There is a famous quote by Serena Williams where she says, “Every woman’s success should be an inspiration to another. We’re strongest when we cheer each other on.” Regardless if we acknowledge it or not, fashion plays an essential role in shaping our daily lives; it not only gives us an outlet for creative expression, but it affects our self-confidence and how we are perceived. That’s why it’s crucial that we honour the women in fashion who use clothing as a means to empower more women to look and feel their best. Whether they’re owned and operated by best friends, sisters, or one-woman shows, here are 10 influential Canadian, female-owned brands to support on International Women’s Day and every day! —Christina Armanious
Founded by best friends Claudia Dey and Heidi Sopinka in downtown Toronto, Horses Atelier is a brand that believes fashion should be a form of autobiography—a personal medium that captures the individual and collective essence of the women who wear it. Their “jumpsuits for the matriarchy” and other artful pieces are designed with beauty, versatility, and fierceness at the forefront for extra oomph. Female empowerment is the moral fibre of how the brand operates; they not only acknowledge and reward the skillful work of the women who make their garments, but are committed to donating to a variety of women-centred organisations, including Native Women’s Association of Canada, Sistering, and more.
Founded in Calgary, Alberta, Kate Hewko, owner of the eponymous label, just wants women to feel painfully cool and liberated in the clothes they wear, irrespective of their size and age. Her brand’s mission is to “create a space where we’re cool girls, but not Mean Girls,” adding that, “we’re showing up best-dressed saying ‘you can sit with us.’” This same outlook is what empowers her team of diverse women who run the business, and Kate Hewko is “[committed] to providing a seat at the table for [all] women” coming from different walks of life. The brand’s social sustainability extends to the local, national, and international women-driven charities they partner with, including Women for Afghan Women, Breast Cancer Research Center at Sunnybrook Institute, and more.
ai Toronto Seoul is run by a mother-daughter ensemble in Toronto where they collaborate with artisans in Seoul. ai thoughtfully curates the highest quality PETA-approved vegan leather, creating sustainable luxury bags in small batches, bridging the gap between ancestral craftsmanship and slow fashion.
Toronto-based B Corp Encircled is the crème de la crème of brands that are created by one girlboss for the benefit of another. Kristi Soomer, founder and CEO, upon struggling to find multi-functional clothes that supported her busy lifestyle, created a workleisure brand consisting of comfortable, luxurious, trendless, versatile, and eco-friendly garments for the everyday female hustler. Not only does Encircled strive to help women find day-to-night, multi-seasonal garments, but helps them pare down their wardrobes and reduce textile waste.
Andrea Lenczner and Christie Smythe, friends turned co-founders of the Canadian brand SMYTHE, started the label with the sole aim of creating the perfect tailored blazer for women to feel invigorated in. Their passion for crafting delicately constructed pieces eventually led them to begin a full ready-to-wear collection, albeit their mission to empower women still remaining at the brand’s forefront.
Hayley Elsaesser, Toronto-based designer, wants women to feel seen in her bold designs—each piece a satirical strike against the norms of fashion, inspired by childhood nostalgia and being raised by a single mother. All of her playful silhouettes act as a uniform for the eccentric woman in a self-effacing era, with an emphasis on bright, contrasting and mood-driven patterns, and visual imagery.
Amanda He, the designer behind Canadian jewelry company Poppy Finch, wanted to create a brand for the modern woman, one who not only values high-quality jewelry but its social and environmental impact. The brand prides itself for creating quality pieces at affordable prices, working with sustainable suppliers, and supporting the local economy by collaborating with Canadian artisans. Before launching the brand, Amanda left her corporate job in pursuit of finding a higher purpose, and she wants Poppy Finch to be a reminder to all the women who wear it that they, too, are capable of turning their flight of fancies into a reality. The brand name itself represents femininity and not being constrained by convention.
Founded and designed by sisters Chloé and Parris Gordon in Toronto, Beaufille translates to “handsome girl,” and aims to crush conformity by challenging the appearance of the ubiquitous female that is heavily emphasised by many womenswear brands. A tribute to understated androgyny, Beaufille’s pieces juxtapose masculine and feminine elements.
Inspired by her time at Central Saint Martins in London where she was enamoured by how people used fashion to embrace their individuality, Ellie Mae created her self-titled brand to empower women to do just that—fearlessly. All her pieces, reminiscent of her first impressions of the people she encountered, are designed in small batches with remarkable craftsmanship for the women who dare to be different.
Created by female entrepreneur Michelle Kaminski in Toronto, Bag & Bougie offers problem-solving and ultra-versatile lifestyle bags for the everyday woman. Whether you are a mom on-the-go, a nine-to-fiver, a student, traveller, gym geek, or anyone in-between, these bags will surely work as hard as you do, without compromising aesthetic.