Breaking onto the fashion scene in 2016, Anishinaabe and Mohawk fashion designer Lesley Hampton has quickly become a leader in the Indigenous fashion industry. She is known for her mission of promoting inclusivity, identity, awareness and heritage through fashion, and has already presented at numerous fashion shows around the world and dressed celebrities such as actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, television personality Elaine Lui and renowned Cree/Métis actress Tantoo Cardinal.
Vogueworld listed the 25-year-old, Toronto-based designer as one of “the most recognized Indigenous designers” of today, and refinery29 ranked her number 5 on its list of Canadian Powerhouses of 2019, calling her a “Runway Revolutionary”. The latest of many other accolades, Hampton was recently nominated for the Fashion Impact Award, to be presented at the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards this fall.
Her Spring/Summer 2020 collection “The Preface” is all about self-healing, using colour and elemental therapy to instill self-happiness, self-confidence and self-love in all those who wear her designs.
SAY had the opportunity to speak to Hampton about her journey and inspiration as an Indigenous designer.
SAY: How did you get interested in fashion?
Hampton: It’s always been something that I’ve been interested in. I ended up doing my undergrad in art studio and art history, so I really figured out what it meant to put a concept together and use material to give that message. Then I noticed that all my artwork was always in relation to the body, or to appearance, or pop culture in some way, so it was just a natural transition then to fashion design.
As a fashion design student, I already had the drive and I knew what I wanted to say. I just had to learn how to sew and be good at all that technical stuff. What I learned in class, I immediately applied to my collection.
SAY: What message were you hoping to convey with your first collection?
Hampton: The first collection was inspired by the jingle dress and how I could modernize that type of design and the power it holds to the modern-day, city-dweller woman. I used a lot of reflective materials as my reinterpretation of the metallic cones and to still keep the feeling of empowerment and have it come through on the runway show.
SAY: How has your experience living abroad influenced your design?
Hampton: I think my international background really influenced how I casted the models for [my first] collection, and has really influenced my casting in general as a brand because we are so inclusive. I think that stems from my upbringing and knowing what it’s like to be the odd kid out, [from] my time in Australia and being the only Canadian “North American” person going to the school that I was in. And then, attending my international school in England, I experienced much of the same and learned to create a community because of it.
These experiences translated to fashion design. I saw that there was this hole in the industry that wasn’t including certain body types or body shapes, or abilities or skin colours. So knowing how to create a community out of diversity, I wanted to really bring that to my fashion design in any way that I could.
SAY: How do you blend traditional Indige- nous culture with high fashion?
Hampton: I would say my designs are Indigenous designs because I’m an Indigenous person making them, but I do love to include the Indigenous community in any way that I can. Personally, being given the opportunity to show at Toronto Fashion Week [and other] big shows, I really try to include other creatives on that journey, whether it be Indigenous models or accessory designers.
SAY: Have you ever participated at an In- digenous Fashion Week before?
Hampton: I did do Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto in 2018 for their inaugural show, and it was an incredible experience. I have since participated in Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week, and thanks to Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, I was invited to other fashion weeks, such as the Sante Fe Indian Market Fashion Show.
SAY: Do you have any advice for people interested in going into the fashion industry?
Hampton: My advice for a budding fashion designer would be to have a message that you want to put forward into the world, and through your fashion, project the change that you want to see. That will allow you to become more well-known, and push your message and your brand forward.
SAY: You mentioned earlier you work with Indigenous accessory designers; do you have connections with other Indigenous businesses?
Hampton: I’m a warmth ambassador for Manitobah Mukluks, and I do a lot of work with Indigenous activists such as Sarain Fox—dressing her for events and opportunities such as her Sephora commercial campaign. I love teaming up with other Indigenous people and/or businesses in any way that I can to put our work, our faces and our authentic storytelling at the forefront.
Lesley Hampton creates signature, athleisure and bridal fashion lines. To view and purchase, visit lesleyhampton.com.