Lesley Hampton on Indigenous inclusion and opening doors by way of fashion

The 2021 Indspire Award recipient on encouraging other youth ‘to take up space in the industry.’

The 2021 Indspire Award recipient on encouraging other youth ‘to take up space in the industry’

(Photo: Marc Aitken)

Diversity and inclusivity have moved to the forefront of many industries, so much so that many say it's a trend. When it comes to media and fashion, renowned Toronto designer Lesley Hampton has proven to the world that authentic representation is much more than that. 

Her goal to create change in the mainstream of these industries has provided an example of what allyship looks like between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people, and she's gracefully fused Indigenous stories and history into the predominantly white world of fashion.

Today, an example of Indigenous success and excellence is what Hampton is sharing with her community. She is the First Nation youth recipient for the 2021 Indspire Awards, and for her, the award means so much to her because of the potential to encourage other First Nations youth aspiring to work in the media and fashion industries. "This award holds a reassurance to myself and other First Nations youth who are inspired by this," wrote Hampton by email, "to know that we can make our own path for change and we don't need to follow the stereotypical mould laid out for us by the mainstream industry we want to shift." 

Lesley Hampton Spring/Summer 2021 (Photographer: Billie Chiasson; model: Shayla Oulette Stonechild; hair and makeup: Michelle Silverstein)
Lesley Hampton Spring/Summer 2021 (Photographer: Billie Chiasson; model: Shayla Oulette Stonechild; hair and makeup: Michelle Silverstein)

Hampton began her career in fashion in 2016. Since then, her mission has been to ensure visibility and equality of all bodies in industries like media and fashion. "I started this fashion brand when I was 22 years old and still in fashion school because I was so eager to change the fashion industry to include more bodies like mine," she said. "I think because I was so young and perhaps naive when I started, I didn't see the barriers that might have [been] laid before me, and that blindness made me believe that inclusivity would be easily accepted in fashion. Instead, every leap became a viral headline in the press as people began to see the change that was possible." 

I asked Hampton what National Indigenous History Month means to her, and she described it as a celebration in which Indigenous people can experience a feeling of strength. But importantly, it's also a call for non-Indigenous people to better understand and appreciate the incredible value Indigenous people bring to the communities around them. "It's a good reminder … to celebrate the beautiful contributions Indigenous people make to society [and to] become aware of the work that still needs to happen in education, politics and elsewhere to celebrate all of us, not only in June but every day of the year," she said. 

Hampton's words are exactly how I would describe the work she's doing for Indigenous communities. Through her work, she has brought and continues to bring awareness to what still needs to happen in industries like media and fashion. She's a reminder of the many diverse Indigenous communities that exist and of the contributions Indigenous people are making to society today. "Through my personal and professional experience, I have come to understand how much representation in media truly matters," she said. "I want to be a voice in that space to advocate for the stories that are not being shared." Among the seams, she has woven Indigenous stories, strength, history, existence and beauty into everything she creates. 

Lesley Hampton Spring/Summer 2021 (Photographer: Billie Chiasson; model: Shayla Oulette Stonechild; hair and makeup: Michelle Silverstein)

Hampton's work has also brought new meaning to the word allyship, by creating a more supportive environment for the up-and-coming generation trying to break into the fashion and media industry. And, she's also an example of what allyship looks like between members of her own Indigenous community. Hampton, who is Anishinaabe and Scottish Canadian, has experienced lateral violence within her community. She has worked hard to rise above it by bringing together and celebrating both identities and being a mentor and supporter of all First Nation, Métis and Inuit youth who are inspired by her work. "We must uplift and support one another," she said. "We as young leaders can guide other youth to take up space in the industry. I believe the youth have such an important voice and perspective to share, and in that vision, we have so much power." 

There are many indications Hampton's hustle has paid off. Earlier this year, her work caught the attention of singer and activist Lizzo, who wore Hampton's designs during an at-home workout. "It was an incredible testament to our brand's quality and vision for the brand," Hampton said. And her Indspire Award may simply be the latest example of this. She has successfully created a brand that speaks to all body types and has found favour across the mainstream of multiple industries, all while providing a supportive environment to Indigenous youth who aspire to be like her. "With this award, I am honoured to have the support of Indspire as it continues to share my brand's foundation story," Hampton said. "I hope my story inspires other Indigenous youth to enter the fashion and media industries." 

For more with Lesley Hampton, check out our "Life with" rapid-fire questions below. 

Life with Lesley Hampton

Can't-live-without beauty product: My Cheekbone Beauty lipstick and contour

Fave place on Earth: On a plane, knowing you're about to start an incredible adventure!

Fave space in your home: Taking in the sun on my condo's patio

Artist everyone should know about right now: Niio Perkins Designs 

Secret to good health these days: SLEEP!

Greatest hero: My mom 

Secret internet obsession: Watching all of the IG stories from @thebirdspapaya (Check out our collab with Knix.)

What's something people would be surprised to know about you: I was on a competitive equestrian team when I lived in Australia during my high school years. 

The 2021 Indspire Awards will broadcast nationwide on Tuesday, June 22 at 8 p.m. (8:30 p.m. NT) on CBC TV, CBC Gem, CBC Radio One, the CBC Listen app and APTN. For more details on how to watch live and on demand, click here

Michaella Shannon, a member of Frog Lake First Nation, is a television host and personality, actress, model, writer and facilitator. You can find her on Instagram at @michaella.shannon.

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