Sonya Lee

We sat down with creative duo Stephanie Ibbitson and Angelica Sable of Sonya Lee to discuss all things Toronto, design, music and leisure. The designer, Stephanie, is committed to designing quality leather bags inspired by culture and architecture. With progressive perspectives, Stephanie and her business partner Angelica offer a unique and authentic collection informed by their artistic backgrounds. 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? 

Angelica: I’d say Beverly and Dundas where the AGO is. Personally, I think it ties into who we are as a brand because we are very influenced by architecture. I find that the Frank Gehry part of the AGO is really inspiring. 

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?

Angelica: Stephanie will answer that because she is the music connoisseur of our partnership.

Stephanie: Right now, I’d say Isaiah Rashad, RIP Kevin Miller.

What are the top local instagram acounts you follow?

Angelica: When I’m on instagram I like to look at things that will inspire our work and try to keep our feed like a moodboard. I really like Toronto based Magazine PULP. Also ssense.

Stephanie: I would say a food thing. I don’t really do Instagram.

Where is your favourite coffee in the city? 

Stephanie & Angelica: Jimmy’s            

Stephanie: 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.

Angelica: I really like what Beaufille is doing.

Stephanie: 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.

Angelica: I very much love Frank Gehry’s architecture. His work has a lot of movement as well as structure, which we like. I'm also a fan of Bad Day mag. Colin is our friend and I really admire his graphic design and creative direction.

Stephanie: He is such a sweetheart and probably the most funny person. 



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?

Angelica: Stephanie would go to Red Light.

Stephanie: 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.

Angelica: But which strip club?

Stephanie: The one by the airport!

Angelica: But what is it called? You can’t just say, ‘rippers by the airport.’

Stephanie: Yeah, why not?

Angelica: My big night would be a dirty martini at … I don’t know, Stephanie where do I like going?

Stephanie: A lot of the places our friends like to go wouldn’t have a good martini. Okay, I just looked it up and it’s literally called, The Airport Strip Club.

Angelica: So, Stephanie says Airport Strip Club and Angelica says a dirty martini.

Stephanie: That would be a big night out for me. I actually enjoy being an introvert. Angelica knows this so she does a lot of the social stuff for the both of us. This is why she does the PR and whatnot. 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. We’ve also grown up in the city and have been going to bars since we were 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.



Angelica: I’d say my favourite place to have a martini is a hotel lobby. Toronto’s hotel scene is really lacking, but if you went to another city a lot of places are in hotels and I really like that atmosphere.

Stephanie: I think Angelica is drawn to the over-the-top aspect of it. It’s a whole experience. You know, the concierge, pushing the button and riding the elevator to the top floor …

Angelica: It’s fantastic.

What about summer are you looking forward to?

Angelica: I’m really looking forward to going to New York together in July. We are going for research and fun.

Stephanie: One thing we have in common is that we are both art rats. We 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?

Angelica: Our family cottage is definitely my escape.

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 we are sourcing materials or looking for models and photographers we look in our hometown first.

Angelica: As much as we want to pay homage to our home at this point it is not even available. There’s few resources here, unfortunately. If there was, we would support one hundred percent.

When we 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. We hired a local designer, James Agostinho, to make these custom pieces.

Angelica: I think something important to add is that a lot of women who are buying a $500 bag want it to be perfect. We think that the imperfections of each piece are to be celebrated. Our bags are not made by a machine which is something to appreciate. Every piece is slightly individual and will never be exactly like someone else’s.

Stephanie: 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.