Representing the creative future

Toronto Metropolitan University BDes 2023: Legacy, Presence and the Artisanal

Childrenswear, art-to-wear, lingerie, and costume design; discover this year’s Toronto design class

It’s all in the details — and it’s often the most crucial aspect for the 2023 graduating students at Toronto Metropolitan University. For the 45 designers, the process of making is sacred. “I have a lot of students who are doing quite a lot of handcraft,” said Tanya White, Assistant Professor of Material Practices at Toronto Metropolitan University. “And I would say [students] take a more art-to-wear approach than there was before.” Combining a newfound appreciation for more tangible forms of making with technological innovations in collaboration with the university’s Design + Technology LAB, these specialised techniques allow a more intimate connection with what we wear and remind us that designers are also makers and craftspeople worthy of both technical and creative value.

In order to fully understand the holistic storytelling that is woven into each collection, students propose that fashion needs to be digested. Many of the collections develop a unique language or perspective that can only be revealed through tactile presence and interactive experiences. The school’s principles of decolonization, inclusivity, and sustainability guide students to navigate their own paths and explore beyond the standard conventions of ready-to-wear, i.e., expanding to niche markets that resonate with their stories like childrenswear, art-to-wear, lingerie, or costume design.

Existing beyond the fashion capitals, Toronto seeks to develop its own distinctive fashion language in an industry that is getting smaller as a result of the lack of resources and opportunities in the city. “I don’t think we’re getting promoted enough,” P.Y. Chau, contract lecturer of the Toronto Metropolitan University, says. “Even government-wise, we don’t get grants like in Europe and we don’t have enough funding.” In response, here are 11 students confronting this hurdle by encouraging a more local, alternative and slower future — fashion with intention and sincerity.



Serena Li plays with practicality and functionality within outdoor apparel by combining all the signifiers of tech wear and subverting them with paradoxical themes of security and vulnerability. Looking into the layering system, the collection entitled “Clouded” pairs sheer noseeum mesh panelling and ripstop weather-resistant nylons, creating the illusion of exposure while being protected against the elements. Encouraging this uneasiness of the wearer’s experience, Serena invites them to interact with her garments in new, unconventional ways: “I want people to see the clothes. It’s like, what is going on? Like, I’m so confused, because this look [is] supposed to be something else. It’s interesting to get them to experience this.” Serena Li credits her mentor and Toronto-based designer, Spencer Badu, as her inspiration; taking his elements of building a uniform as an identifiable aspect of dressing into her own pragmatic world. “I always tell people there are no buttons in Serena Li’s World. I just don’t have the domestic machines to make buttonholes. And it’s kind of like, it just became a thing. […] So everything will be zippered.” Serena aspires to travel the world with her garments, looking for opportunities abroad.


Exploring fibre arts connected Jenny Chung to her childhood where knitting became a gesture of love through gifts for her friends and teachers. Inspired by her internship at Upper Canada Weaving and her upbringing in the Humber River parks, Jenny brought back her love of knitting; incorporating sustainable practices like natural dyeing and sourcing natural fibres from local farms to create a symbiotic relationship between nature and textiles. “I found inspiration in foraging with a variety of leaves and flowers that helped guide me through ideas for silhouettes, colours, and textures,” says Jenny. As labour-intensive as the process is, the ensembles flow with ease utilising braided details inspired by trailing plants and root systems along with gradient shades of yellow, orange, green, blue, and pink that blossoms in a variety of worsted wool, lace-weight cotton, mohair and alpaca yarns. When talking about her experience at Toronto Metropolitan University, she mentioned how online learning benefited her as a designer. “Imposter syndrome had really held me back from entering spaces of discomfort. However, the lockdown gave me the time I needed to hone in on my interests without the pressure of being perfect and comparing my work to others.”


While on a summer trip to the Mediterranean, Sam Huang was inspired by the Renaissance period with its rediscovery of philosophy, literature, and art from antiquity. His souvenir from his trip was his menswear collection titled, “Rinascimento Verde,” or the green renaissance in Italian, encouraging a rebirth of the ideology to cherish the environment. Featuring handcrafted techniques such as quilting reminiscent of Italian architecture and various floral details, Sam wanted to create discourse between our way of dressing in tandem with our natural surroundings. “Aesthetically to differentiate my own works […], I am very keen on doing my own fabrication and surface design to make each piece unique.” During his time at Toronto Metropolitan University, critical concepts of sustainable practices changed his design approach as he seeks to continue finding solutions that are less harmful to the earth through his future practice.


Textile traditions and techniques of diverse ethnicities in Vietnam are often overlooked when discussing contemporary representations of Vietnamese fashion. For Trần Ngọc Mai Phương, her collection titled “Hây Hây” aims to preserve their intricate beauty and abundance. Colourful Hà Đông silk and handworked jute brocades sourced from Vietnam are paired with voluminous silhouettes referencing the terraces and multi-layered rice patties in the northwestern regions. Techniques such as beading, narrow fabric assembly and pleating also add to its maximalist appeal. Studying in Vietnam during lockdown, Phương’s connection to her homeland carries a deeper meaning in preserving its history and culture through material practices. “Growing up surrounded by the diminishing of many valuable traditional techniques is a huge powerless pain of mine,” says Phương. “I have an aspiration to learn multiple cultures, especially handcrafted techniques [and] preserve them from fading.”


During the summer of 2020, Stephanie Ciani welcomed her first child and through many adversities, his resilience and positive attitude is what inspired Stephanie’s childrenswear collection titled and dedicated to, “Ronan.” Familial and ancestral connections to creativity became important to Stephanie as she hopes to create playful heirlooms that will continue on their legacy. “Growing up in the 1990s, I was fortunate enough to spend my days in close proximity to my Nonna, learning handcrafts passed down from generations before me.” In 2022, Stephanie spent her summer cultivating botanicals from her garden used to naturally dye her fabrics, as well as sourcing materials like wool from local farmers and discarded leather samples from furniture manufacturers. From using techniques such as wet/dry felting and upcycling in her zero-waste approach, Stephanie hopes to create a more sustainable and circular future for generations to come.


Rich in cultural context, Camilla Leonelli Calzado explores the historical and contemporary celebration of the Cuban Carnival. Born in Cuba and having immigrated to Canada at a young age, the music and dance that has often filled Camilla’s childhood became an intrinsic element to her approach to creating. Through a synesthetic approach, she constructs the sounds and feelings of diasporic performed and produced identities through the process of felting, weaving, and knitting, emulating what she describes as “bringing the notes together.” Incorporating various symbols and archetypes, Camilla references Cuban spirituality, mysticism, folklore and history. This includes depicting aquatic elements based on the Ocean Mother Goddess Yemayá, parodying Spanish colonialism seen in the depictions of the Arlequín, and looking into the legacy of Cuban ballet reclaiming Afro-Cuban identity as prima ballerinas. Performance became the focal point in her collection with elements of theatre and costume as necessary outlets for authentic identity and expression that has often been excluded, censored or lost. “The expression in which I wish to engulf myself is one that is produced from relief, joy, and passion,” Camilla says in her description. “I view this as escapism into a vivid multicultural communal dreamscape.”


“My relationship with femininity became less about understanding it and more about unravelling the performance of it.” Delfina Russo dissects the polarity of Western femininity through her collection titled, “Fall of Doll,” showcasing hyper-feminine aesthetics to examine both “the discrepancies between the internal surveying of the self and the external performance of identity.” With nods to historical dress sensibilities, Delfina subverts visual archetypes of feminine dress like extravagant panier-like panels, corsetry, soft bows, pearls, and the colour pink with armour-like 3-D printed acrylic made in the Design + Technology LAB. “I was introduced to new technologies and fabrications that I had never considered in the past and it opened a lot of doors for me. I would love to continue to implement new media and practices into my process.” Through these aspects, Delfina proves that feminine performance, often dismissed as immature, vain or frivolous, is complex and multifaceted in tangible material forms as well.


How do people change appearances and perform identities between private and public spaces? After his experience with his former roommate, Haolin explores this juxtaposition through his collection titled “Phoniness,” commenting on the various forms of self-presentation. Explored with hand-looming and knitting techniques, textures became the chaotic forefront grounded by neutral tones and form-fitting silhouettes. Challenging himself and exploring different creative avenues became his pursuit when he started in the Fashion Communication program. Watching last year’s graduate collection was what inspired him to produce garments and textiles, citing collections from Sara He and Curtis Matysek as inspirations. “When I started the collection, I knew nothing about knitting and loom-weaving. It was all about learning new skills.” Haolin hopes to continue his skills in knitting and develop his own brand.


Jonathan Dumitra doesn’t shy away from provocative looks featuring leather harnesses, skin-tight mesh, and branded jockstraps that empower people to be liberated in their own bodies, sexualities and sexual expressions. Titled, “It’s A Sin,” Jonathan nods to his Christian upbringing, where his experiences of body image were often bounded by heteronormative patriarchal ideals. To him, strength and embracing one’s own sexuality is, as he put it, “a beautiful part of your individuality, and your own experience as a person.” Lingerie, underwear and fetishwear aren’t new to his storytelling, as his brand Hartmann Underwear aims to celebrate people of all sizes, shapes, abilities, and sexualities. Jonathan mentions his experience as a research assistant with Cripping Masculinity as an eye-opening experience in approaching his designs. “It was a really incredible process that now allows me to think with disability and accessibility in the forefront of all my designs and that’s certainly something that shifted in my design tendencies as now I always approach my work from a disability and accessible framework.”


Fashion can have the power to induce visceral reactions and reveal vulnerable aspects to the human experience. Confrontational in nature, Hayley Spurdle takes an autobiographical approach in her collection titled, “Trigger Warning,” to speak on her experiences of mental health and trauma. Visual representations of the human body such as the metal ribcage and blood-splattering motifs are placed as a reminder of one’s own morality and its destructive capabilities. Inspired by performance art pieces like Frank B’s “I Miss You” which challenges the physical limitation of the human body, Hayley aims to connect an essence of discomfort with the audience through the oversized studded headpieces, shibari-inspired roping techniques or chainmail constricting the waist reminiscent of being bound to one’s own memories. Distressed motifs also tie into her intuitive process. “It’s definitely cathartic on a lot of my designs where it’s like I’m mentally kind of getting my emotions out. And also, I get to sit here and just rip it apart with my hands.” Hayley hopes to continue her label, RaccoonGuts, expanding to produce runway collections and showcasing them across the city and beyond.

To see all the designers featured in the graduate show, please visit here.