Toronto·Our Toronto

How Mani Jassal draws inspiration from her South Asian roots to redefine Canadian fashion

One of the designers being showcased at Toronto Fashion Week is Mani Jassal, a Ryerson School of Fashion graduate who is making a name for herself with her South Asian-inspired brand.

The Ryerson grad is launching her new line 'With Love' at Toronto Fashion Week

Mani Jassal poses with one of her popular bridal-wear designs. (Michael Cole/CBC)

When Mani Jassal was a student at Ryerson School of Fashion, she wanted to design evening wear and red carpet gowns. But as she prepared for her final project before graduation, a new inspiration struck.

"I was browsing through a bunch of magazines and there was Vogue India. And I was just looking at India's fashion scene and I was like, 'Oh, this is so cool,'" she told CBC's Our Toronto.

The Mani Jassal showroom in Yorkville. (Michael Cole/CBC)

Jassal decided to experiment with Indian fabrics and silhouettes for her final school fashion show. Her collection was a hit.

"People wanted to purchase it and I was so confused because to me it was just a school project," she said.  

From there, the orders started pouring in. Jassal graduated from Ryerson in 2013 and quickly found herself busy sewing custom orders in her parents' Brampton basement.

It was the early encouragement Jassal used to forge ahead with her South Asian-inspired designs.

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"When I initially started my collection," Jassal recalled, "I actually had somebody in the industry say to me that, 'You're your pieces would never work. They're not Canadian enough.'"

Jassal says she grew up surrounded by family members who were good at sewing and design. (Mani Jassal)

Last year, she expanded her business to Yorkville, where she opened her namesake boutique. It's filled with one-of-a-kind designs inspired by Jassal's South Asian heritage. She takes traditional clothing such as saris and lenghas and gives them a rebellious twist.

"I do a lot of plunging necklines which I always get hate for on Instagram where [South Asian] aunties will be like, 'This is not Indian fashion. You're disgracing Indian fashion. You need to go to India and learn what a decent blouse is like.'"

Jassal says her designs are South-Asian inspired with a 'rebellious twist.' (Instagram/@manikjassal)

But Jassal believes the demand for her designs proves that fashion can be more broadly defined.

"I don't think that [my designs] are overtly South Asian and I don't think that they're overtly Canadian," Jassal said. "I think at the end of the day they're clothes and if you want to wear them you can wear them."

A look at Mani Jassal's latest line, titled 'With Love.' It will launch during Toronto Fashion Week in the coming days. (Mani Jassal)

She's now working on a new collection for Toronto Fashion Week, which begins Feb. 5. It's called "With Love" and features a romantic and ethereal esthetic.

It's the second time she's been a featured designer for the showcase. She's using the runway as a platform to send a broader message of inclusion: "We actually use models of all diverse sizes," Jassal said.

"Why not? It's 2018. We have to showcase women of all sizes in the shows and I'm going to continue to do that in the show coming up as well."