The opening of a design studio and a small retail gift shop in The Mews building in Crofton during October amid the pandemic turned some heads, but opportunity knocked for Maple Bay residents Juaning Higgins and Tanya Schneider.
The husband and wife duo – Higgins is originally from San Francisco and Schneider from Kelowna – had their project for North Graphic Design and SPAN in the works before COVID and worked tirelessly on it since April to keep busy when lockdowns went into effect. The shop is located in Suite 102 at 1533 Joan Ave.
“This whole thing kind of started with ‘what are we going to do now?’” confided Higgins. “This is kind of bizarre to do at this time.”
In February, Schneider said, “we were starting to conceptualize it and think about it. By the beginning of March, we signed over and said, ‘yes, we’ll do it.’”
The location serves a dual purpose for Schenider, who works remotely for a company in Portland, Oregon and has 23+ years experience as a graphic designer. Higgins is a 28-year career furnace repairman currently working for E&S Heating in Ladysmith.
“This is my studio,” noted Schneider. “I’m here all day long anyway.”
The idea, they said, stemmed from the many farm stands that can be seen around the area.
They did a roadside kiosk in Maple Bay and “we thought that was really charming,” said Schneider. “It worked for the summer.”
That eventually evolved into SPAN, the home of Schneider’s handcrafted leather journals, designed to inspire others to document their history. As a world traveler pre-pandemic, she created journals to help capture memories, thoughts and sketches.
Schneider curates her journals and stationery with care to ensure they last a lifetime, creating heirloom quality products. She handcrafts each piece with attention to detail.
Materials are hand-selected by Tanya herself, Higgins noted, focusing on materials and techniques that connect with the past.
“My journals appeal to world travelers, adventurers, dreamers and creatives that enjoy the hand-written word and share an appreciation for handcrafted and sustainable works,” noted Schneider.
SPAN plays “matchmaker”, in a sense, between forward-thinking clients and the makers of compelling, authentic products that are often overlooked or undiscovered.
The SPAN name “came from the idea of spanning the globe,” Schneider indicated. “That changed to we now span the Cowichan Valley and 95 per cent is for customers of the Cowichan Valley and on the Island.”
Most artisans featured in the shop can’t be found anywhere else and Higgins noted many things they carry fall into the category of daily-use items. They’re all about creating connections between hard-working makers and the clients who benefit from their products.
“As a shopkeeper in this day and age of online corporate shopping, you have to give an experience,” reasoned Schneider. “If I can tell someone why I’m carrying a product, why it’s here, and what its story is, it starts a conversation. It’s so much more personal.
“What makes SPAN so special is that it was established amid a worldwide pandemic and inspired with the anticipation to resume spanning the globe, enjoying life with our hobbies and spanning time with our friends and family.”
Schneider and Higgins collaborate and assemble all the leather goods produced.
“We found leather from an old cobbler who’s retired,” noted Higgins. “It’s a byproduct leather. We’re also using boot leather. We learned a lot just from talking to him.”
The goal is to strike a balance between creating something unique and classic.
“We draw inspiration both from reliable, time-tested designs and fresh new ideas,” Higgins indicated. “As designers, we are thinking about the big picture – cultivating a product that will draw compliments and delight. All within the mindset that each part and piece, each detail, must be thoughtful and lasting. We hope that everything we make will bring you just as much joy at the moment you discover it as the moment you pass it on as a treasured heirloom. We are committed to creating products that last forever and that have a minimal environmental impact.”
The shop has many other local products and crafts such as jewelry, art and paintings – partnering with the Crofton Art Group – ceramic mugs and more. The community reception has been satisfying for Higgins and Schneider.
“You know what I like is all the unsolicited advice, I guess,” said Higgins. “I think right here we’re actually serving neighbours. We’re not just looking for target customers.”
“This whole corner is going to become something special in the next five years,” added Schneider. “Having the pharmacy has been really important to this town. Everybody’s been really supportive of us. We’re here for the long haul.”
“It feels like we were in the right place at the right time,” conceded Higgins. “I’m excited we got an area to grow into.”
Sample products and more information can be found at www.WEspan.ca.