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1840 Journal

Meet the artisans, discover their expertise, and share their passion.


Fabrique 1840 - Sonya Lee Fabrique 1840 - Sonya Lee

Style that goes beyond skin deep. 

Stephanie Ibbitson, the designer and founder of Sonya Lee, found success doing things her way, meaning she focused on sustainability and local production.  “A small team of women and I make ethical handbags using the finest leather,” she explains. The accessory line is designed and handcrafted in Vancouver using oil-tanned and vegetable-tanned leathers, sourced exclusively from North American tanneries. “The reason we do this mirrors the ethos of myself and the brand, which prioritizes community,” states the artist.

Stephanie Ibbitson the designer and founder of Sonya Lee Stephanie Ibbitson the designer and founder of Sonya Lee
Photo credit: Someone Else

Working with leather also allows the designer to create an aesthetically pleasing product that serves a function. “Our handbags are designed to elevate,” Stephanie says. “A lot of clients talk about how powerful and strong they feel when they wear our bags.” What could be better than being empowered by an item that we carry daily. “Modern women and men take public transit and bike, especially those of us who live in cities. So, it’s really important that our bags be multifunctional as well,” the designer points out.

Although they are sophisticated, luxury items, Sonya Lee bags aren’t only made to be carried at night. They are convertible and can be worn as a crossbody style, wristlet, clutch, or belt bag. They’re ready for any occasion. 

Currently based in Vancouver, Stephanie launched Sonya Lee back in 2014 in her hometown of Toronto. Two years prior, she began making bags as a hobby after walking into a leather distributor out of curiosity. She bought her first hide and an industrial sewing machine and began selling her creations at local craft fairs. The brand steadily evolved into a household name that, today, produces lookbooks and attends New York Market Week. “It’s something much bigger than what I could have hoped or dreamed of,” the designer says. “I’m very happy with where we’re at.”

Sonya Lee leather handmade bags Sonya Lee leather handmade bags
Photo credit: Someone Else

When it comes to design, Stephanie leaves nothing to chance. Her industrial design degree comes in very handy during the creation process. “It's very interesting how creativity meets the practical side,” she explains. “When you do industrial design, you start with a sketch, then you do prototypes until it's refined and finally move it to its final material.'' This way, she makes sure not to waste the material. “Everything we do, we really try to do with intention and purpose,” the designer says. “We live in a world where everything is disposable, and I will have none of that.” This is why Sonya Lee leather goods are delivered wrapped in a silky fabric, inspired by the Japanese practice of furoshiki, the art of wrapping presents in cloth. “The bag is protected as it would be with a dust bag,” she explains, “and it doubles as a scarf that you can wear in your hair, around your neck, as a belt, or place on the handle of the bag.”

Sonya Lee is bound to grow, and its creator is intent on giving back. “Ideally, what I would like to do is expand Sonya Lee and hopefully create more jobs for Canadians,” she says. 

 The brand’s future is bright, and her bags remain a must-have.