Interview No.1
Sonya Lee

Founded by Stephanie Sonya Ibbitson in 2014, Sonya Lee is dedicated to forming progressive structures that elevate and communicate the natural language of leather. Handmade in Canada, the organic identity of each piece reshapes modern refinement with raw elements.

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How are you feeling today?
Feeling pretty good.  

How did 2020 and COVID impact your business?
When covid hit, instead of immediately jumping into the many reasons my business could fail, I focused all my energy on how to make my business recession proof. I started asking my family members (older than myself) what they remember from past recessions/depressions. What they looked for in the product when they purchased it. How they felt during those times. I also did research into luxury brands during the 2008 recessions. What I learned is that people still wanted to feel special, they were still purchasing items, just perhaps at a lower price point with more flexible payment options or purchasing less.

With that boundary as my creative brief I started designing some pieces using the same leather and hardware as all of our pieces but I simplified the shapes and complexity of the item to reduce the cost of labour (time) on the piece. Out of this I designed two new pieces: the Leighton pouch bag, and Nya bag. Both were under the 300$ price point and still hit within the ethos and narrative of the brand.

I'm also a strong believer in "with my word I create my reality". When your feet hit the floor when you get up from the bed you decide how it's going to be. I decided it was going to be a strong year for us, and it was.

Sonya inside her Vancouver studio

How do you tackle stress as an entrepreneur?
Over the past five years I have developed a strict regime that works pretty well for me. I developed it out of dealing with depression when I was a teenager.

I lift everyday. I eat extremely clean (no refined sugar, whole foods, lots of vegetables and lean protein), I don't drink, I don't smoke, I turn my phone to night-time mode at 7pm.  I have done many courses on communication, cognitive behaviour therapy and self awareness to ensure when things happen I process it and handle it with grace.

Even with all of that, I still feel that I could work on my mediation skills. I run at such a high frequency I have a hard time slowing down.

Your bags are so incredible, and the quality is superior, tell us a bit about the manufacturing process?
Thank you! I guess my process of making and the way in which I teach my employees, is to produce an item they can be proud of in the truest sense of an atelier. Pieces that last a lifetime. We design, cut, sew, and assemble everything in house to ensure our pieces are done to the highest quality possible. We can also ensure that it's an ethical process in terms of labour. Lastly, this way of producing allows me to do small customizations for my clients, and repair items if need be.

We design, cut, sew, and assemble everything in house to ensure our pieces are done to the highest quality possible.

Where the magic happens

What inspires you?

To be honest I don't get inspired by others work, people or things. Inspiration comes from a clear space of mind. I guess Flow State?

Do you feel that slowly made goods and slow living as a lifestyle go hand-in-hand?
Not necessarily. I certainly don't live a slow living lifestyle because of the amount I need to do throughout a day. I don't think I have the luxury for that. Maybe when I'm rich.

In a competitive marketplace such as handbags, what do you find makes customers love your product over another?
The way our bags make them feel and the quality. Throughout all my pieces I have a one narrative, perhaps sometimes invisible to the wearer, but is one of my most guiding principles for me and what I create. Standing against the female conformity for most accessory brands, I create these pieces to signify to the world your membership to a particular world that evokes power, dominance and defiance of norms. I hope my pieces contribute to who you are, reminding you that perhaps you are already who you want to be.

Do you plan for the future, or live in the moment?
I set goals for myself but I don't get bogged down how i think it's going to happen. Getting stuck in how you think something is going to happen prevents you from staying present.

My husband and I call the obsession with future planning and future fears  'future tripping', it's not productive.

What does mindfulness mean to you?
Staying present and in the moment.  

What is your life philosophy or mantra?
Stand tall. Stay present. Fuck what people think.

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Hey, we are offering a FREE Sonya Lee Keychain with a purchase of any Sonya Lee handbag XO