Lesley Hampton's Wolfpack
How the Indigenous Designer is Leading the Shift towards Body Positivity and Inclusivity in the Canadian Fashion Industry
by Jennifer Wood
At the age of 25, Newfoundland and Labrador– born Indigenous fashion designer Lesley Hampton has received more industry praise than most would earn in a lifetime. In four short years, her designs have been featured in major publications like Vogue and Glamour in the UK and Allure, to name but a few. Her collections have been cherished, worn and modelled by national and international public figures, artists and athletes, including Adrianne Haslet, Serena Ryder, Penny Oleksiak, Margaret Trudeau and Lainey Lui. A nomad by design, Hampton’s formative years were filled with experiences of relocating and adjusting to new places throughout the world — an offshoot of her father’s work in the mining industry. At an early age, she began to develop an appetite for and understanding of socio-cultural concepts, marking the genesis of what we appreciate in her clothing lines today.
“We moved every two years until I was in university,” she tells [EDIT] from her Torontobased studio. “In grade eight we moved from Newfoundland to New Caledonia, and because there were no English-speaking schools available to me, I went to boarding school in Australia. This experience opened my eyes to diversity and inclusivity and my notions around these concepts, and, it’s where my cultural discovery began.”
Today she works from her atelier located at the Toronto Fashion Incubator, a non-profit organization dedicated to nurturing Canadian fashion designers. She has the energy and the hustle required of any entrepreneur — her days are spent in her studio while her evenings are spent responding to press requests, organizing purchase orders or attending networking events. She takes and creates every opportunity to further promote the Lesley Hampton brand, which is founded on the principles of inclusivity, identity, awareness and heritage.
Hampton was recently nominated for the Fashion Impact Award at the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards for her work with Indigenous representation, body positivity and mental health.
[EDIT]’s Senior Editor, Jennifer Wood, caught up with the gifted designer to discuss her breakout success, the 2020 Golden Globes and her design that stirred international buzz, the impact COVID-19 has had on her business and how she is coping, the growing Lesley Hampton Wolfpack and why Indigenous Peoples have a lot to offer the fashion industry.
[EDIT]: The trajectory of your career is somewhat unique in that your brand took off before you graduated from George Brown College. What was that experience like?
LESLEY HAMPTON: I started fashion school at George Brown after getting an undergraduate degree in art studio and art history at the University of Toronto (U of T). My time at U of T helped me better understand what I wanted to say and what medium I wanted to put out into the world; I was able to grasp the conversation between what I was putting on the body and how people perceive it. Though I wasn’t the best sewer at the time, I knew that I wanted to pursue fashion to push these conceptual topics and translate them through apparel. I started the Lesley Hampton brand my first week at George Brown, and I put everything I had learned at U of T and was learning about fashion into my first collection. I had my sights set on presenting at Fashion Art Toronto, which, in part, celebrates contemporary art and design through runway shows, and my ten-piece collection was accepted. The Lesley Hampton brand started to take off from this show. Vancouver Fashion Week saw my work and invited me to present at their exposition. I was then featured in British Vogue and other major outlets, which was an incredible lift.
[EDIT]: Your collections are stunning. Can you tell us more about them?
LESLEY: The Signature collections are our main Lesley Hampton line. Each collection is inspired around a concept that I am trying to communicate, and these designs are more related to evening wear and occasion wear, and we also have a few jackets and signature items. I was inspired to design the Athleisure Collection because, as a curvier person, I always had problems purchasing clothing that I could work out in or hang out in. I would go into sportswear or yoga stores, and I would need larger sizes than what they had on offer. They would always tell me to purchase a smaller size. I was incredibly perturbed by that, so I developed the Robust Collection. It’s a line geared towards working or hanging out in — but totally suitable to wear to a club or to dinner. Garments are comfortable and offered for all body sizes. The Bridal Capsule Collection is a recent addition to our brand. I have a lot of brides requesting that I design their wedding dress, which is a very exciting concept because I can work one on one with the bride and make their vision a reality. The best part is seeing the smile on their face when they try on their finished dress. We released the bridal collection to show what we can do in this area.
[EDIT]: What are some of your favourite moments from the recognition you have received thus far?
LESLEY: When I started getting featured in magazines and being asked to design gowns for red-carpet events stands out more than anything. These experiences also solidified my passion for the fashion industry.
[EDIT]: Speaking of red carpets, you have dressed some remarkable public figures and celebrities. What have these opportunities meant for your brand?
LESLEY: My first opportunity was dressing Canadian Olympic swimming champion Penny Oleksiak for the Canadian Screen Awards. I was thrilled to create a unique look that would be appropriate for a six-foot-four-inch, athletic sixteen-year-old girl. In 2017 I asked Boston Bombing survivor Adrianne Haslet to open for me at the Vancouver Fashion Week Show. She is an awardwinning ballroom dancer and a global advocate for amputee rights — she lost her leg in the attack. The dress looked beautiful on her; I was so honoured that she agreed to play such a pivotal role and open my collection. Kim Kardashian then gave a nod to Adrianne in my dress on her social-media feed. Most recently, I dressed CTV reporter and talk-show host Lainey Lui for the 2020 Golden Globes. When people saw her dress, they began mentioning it and tagging my brand on social media. Very quickly, people knew that it was my dress she was wearing. Our sales had an enormous spike. This Golden Globes experience I had with Lainey’s gown was the first time in my career that we’d experienced that kind of demand — it was incredibly exciting. She was amazing at mentioning my brand and what it stands for and that I am a proud Indigenous designer.
[EDIT]: You once said, “I think our people have so much to offer the mainstream fashionand- celebrity community.” Can you elaborate?
LESLEY: Indigenous artisans, designers and creators have remarkable expertise in our attention to detail and through the storytelling elements of our culture. Fashion is an incredible outlet to show off the positive inspiration of Indigenous heritage in a way that is true to who Indigenous Peoples are in 2020 and not what history books have made us out to be.
Beadwork designer Helen Oro is an incredible example of this attention to detail. I am also inspired by the give-back initiatives of more mainstream companies like Manitobah Mukluks. In the winter months I serve as a Warmth Ambassador for them; I am so inspired by the ways in which they give back to their community, and I hope to bring this back to my brand someday.
[EDIT]: How has the onset of COVID-19 affected your business, and how have you adapted?
LESLEY: Our business has been thrown for a loop since the virus changed the way society works, albeit (and hopefully!) temporarily. We have had to minimize our customized orders, as we aren’t able to meet our clients face to face for the time being. Another way we have been hard hit is the cancellation of the award and gala season in the entertainment, philanthropy and fashion industries. These events represent a great opportunity for us to promote ourselves. But there has also been a new opportunity. We have shifted our focus and are now working with Covergalls Workwear to create fabric masks to help slow the spread of the disease. This has been incredibly rewarding. From a personal perspective I am using this time to focus on myself, my mental health and my family.
[EDIT]: Can you tell us about the Lesley Hampton Wolfpack?
LESLEY: Wolfpack is a phrase that I brought to the brand to help develop a community around the models who walk in my shows or the people who are involved in building my business. I am happy to say that the wolfpack has progressed to encompass the people who purchase and wear my clothing! I use the wolfpack to push messages of body positivity and inclusivity while giving everyone a place to belong within the fashion industry. While the industry has come a long way in a short time, I find that there are still stigmas around plus-sized bodies and skin colour, or if you are a person with a prosthetic limb, for example. I find there is this whole conversation that is still lacking — this conversation is one that I want to address — and in doing so I present the stories I want to tell.
Items can all be found for purchase at LesleyHampton.com and custom design requests can be directed to info@LesleyHampton.com lesleyhampton.com