Kealan Sullivan should add “denim whisperer” to her job title. As the owner of 69 Vintage, one of Toronto’s earliest and most prominent vintage stores, her stash of jeans, overalls and denim jackets is impressive. More impressive still is how she is able to customize them in the back workshop of her sunny Queen West shop. Give Sullivan a pair of 501s and she’ll bleach, fray and shred them until they transform into a Margiela-meets-Coachella creation.

I meet up with Sullivan on spring’s first warm Friday night, the shop is open late and customers stroll in and out while I watch her take a razor blade to a swatch of denim. “I’m like the flower child girls of the ’70s who would have been DIY-ing in the park or on the back of a tour bus following a band around,” she says as she takes a square of sandpaper to freshly made slashes. “You want to loosen and weaken the fibres. You can start distressing things in patterns. You can beat the fabric with a hammer or a rock. Then you start pulling the threads. It’s a time consuming process,” she explains.

I’m stoked to be hanging out with the buyer/shop owner/designer — as a teen, no weekend was complete without a pilgrimage to 69’s original outpost near Ossington Street. Now, we’re sorting though piles of clothes and deciding which pieces to transform, and how. Armed with a hit list of trends, shreds of bandanas and a sewing machine, Sullivan created 3 custom denim pieces for ELLE Canada, and even let us try on some of the pieces from her Wild Child line of reworked denim, recently shown at Fashion Art Toronto.

The patched and distressed jacket
“There are a lot of great colour combinations with these bandanas. They can go over top or under the distressing. The flowers were cut out of a scrap of fabric and ironed on.”



The grommet jeans
“When you’re doing [a denim DIY], you can’t have a strict intention, if you’re trying to copy something, you’ll probably screw it up. Don’t overthink it and it’s going to look great, like it’s from the ’70s.”



The patchwork jeans
“I’ve started collecting bandanas, and they’re making a bit of a comeback as accessories. They were huge when I was 12 or 13 and they’re coming around again. For summer, because it’s such a playful time, I’m making these bandanas into patches.”



The lace-up jeans 
“These are from my collection for Fashion Art Toronto. [For this collection] I learned from the street and from the customers.” 



After 12 years in the vintage biz, Sullivan closed the doors on her shop. But don’t despair, vintage lovers! She’s shifting the focus on online sales and custom work. “With vintage, you always have to be ahead because you’re always buying what’s next. As a designer—which I am not yet calling myself—you have to have that skill for predicting what’s next.” Whatever’s next for 69 Vintage, you can bet it will have a handmade touch.

Look one: jacket by Kealan Sullivan and jeans by The Gap. Look two: jeans by Kealan Sullivan, shoes by Lacoste at GetOutside. Look three: denim top by H&M, denim top worn around the waist by Guess, jeans by Kealan Sullivan and shoes from WINNERS. Look four: jeans by Kealan Sullivan and shoes by Rita Leifhebber. 

Photography, Danielle Campbell; styling: Elaine Jyll Regio; styling assistant: Annika Lautens. Special thanks to Kealan Sullivan and Marek Matwiejczuk.