ZANE VISITS // LAURA CARWARDINE
Laura Carwardine designed a window installation for the Toronto Offsite Design Festival happening January 15-21st. Come by the store to see Zip Tie Tapestry featured in our window. We'll also have Umbra pieces designed by Laura available for a limited time.
How did you get involved with TODO Festival?
Why did you decide to use zip ties for your window installation at ZANE?
As a Canadian Artist, how do you find the Toronto art scene is developing?
How do you find working in the art scene influences your style?
What ZANE pieces speak to you?
A SOPHIE JONES CHRISTMAS
Sophie Jones is our number one lady for setting the music mood. We chatted with her about her job, her style and she set us up with a holiday playlist that we are sharing with you! Play it at all your holiday gatherings, we know it will be on loop in the shop till the New Year.
LISTEN TO THE PLAYLIST
How did you get started working with leather, and developing your brand as a Canadian bag designer?
I have always had an interest in fashion, art, and design since I was a little girl. My mother did a lot of sewing when I was young and taught me how. Growing up as a dyslexic child meant that school was not my strong suit especially anything language based - reading out loud was my absolute worst nightmare. During this time I really explored my world through art, design and mathematics, as they were the only classes I excelled at for the most part.
I ended up studying industrial design at OCAD. After graduating I took a job in advertising for a brief period. My walk home every night from the agency passed by a leather supply store and one day I decided to walk in and buy a hide to make myself a simple tote.
I made handbags on the side for a couple of months for friends and friends of friends. During that time I realized that I wasn't happy in the career I was in and what brought me most joy was working with leather and sewing handbags. So I quit and started St. Lawrence Luggage - now known as Sonya Lee.
Where do you source the beautiful Bison leathers you use?
I found these hides at a Toronto supplier. Everything about this leather I fell in love with. The hides are dyed black through the whole skin (meaning there is no 'blue' showing (a sign of high quality), it is a full grain leather (meaning you are getting the full hide - it is not stripped or treated hurting its durability), it wears in really nicely allowing people to really put their own mark on the handbags, it shows its natural beauty and its made in Canada! what’s not to love? sorry - I just get so so excited about leather.
What inspired the name Sonya Lee?
Sonya is my middle name and Lee is my husband’s name. When we were re-branding the company from St Lawrence Luggage we wanted to change it to something more traditional in the fashion industry but I didn't want to name the company after my first and last name. I always liked the name Sonya more than Stephanie and Lee (short for Leyland) has always been my biggest supporter. When I told friends and family I was going to quit a great job in advertising to start a handbag company he was the only one who said "that’s a great idea! How can we make this happen?" He has stuck by me fully and completely through these last couple of years and has even helped us in the studio after coming home from work.
What leather bag styles are you most excited about releasing this season at ZANE Queen Street?
How have your leather bags been received by other markets outside of Toronto?
Well! We participate in NYC fashion market week every season and it’s so nice to get the opportunity to meet buyers in person and hear their reaction to our latest collection. I think buyers and their clients appreciate our handmade work, North American hides, and the moody industrial aesthetic of the brand. We really try to go above and beyond for our customers as well - making sure you are happy with what you are receiving is top priority for us.
Do you have a favourite piece that you like to work on?
I think the Yuliana series I enjoy making the most.
Are there any works of art or architecture that have influenced your collection?
For artists there is Rachel Whiteread and Katie Pretti. Raymond Loewy as a designer and pretty much any demonstrative piece of architecture.
If you weren’t making leather bags right now, what would you be doing?
A homicide detective.
Why did you feel like ZANE on West Queen West was the right fit for SONYA LEE in Toronto?
Zane has a great aesthetic and is an industry leader when it comes to the accessories game. I feel like the vibe and aesthetic of the store fits well with Sonya Lee and what we are trying to create. Zane picked up our brand in its infancy and we wouldn't be where we are today without him and the store’s support.
What are other like-minded Canadian brands that inspire you?
Beaufile, Oneself clothing, Corey Moranis, Eliza Faulkner, Mary Young, Wolf Circus, Namesake.
There are so many more I’m probably missing here - I think Canada has so much to offer the fashion world.
If you had to collaborate with an artist on a piece, who would it be?
Shoot for the moon right? De Wain Valentine.. holler
How do you use style to express your individuality and self-confidence?
When I put something on in the morning it is a part of me for that day and often it exudes how I'm feeling mentally and creatively at that moment. Over the years I have collected a lot of vintage pieces and I’m really trying to purchase only Canadian/North American made and designed clothing and accessories as much as possible for my closet. When I purchase these items, I select them because I want to feel and look sexy, authoritarian, smart, strong and utilitarian. I’m heavy on black, leather, plaid and silk. No synthetics - ever...
Between A Rock and A Rock - facilitates conversation about the duality of spaces, attempting to reclaim those that have traditionally been hostile towards womxn. The series’ title is two-fold: coming directly from the term “between a rock and a hard place," which by definition means: in difficulty, faced with a choice between two unsatisfactory options. The images literally depict a naked female form in contact with the rocky desert landscape, while calling to the longstanding popular cultural perception of harsh desert as male-dominated space. This references a common practice in visual art—where the female body is treated as landscape—and in history, which has overlooked womxn and marginalized communities at every turn.
Step into Graffiti Alley and take a peek:
October 26 - 30, 2017
Metro Toronto Convention Centre
North Building, Exhibit Hall A & B
255 Front Street West, Toronto
Friday, Oct. 27; 12pm-8pm
Saturday, Oct. 28; 12pm-8pm
Sunday, Oct. 29; 12pm-6pm
Monday, Oct. 30; 12pm-6pm
*Entrance fees and more info on website: www.arttoronto.ca
Z: Was Queen West where you always saw your studio?
A: When I first opened, it was in Parkdale, for a few reasons. First, it was near where I lived, and second, I could afford it. I never really considered moving, but I outgrew the space so quickly that I needed to find another location. At that moment, it was an automatic: “Yes, this needs to be Queen West.”
Z: Was your goal to have multiple locations?
A: My tendency is to live day to day. I think that future projections can sometimes set up expectation, and expectation is a very frightening word, theory, and concept. Now that I am this far into it, I recognize that what happens in this studio is far more than just a Pilates class or “fitness”—with multiple locations, the more people, the better.
Z: What do you like most about being your own boss?
A: Oh! Everything, haha! OK, so here we go. Seven years in, here’s what I love: I had a conversation with Andrea, the manager, and she said: “You don’t have to have your phone on silent all the time now. People don’t contact you when there is an ‘emergency’. They don’t reach out to you when they had a fight with their boyfriend and they can’t get their shit together to teach; they come to me first. Your phone needs to be on because when your phone rings, it’s actually an emergency!” So I have gone through that experience of what it’s like to be the only contact—phone on 24 hours—to understanding how much trust it takes to find the right people and then create a solid team. What do I love about being my own boss? Again, I feel like there is this magnetic draw between people who get it and want to be a part of it and want to participate in what’s going on. There is a whole team now; it’s not just me anymore. It’s bigger than me.
Z: With the newest Ossington location, were you trying to replicate the same atmosphere as Queen or do you consider them to be two separate entities?
A: I think the space dictates what the energy will be, and I was unsure if what happens here, if what occurs here is transferable. I was unsure if that was something that I could recreate in another space. I feel like what I’ve learned through this is that the space itself becomes the container, but it’s more about what happens within those four walls that dictates the resonance of what people leave with or what people experience in that moment. So even though it is a 7-minute walk away, and it’s a corner space flooded with natural light, there is something very symbiotic, very similar that happens here and there. I am grateful for that.
Z: Where do you find your motivation or inspiration?
A: Those are very different words to me. I feel very inspired especially living in a city like Toronto that has a certain grittiness; it elevates people to do what they do. There is this flat line of people that just talk about it, and then there’s the people who actually f***ing do it. It’s the people who actually f***ing do it that are making changes to the city. We’re so disconnected from nature that I get inspired by nature, the cosmos, the moon, and the planetary alignments. It still has a stigma, like: “Oh, is she talking about that? What a hocus-pocus thing” or “She’s talking about the moon? Eye roll.” The more we talk about it, the more we can connect to it and the more we can benefit from it. It draws in this level of sensitivity and being aware and present instead of just—you know—walking through your day and being very disconnected. My inspiration comes from that, and I look to it as something that is endless.
The motivation for the business—OK, I’m gonna go there—I feel like where we are living right now, in today’s world, we are experiencing a paradigm shift. We are moving away from a patriarchal system. That system is: you go to school, you get a job—that’s your job forever until you retire—you don’t really question anything, you just do what you’re told and you follow the rules, and that’s just what life is. I don’t think we are living like that anymore. I think people are looking more within, they are changing careers multiple times, they are waiting to have children because they want to explore “Who am I?” and “What is my purpose in this life?” To go there on some level, you need to connect with your emotional body. The motivation is to be able to create a space where that becomes more common in conversation. “How are you today?” “Oh I’m fine, I’m good.” “No, really. How are you? How are you feeling today?” That changes the dialogue, so the motivation is to bring that into every single class. Yes, this is a movement studio, a Pilates studio, but it goes so much deeper than that, like let this shit stir you up! I think movement is like an untangling. The more we untangle the physical knots which usually create boundaries and barriers around our heart, our throat chakra and our brain, the more open we feel physically, the more our mind will want to follow that same feeling. We are moving into a matriarchal society where people are talking about their feelings. That is a huge motivation for me. Interestingly, up to now, it’s like 99% women who come here, but there is a good handful of men; Zane is one of them. I say they are the smartest men in the city—to be surrounded by women who want to go deeper and look inside to learn more is powerful.
Z: What is your favourite yoga position or movement? What does it do for you spiritually?
A: There’s something very cathartic about pushing boundaries. About getting to a point where you don’t wanna f***ing do this anymore and then going just a little further, or doing it just a little longer. See how far you can push that respiratory system. “I am panting and out of breath, but I just keep going” or “My abs are quivering, and I can’t do one more rep, but I end up doing 10 more”, that’s interesting to me. Going through the discomfort to see what it feels like on the other side. It takes a certain type of person to want to go through it. Mindful, connected movement is important to me.
Z: One good piece of advice you would give someone to help relieve stress?
A: Stress is an interesting one because I feel like it’s a word people use all the time, but they don’t really understand what it means. It’s a cop-out. What is my advice? Remove that word from your vocabulary completely. Then look at what you would call “stressful”. See how you can shift your viewpoint and turn it into an opportunity to learn something. “Is this my inability to follow through with what I have taken on? Is this my inability to be open and vulnerable with my communication? Is this presenting itself to me as something that could expand my mind as opposed to this relentless cycle of ‘Oh my God, I’m so stressed out’?” To actually do something about it, start meditating. Put a little 5-minute timer on your stupid iPhone when you wake up, close your eyes, put your hand on your heart and your other hand on your belly, and just breathe. Do it every day, and when 5 minutes feel like 1 minute, do it for 6, then 10 and maybe 20, and see if you can set your day that way. It calms your neurological system down, and you start connected to yourself. Let’s tune back in, the more tuned in we are, the more we can listen to our intuition. We can see that the word “stress” has no meaning.
Z: How do you stay positive?
A: I believe that positivity and optimism are a conscious choice. You have two options when you wake up in the morning. Both require the same amount of effort, energy and work, but they look so different, and they feel so physically different. I think movement is really important, every single day. We get so stuck, and then we can just stay there. Stuck could be a physical ailment or a mental block or a pattern where you just date the wrong guy over and over and over. It could be that code word for everything in life. To be able to approach that with a positive light, movement is important.
Z: What would you say to help people be confident and comfortable when they are just starting to introduce movement into their routine?
A: I think the people who are curious about it will just go. The people who aren’t, that are just like: “Ya, that’s not my thing”, I don’t know if it’s worth it to try and win them over. I think people, after running into a wall over and over and over again, find a moment when they think: “I wanna do this different. I’m ready to try something different.” I hear a lot of “I don’t know what to wear or I don’t think I’m cool enough” which is interesting because that shows an insecurity in life, and this has nothing to do with what you’re wearing or what you look like at all. At all! There has to be this level of “I am comfortable enough in my own skin to walk into this room and try something that I have never done before.” For this reason, I have chosen to have no levels in my classes. You just show up, and you do the best you can. None of this “I am a beginner” or “I am an advanced”, like f*** that.
Z: Do you read your daily horoscope?
A: I am a big believer in astrology. I think unfortunately that what people mostly know of is their sun sign. In the natal chart or evolutionary astrology, which is what I follow, that is the tiniest little part. It’s too bad, but it’s interesting that we look at this beautifully complex thing that helps us understand who we are and why we are and what we are, and dilute it to one thing. Then, we chop it up into a daily horoscope, which is like 3 sentences long. So, do I read my horoscope every day? No. But I have a bunch of different sites I go to so I can be more in tune with the cosmic shifts.
Z: How do you read someone’s energy when you first meet them?
A: Being intuitive and maybe guided by cosmic connection is a fine line. You take one step too far, and you’re just a f***ing weirdo. It is a very fine line, I understand this. We all have an energetic aura and energetic field that we walk around with. I think that, for the most part, we can pick up on someone immediately, like: “Oh you’re my people; we can have a conversation” or “Ouh, I don’t know about this person.” You usually just know. I think we pick up on like-mindedness and ease, and it registers on a very subtle level. I think there is something so beautiful when a group of people join together even in the simplicity of breath. So for these events, it will be interesting to blend these communities, which have so many different crossovers, in that simplicity. Let’s just move and connect to breathe on a really gentle level. It’s not going to be an intense class; it’s more about connecting to oneself and having that beautiful resonance with people around you in that moment.
Z: What does the Full Moon calendar mean to you?
A: Full moons are ripe in their potential because it embodies whatever that full moon happens to be cosmically. All of our moons fall in different cosmic realms, which is really cool. So full moon and new moon are the biggest energetic spaces that happen each month, and I think there is something about connection, connection to self, to movement, to each other, to the cosmos that makes you feel aligned. Feeling aligned, even if it lasts just for that one hour that we are together, can have a profound effect. Full moons are powerful.
We sat down with designer and boss lady Stephanie Ibbitson of Sonya Lee to discuss all things Toronto, design, music and leisure. Stephanie, is committed to designing quality leather bags inspired by culture and architecture. With progressive perspective, Stephanie offers a unique and authentic collection informed by her artistic background. Sonya Lee supports North American distributers, local designers and each bag is handcrafted by Stephanie out of her Toronto studio. Have a look at what we chatted about …
What is your favourite intersection in the city?
Stephanie: I actually really like King and Bay. The reason is because of the TD buildings, which are similar to the Sears Tower in Chicago designed by B+H Architects. The geometric shape and the all-black is very akin to what I design. If you’ve ever been on the lower level of the TD Towers there are these sort of triangular, geometric shapes coming down from the ceiling. A lot of architects design a building to look cool but they don’t think about how people interact within that space. This a building where you can see the architect was conscious of how people were going to interact within the space. The windows are tall and linear which make the space feel very open when, in fact, it is very narrow.
What songs do you have on repeat right now?
Stephanie: Right now, I’d say Isaiah Rashad, RIP Kevin Miller.
What are the top local instagram acounts you follow?
Stephanie: I would say a food thing. I don’t really do Instagram.
Where is your favourite coffee in the city?
Stephanie: Jimmy's! I also really like Little Nicky’s but it’s out of my daily routine so I never get to go there.
Who do you look up to in Canada – designers, artists, brands, whoever really.
Stephanie: I would actually say our friend, Rosa. We work with each other in the studio once in a while and talk a lot while I’m designing. She makes leather jackets. From a designer, peer-to-peer level I just enjoy talking about design with her.
Oh, I actually really like Darby Milbrath of Province Apothecary. She’s actually an artist and came out with some unreal prints. They’re organic and sort of Henri Matisse inspired – interpreting his sculptures on a 2D level.
I often look at designs from the 40’s and 50’s for inspiration. I’ll do research in that era when I’m trying to get inspired for a new bag. I have a very emotional, functional and industrial connection with the bags.
Do you have an all-time favourite architect? Canadian or not.
Stephanie: There’s actually two. Walter Gropius who was a German architect and founded the Bauhaus movement. And another one would be Angelo Invernizzi who did this rotating house. It was built in 1935 and it’s called Villa Girasole. The rotation follows the sun – there’s actually a whole movie on it!
I compare architecture to the process I go through when designing a bag. It must be beautiful but also functional. When I put something on a bag it has to have purpose. For example, the piece on the Harcourt bag is not there simply for decoration. Its purpose is to weigh the front flap down and was also made by James Agostinho, a young industrial designer here in Toronto.
If you are planning a big night out, whatever that might mean, where would you go and what would you do?
Stephanie: Red Light. Yeah, because they play hip-hop and I’m a big hip-hop person. But I’d probably go to the rippers by the airport first … if I was going to have a really big night.
That would be a big night out for me. I actually enjoy being an introvert. People might think I’m cold because the way I talk is very direct and no-bullshit. That might not always work in my favour. I've also grown up in the city and have been going to bars since I was like, fifteen. If someone said, “There’s this new bar where you’re blindfolded!” I’d be like, “No, not interested." I’d rather cuddle with my dog and watch Netflix.
What about summer are you looking forward to?
Stephanie: I'm looking forward to going to New York in July. I am an art rat. I like going to museums and art galleries to view what’s going on, and I think that New York has so much to offer in terms of art and design.
When you want to get out of the city what do you do?
Stephanie: My dad has a cottage but it’s 7 hours north, which is really fucking far. Maybe Montreal. I really love it there. The people are more liberal and, in my opinion, people embrace culture and art more there than in Toronto. The food is also amazing. If I run away you know where to find me. Bitch went to Montreal.
I think people would be interested to hear some of the background stories that go along with some of your bags.
Stephanie: The Triangle Bag was actually designed to embrace feminine sexuality. The way a lot of architects design is very phallic and as a designer I was like, “fuck that, I am going to do something that is very vagina.” We are all like a thumbprint. We have our own uniqueness and I think that we should be proud of that rather than hiding it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Stephanie: As a Canadian designer I don’t think there is enough support for our community which fucking blows. There are other places, especially in Europe, where they are so in their own design culture. Think of Germany or Amsterdam. They’ll wear only their city's designers because they are so into supporting their own community. I think that is why the Canadian culture is so hard to define. We don’t support artists and designers which is what ultimately creates culture. If you think, what is Mexican culture? what is Danish culture? You think of their design. You literally think of an artist, a designer, a chair or whatever it is. If you think of Canada maybe you’ll think of a muskoka chair which wasn’t even designed by a Canadian!
When I am sourcing materials or looking for models and photographers I look in our hometown first.
Stephanie: When I had the hardware designed for the Harcourt bag we could have gone to China and had 1000 made for 50 cents. That wasn’t the point. I hired a local designer, James Agostinho, to make these custom pieces.
Also, my bags are handmade and the imperfections are meant to be celebrated. Your bag is never going to be exactly like someone else's even though it's the same design. It goes full circle with each one of us being unique and different. Everyone has their own sexual prerogatives and preferences and that is not a fucking problem. Live it and embrace it rather than trying to fit in with everyone.
What got you into wanting to design bags?
Tibere: First of all I’ve got three siblings 2 are in the same things. So I think its got something to do with our upbringing.
Tibere: No uh I got 2 sisters one brother. My brother is in Berlin, he goes around and gets old school uh 'bleuse' and clothing. And My sister is in paris and she has her own jewelry line. And the third one she’s not into design but she probably could have been.
Tibere: Yeah yeah kind of. And about getting into it honestly I dunno it was really gradual. I think one think that kinda like got me going towards the direction of leather is store called ABK in uh Manhattan, her name is Alia and she makes bags and I just went to her store and it’s just all leather and tools.
You got excited.
Tibere: I got excited yeah. I’m like I have to I have to try this. So yeah yeah I think that’s what got me into leather.
Cool. Did you grow up in the city?
Tibere: I grew up in Paris.
Tibere: Yeah I was born in Paris we moved with my family when I was 11 yeah.
So you’re Canadian…
Tibere: Yeah… half
Whats your east end local coffee shop you like?
Uhhh there’s this one near my house uhhh I don’t even know its name. Its right on Riverdale right on Riverdale park right across from the park. Sorry I don’t know the name haha.
As you’ve kind of been playing with leather and finding your own voice with making bags and focused aesthetic are there any designers locally or internationally that inspire you? Something that you look up to?
Tibere: Well I think I’ve always been into the sort of minimalist structured look. But uh bags that I really like like Mansur Gavriel. I mean their stuff is really good. Building block is cool. I really like… its not really like what I do but I really like what Hoi Bo is doing. She’s uh she’s like a true designer. She really cares… SEEMS like seems like I’ve never actually met her… but she seems to really care about the process. Soo yeah that’s top of my head.
So lets say in the past year you’ve been doing this for a little bit going through production and testing and working with leather and kind of refining your bags. What’s kind of one thing that you think that you’ve learned or something that you can take away and was a big kind of turning point in refining the finishing of your product?
Tibere: To not make mistakes. What I used to not do was go through the steps. Sketching. Paper maquette, bonded leather maquette, and then real maquette. I used to go straight for the leather. I just wanna get to the end to the finish product.
So more methodical… going through the right procedures and steps to get to the final product.
Tibere: Yeah definitely. That’s what definitely has saved me some time.
So you basically started designing for women being a man.
Tibere: Well actually the idea was to make bags for men originally. And somehow, I dunno what happened, I hadn’t even realized it. I think women around me just started asking for bags and I just started making women’s bags.
So it was just a natural progression nice. So you make them all yourself have you ever injured yourself or have there been any close calls?
Tibere: The most stupid thing? Definitely a nice thorough gash in the thumb. A gash yeah.
So you had a mentor that sort of help you refine your trade or?
Tibere: No um no all me. I mean I apprenticed shoe making originally with Nassair Vice* so he makes bespoke shoes he’s on broadview and queen east. I also apprenticed with Delvaux which is a Belgian brand in Vietnam for 6 months.
So with someone who is really making handcrafted old school shoes and those materials is there something that you took away from that type of creating and kind of modernized your bags or brought to your contemporary, minimal vibe.
Tibere: With the shoes definitely I got to learn the different qualities of leathers, different types of leathers and details really. Details like stitching methods Norwegian stitch etc.
Tibere: Yeah more technical things.
Stuff you might not ever use in bags but is nice to take back.
If you had a woman you were designing for that would embody your brand. Who would she be? If there was a celebrity?
Tibere: Haha I would have to know somebody who was famous.
Maybe not the actual person and their look but their character and traits that you feel align with your bags.
Tibere: I feel like my bags are between classic and casual. That semi casual chick. She can be casual one day and you know classy the next I feel like my bags can transition.
Casual to classy
Tibere: That’s how I feel about my bags.