This week we sat down with Leilanni Todd in her Spadina studio to learn more about her varied talents and upcoming projects. You may recognize her name from our recent Toronto Makers Digests and we admit we are more than a little obsessed with the project-based workshops she’s been teaching. Coming from an art direction background with experience in advertising and branding, she has successfully launched her own fully-fledged fashion business. Her diverse background and dynamic aesthetic give her a unique edge in the growing independent Toronto fashion scene.

You’ve been running workshops pretty intensely over the past 6 months. How has that been going for you?

The workshops have been awesome. I’ve been able to meet so many creative people in the city who are so enthusiastic to learn something new. But more than anything, I’m surprised with how many guys want to learn how to sew and just how awesome they are at it! Honestly, it really is the best feeling seeing someone learn and create something with his or her own two hands. When the students wear their finished piece and fall in love with it – that’s THE best feeling for me.


You’ve had quite a range of experiences in creative industries. Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into sewing?

I went to school for art direction at OCAD and did my thesis year in Florence, Italy. My final project ended up being a mix of printed t-shirts, graphic design, painting and, oddly enough, branding my roommate in a language book. From there, I came back home to Toronto and got into art direction for advertising. The photo shoots and ideation process were the things I loved but I just felt like I wanted more. So I took some sewing courses and went back to school. I interned with a Toronto fashion designer and worked with him for 4 years. And then the recession hit and I lost my job. So, I took it as the push to start my own business. I started online first, selling on a new platform at that time, Etsy. I got to test out my ideas, sewing skills, photography and branding – it was the perfect marriage of all the things I loved doing. From there, things just took off.

I’ve worn many hats in this industry – I had an online eBay vintage store, I have my Etsy store, I am carried in select retailers, I do lots of custom work and costumes for artists (mainly my sister Maylee Todd), I’ve designed luxury wedding dresses, designed and produced printed t-shirts, I run and teach the sewing workshops, and now I’m releasing a clothing collaboration… Seriously, I feel like I’ve done a lot and only scratched the surface of the things I want to do.


You’re Chinatown studio has been home to many designers and artists over the years. How has that unique environment affected your work and where you are now?

This space is quite magical. There are so many young designers and artisans in this building; it’s really encouraging and inspiring. Everyone here is building his or her own business from the ground up – it motivates you to keep going. We can all relate and support each other. Being situated in Kensington Market is great too. It’s a special area of the city built on community, small business, designers and artists.

What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of working for yourself?

I guess I’ll start with the challenging first. It can be really hard to turn it off at the end of the day – you think about every aspect of your business constantly. That being said, the rewards far outweigh the challenges. It is the best feeling to express yourself and have your ideas so well received and understood. The flexibility of self-employment is the best. Don’t get me wrong, I have never worked harder in all my life, but the option of being able to work from home, take a morning off or travel for inspiration is what is so great. It’s been so rewarding working with others too. People are really helpful and when you are creating something great everyone wants to be involved. That feels nice.

There’s been a lot of hype on the rise of small-run fashion since the closing of Target and other major retailers in Canada. With that in mind, what do you see for the future of fashion in Toronto?

With the fall of major retailers, us little peeps have more room to breathe. The retail landscape is changing, whether more people are shopping online or people want better quality products or are looking for experiences instead of things. It’s hard to say for sure. But overall I know it’s a positive change.

What other creative outlets are you really interested in right now?

I’m digging 3D illustration these days. I would love to learn more about 3d graphics and modeling to create short ambient movies, gifs and music videos for the line and really to just experiment personally. My Instagram acts as a showcase of the artists and designers I come across – they are a huge source of inspiration.


What’s next for Leilanni in 2015?

There are some fun projects that I am super excited for. I have been working on the Yes! project for about a year now and it’s finally coming together. It’s something that is close to my heart and I’m so proud to put it out there. As for workshops, I am in talks with partnering up – which is also really exciting. I’m looking to offer a variety of classes – some of which are really, really different. So there’s a lot of great things coming up for you guys : )

Find out more about Leilanni on her website, follow her on Twitter and Instagram and check out her Facebook.