Every so often you meet a creative who is unlike their counterparts – bold, confident, outspoken and sharply business savvy. They understand creativity as a business, are steadfast in their vision and don’t let the haters get them down. They’re hard to come by, but as soon as I sat down with Stephanie Ibbitson, I could tell she was one of those badass creative renegades (disclaimer: I was right).
The designer of Toronto-based handbag brand Sonya Lee, Stephanie has a no-bullshit attitude that I was immediately drawn to, fully engaged as she told me how she got started in the fashion industry with no formal training (‘a lot of sewing experience and a shitload of determination’) and how most of her creations come from a background in industrial design.
You would never guess it though. Her collection of high-quality leather bags are beautiful and incredibly well-made, handcrafted by Stephanie herself in Sonya Lee’s Toronto studio. The bags and backpacks (named after strong females in her life) are durable and actually designed to get better with age, something that’s rare in this world of fast fashion. She describes her bags as “clean, industrial and a bit androgynous”, made for a woman who loves style just as much as functionality (and prefers to buy for quality rather than an over-priced luxury label).
Keep reading find out how Stephanie took the risk of quitting her advertising job to launch Sonya Lee, why her bags differ from other designer goods on the market, and what smart business advice she has for aspiring renegades like herself.
Although you work in the fashion industry, you studied industrial design in college – how did you get started designing bags?
Well once I graduated from OCAD, I actually went to work at an advertising agency. They had an opening for the Unilever team and I got hooked up through one of my professors who put me in touch with the VP there. So I’d been working there for about a year and a half, having moved from a project co-ordinator to an account executive, when my roommate was like, “I can’t stand to look at you being so miserable all the time, I think you should rethink what you’re doing with your life.” At the time, I was already filling that creative void by doing a bunch of side projects sewing for friends, so I gave the agency my two weeks’ notice and they were like, “What other agencies are eyeing you up?” – haha! When I told them I was starting my own handbag business, they were just like, “Um, yeah, good luck with that” – they thought I was completely insane.