Every Sonya Lee bag is named after someone in its founder’s life.
Over dinner at her Chinatown studio in Vancouver, Stephanie Sonya Ibbitson points out pieces from her Fall/Winter 2018 collection one by one, detailing the story behind each. As with most products, these bags—while strikingly beautiful all on their own—are made even more appealing when their history and intention is shared.
There’s the Jess Belt Bag, inspired by Ibbitson’s friend who joked about wanting a fancy fanny pack in which to carry plastic bags for cleaning up after her dog. With vegetable-tanned leather on the outside and suede on the inside, it is a simple yet sturdy piece that can be worn around the waist or over the shoulder. Then there is the Victoria, a structured handbag inspired by Ibbitson’s mother (“She works in tech,” she says) and her love for men’s attaché cases. Featuring a chain handle and three-digit-code lock, it takes a decidedly feminine yet edgy approach to a traditionally masculine object. And there’s the Rosa, a backpack created for Ibbitson’s friend who runs a custom leather jacket brand called Namesake and wanted a matching pack. Boasting a fold-over flap with a metal horseshoe detail (itself a nod to a friend’s septum piercing) and black cotton twill interior lining, this backpack—available in a mini version as well—fits everything needed for a day on the town.
Ibbitson launched Sonya Lee (“Sonya” being her middle name and “Lee” being in reference to her husband Leyland, who helps with the business side of things) in 2014 in Toronto, but relocated the brand to Vancouver in 2018. Instead of having a showy launch party or focusing on New York Fashion Week (where she has shown in previous years), she chose to host a small meal for a few local and like-minded individuals. “I figured I would rather get to know the local community and speak to the women who actually live here,” she says as plates of hummus and salmon skewers are passed around the table. Oozing sincerity and clearly not one to boast, Ibbitson only speaks about her brand when prompted by her guests, the rest of the time choosing to engage in discussions surrounding equality, sexuality, and childhood upbringing.
She has plenty to boast about with Sonya Lee, though. Each piece is made by hand and to order in Ibbitson’s small studio space; a sewing machine sits against one wall, while a drawing and cutting table takes up the rest of the main working room. It is a grassroots operation, but that does not stop her from producing quality bags with real heart and soul. Literally made by a woman for women, Sonya Lee feels at once intimate and global, like a well travelled best friend.
Read more about local and international designers.