Button up for Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

How the handmade pin-back button is helping the residents of Vancouver's most down-and-out neighbourhood.

Credit: Brandon Gaukel

Vancouver duo starts Pins + Needs to help people, one inch at a time


It can be a statement, or a piece of art. You can wear it with pride, or put it on a jacket and forget about it. For its low cost and versatility, the handmade pin-back button has gone to support political causes and—in indie culture—advertise bands, publicize ideas, and establish fashion trends. Now, a Vancouver duo is making the one-inch button work a little harder to improve conditions for residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.


Pins + Needs was started by Lauren Bercovitch and Brent Hodge just two weeks before the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. Political protests were erupting nearly every day and Vancouver residents lined up for hours to purchase Olympic memorabilia. Rivalry and anticipation were reaching critical levels and Lauren, a self-proclaimed activist, was torn.

Pins + Needs



Available at Taxi Design, EWMA Store, THIRD and the Megaphone Magazine office


“I secretly love the Olympics,” Lauren says, bursting into a grin. “I love the figure skating, and their outfits. I love all the events, I love rooting for my country—I love it.”


But working in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Lauren couldn’t ignore the dramatic and sometimes negative changes taking place in the name of the Olympics—nor could she ignore her urge to do something about it.


Armed with a button maker, Lauren teamed up with friend Brent to create a pin that could express nothing but “pure Canada love,” as she phrases it. The big idea was that their commemorative buttons would also raise money for Megaphone, the Downtown Eastside street paper.


Lauren and Brent raised almost $2,000 in less than two weeks, and Pins + Needs took off. The pair has worked with almost 40 different charities and non-profits since February, folding in comedians, musicians and artists into their cause.


Lauren Bercovitch and Brent Hodge of Vancouver's Pins + Needs

Lauren Bercovitch and Brent Hodge started Pins + Needs just two weeks before the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.


The growing concept of social enterprise in Canada

Pins + Needs is an example of social enterprise—a business that sells goods in the market to create a financial and social return on investment. Social enterprise is a developing concept in Canada, and one that’s being embraced by independent producers.


In Vancouver, crafter Samantha Wagner (“Sam Made”) sells handmade sewing kits to raise funds for Kiva, the microcredit company. In Montreal, the Yellow Bird Project sells t-shirts designed by Canadian bands to raise money for charities of the bands’ choosing.


According to Brent, a business major in university, pins just make great business sense.


“The profit margin off a pin is ridiculously good,” he says. “Rounding it off, we’re making 75 cents per one dollar pin.”


It’s also fun. Lauren and Brent often call on their friends or clients to join in on an evening of button-making.

It’s a small gesture the pair sums up with their slogan: Helping people in need, one inch at a time.


“This isn’t the Red Cross,” says Brent. “It isn’t a massive thing. But, it still helps.”


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Deanne Beattie for Sad Mag

Deanne Beattie is the editor of Sad Mag, an independent arts and culture magazine. The best writing guidance she ever received was, “Oh, you’re doomed—but there’s no reason to be down about it.” Learn more at www.sadmag.ca. Twitter

Brandon Gaukel for Sad Mag

Brandon Gaukel is the creative director of Sad Mag. “Creative Design Solutions” are his favourite part of the magazine production process. Brandon spends his time photographing drag queens, muscle marys and party monsters for the Vancouver’s queer community. See his work at www.sadmag.ca.