination. Take some time to explore its sights, sounds, tastes. They have some of the best sushi in the world next to Japan (if you have some extra spending money, you need to try sushi Miku), and their beaches are begging for long walks along the shore. If you find yourself near Canada Place, soak up the incredible views of the harbour. Or, if it's raining, hop on the exhilerating Fly Over Canada ride (a lifelike virtual hang-gliding ride). If the sun is on your side, take a walk along English Bay or Kits Beach; a bike ride along the Sea Wall; a wander through Granville Island Public Market (try some delicious candied salmon); amble along Robson Street at night and take in the restaurants and cafes that are still bustling with life; walk along the beautiful waterfront pathway of False Creek; take a stroll through Stanley Park; a scenic sea bus ride to Lonsdale Quay market (it's not every day you get to take an aquatic transit ride); a walk around downtown; or a trip out to the seaside town of White Rock. And don't be afraid to take public transit in Vancouver, because it forces you to slow down and feel the pulse of the city. It runs quite well, and if you have Google Maps, you'll be set. If you have any friends or family who live in Vancouver, see if they'd be willing to lend you their Compass Card -- it makes transit a breeze.