Sonya Lee

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.

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.

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