Breaking Down Fashion Barriers

Toronto-based designer Lesley Hampton brings Indigenous fashion to the runway

Fashion with purpose is the driving force behind the work of Toronto designer Lesley Hampton. She launched her self-titled brand in 2016 and since then she has been featured on runways around the world. She is also a celebrity favourite with singing-sensation Lizzo among her fans.  

Hampton designed her brand with inclusivity in mind. She recalls facing barriers as she began her design career. As an Anishinaabe artist and fashion designer and member of the Temagami First Nation, it was rare to find people from within her own community to learn the business. She has used her experience to create a brand that is not only fashion-forward but tells a story. 

“We make indigenous fashion. It is not inspired and not a stereotype,” she says, adding it is important for more indigenous artists to take up space in the fashion industry. “It is difficult for indigenous people given their different opportunities. I pushed against the stereotypes that were applied to me.”

The result has been a brand that focuses on education and activism. She says she wants to build awareness of mental health issues, body positivity, and authentic representation in the media. Her clothes are high fashion and size-inclusive, almost unheard of in the fashion world. Her goal is to decolonize euro-centric standards in the fashion industry and create a space that is inviting to other indigenous designers. 

“I hope personally as a brand we continue to decolonize fashion. I also hope to make fashion more community-based. Make it more about storytelling and pave the way for future designers,” she says. 

“My motivation is to make an impact. As an art form, I know how impactful fashion is,” she says. This impact is already being felt across the fashion world. At the 2020 Golden Globes, her designs were featured on countless ‘best dressed’ lists when etalk and CTV reporter Lainey Lui wore her designs. “When you take over these best-dressed lists, it’s very impactful.” 

She is also in the process of launching the Lesley Hampton award through the fashion school at Ryerson University. The recipient will receive $10,000 over the course of their studies. The award will be both monetary and mentorship support to help ensure future indigenous fashion designers have the opportunity to have their pieces reach a wider audience. 

“We want to better support their fashion future,” she says. 

As the fashion world opens up again post-COVID-19, Hampton is continuing to find new ways to bring her designs to the mainstream. In the early days of the pandemic, she launched a new line of athletic wear. Watch for her new collection slated for release in October 2021.