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Credit: Davinia Yip

Auntie Em's ReCreations showcases eco-friendly jewelry ranging from sparkling necklaces made with recycled chandelier crystals to beautiful vintage-button bracelets to boldly playful belt buckles made with nuts and bolts. When scanning through her wonderful recreations in the online catalogue, what is not immediately apparent but certainly plays an integral part in Emily's art is the strong community spirit that infuses each piece.

I experienced this first-hand recently when I accompanied Emily Langevin, a.k.a. Auntie Em, on a tour around the Steveston community where she lives and works. And what I witnessed was a vibrant circle of friends who inspire and encourage each other and who share a great bond over practicing sustainability through creativity.

 

Meet the designer

 

Recycling is nothing new to Emily. Growing up in a family of eight, it was simply a way of life. "We basically never threw anything away. Things can always be fixed or we'll just find a new way to use them. My mom would use scrap fabric to make these beautiful clothes and pill-box hats for my Barbie doll."

This family practice not only instilled in her a sense of environmental responsibility, but also an appreciation for all things handmade, opening her eyes to beauty and fun made possible by hands-on creativity. And so grew the roots of Auntie Em ReCreations.

 

Flamingo Row Fashions, Blundell Centre, Steveston

 

Our first stop is the women's clothing boutique Flamingo Row Fashions in Blundell Centre, where we meet its manager Shelley Tysoe. For the past three years, Shelley has been regularly setting aside jewelry for Emily to pick up and pick apart: damaged items that the store couldn't sell and aren't worth the time and expense to send back to the supplier, or just inventory that isn't moving.

 

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 "I'm always thinking about Emily," Shelley says as she displays the latest goodies on the glass counter. Shelley echoes Emily's concern about the apparent indifference displayed by many of today's generation towards the environmental harm caused by wasteful consumption habits, and she is happy to do her part to help Emily in her work. Upon hearing Emily mention that she is on the hunt for vintage buttons, Shelley quickly volunteers to put feelers out to her bridge group to help gather contributions.


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Richmond Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop, 3731 Chatham St, Steveston

 

After saying goodbye to Shelley, we drop by the Richmond Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop, abuzz on a Tuesday morning with keen-eyed bargain hunters.

“Peggy is my button lady,” Emily says.

Like Shelley, Peggy regularly sets aside for Emily one-offs or overstocked items. In turn, Emily makes a donation to give back to the community. 


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Enchante Consignment Boutique, Steveston

 

Hair by Lenny

 

Hair by Lenny, Steveston

 

We then venture to Hair by Lenny, a salon that also doubles as a museum of beauty parlour paraphernalia.

As Lenny hands over to Emily some jewelled hair pins, they chat about the neighbourhood stores, and Emily mentions a purse she has just spotted at the thrift store that is sure to tickle Lenny’s fancy. “We’re always on the lookout for each other,” Emily tells me.  


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 Enchante Consignment Boutique, Steveston

 

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Then it’s onto Enchante Consignment Boutique. Emily, a.k.a Auntie Em, gasps in delight as her friend Dorothy (could L. Frank Baum have imagined this partnership?) brings out two boxes overflowing with colourful earrings, necklaces, brooches—you name it. Most of the pieces are in great condition, with only a couple of missing stones here and there.

Experience tells Emily that it will take a long time to sort through the bounty, but she is way too excited to feel daunted. “Look at me—I’m practically hyperventilating here!” she laughs as the pair begin to trade ideas on how to reinvent the pieces and the myriad possibilities of colour combinations.

At this point Lanny drops by to gape at the assortment and also to show off the purse she has just picked up from the thrift store on Emily’s tip.

Their camaraderie is palpable and fun to observe. In their excited chatter it is clear that Emily’s friends are big fans of her work, and Emily is tremendously grateful for their support and contribution. At each of our pick-up stops she presents her friends with handmade button bracelets.


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Vintage buttons

 

Our final stop before heading back to Emily’s workshop is the post office. No, Emily hasn’t quite incorporated stamps into her designs yet—we were there to pick up a parcel she’s been expecting from a company in Montreal that refurbishes old fur coats and whose VP has sent Emily the leftover vintage buttons. As we head back to the car, Emily remarks to me, “I am so excited! If you weren’t here, I’d be ripping open that box right now.”

I soon see why. We are now settled in her living room, and Emily proceeds to unearth one stunning button after another from the package, I am amazed by the variety of intricate designs.

“They remind me of old-time Hollywood glamour. I just feel that there must be so many interesting stories behind each of them,” Emily gushes. “Look at the detail, the craftsmanship, they just don’t take the time to make stuff like this anymore.”

In addition to her commitment to reducing waste, one of goals Emily aims to achieve through her work is to evoke an emotional connection to a simpler time, back when things are cherished, imbued with memories and character, and not easily disposed.

We go up to her workshop, where her jewelry is artfully displayed on a mannequin, in vintage travel cases, hung on an upturned wire wastebasket, even wrapped around a rolling pin.

Emily gets her design inspirations from many sources—her daughter, her friends, nature, and of course the salvaged material itself.

Taking one of the vintage buttons she has previously wrapped in silver wire, she slides it along the silver choker we have just picked up from Shelley. Et voila! Elegant. Simple. Ready to impress. “I think I’ll take this out for a spin,” Emily says, explaining that she sometimes wears her finished pieces out to get feedback. The hallmark of a great piece? “When you don’t want to give it away,” she laughs.

 

 

See for yourself

 

Check out more of Emily’s designs at her online store, Auntie Em’s ReCreations, or find her at the Steveston Farmers and Artisans Market starting at the end of May.