“I feel like I got pushed into this. Originally the game plan after graduation was to work for another designer, maybe do an internship in New York or in England. You know, live that fashion dream.” Mani Jassal is sitting in the back room of her Toronto boutique in the upscale Yorkville neighbourhood explaining how she came to be one of Canada’s most exciting young designers. Jassal, who launched her feminine, glamorous eponymous line of evening wear and bridalwear in 2014, has become known for her dynamic collections that give traditional South Asian style a contemporary update.
Seeing her most recent runway show as part of Toronto Fashion Week, set at the Royal Ontario Museum and featuring a cast of non-white and variously-sized models, was invigorating in a way that shouldn’t be so notable at this point in history, to be honest. We shouldn’t feel a surge of hope for humanity because we’re not watching the same parade of people walk past—yet that’s still sadly where we are despite a lot of brands patting themselves on the back for their alleged forward-thinking. To her credit, Jassal is an actual game-changer, and is poised to impact the fashion world from the inside out.
After her graduating collection for Ryerson University’s fashion program garnered a spark of attention for its bold take on bridal—think laser-cut leather and non-traditional colours—she found herself picking up private clients while trying to assess where to go next. But Jassal knew it wasn’t actually doing the unpaid internship slog. “It just wasn’t practical,” she says. “It’s so much money. You pay for school and for [student loans]. It was hard to do something for free after graduation.” So while launching her own line might have seemed unlikely before, it started to make a lot of sense. Since then, her pieces have been worn by the likes of actor Hannah Simone and poet Rupi Kaur, and universally celebrated for their intricacy, elegance, and playfulness.
Jassal’s candour when speaking about the current fashion industry is as refreshing as her designs. By all accounts, most mainstream entertainment—especially reality shows like The Hills and The City—has done little except reinforce a portrait of the fashion set as being white and privileged. And while many working designers still check at least one of these boxes, for Jassal, stepping into the spotlight with such a focus and clear vision allows for the next generation to see a diverse future for themselves, despite being outside of that long-upheld definition. When she reflects on her fledgling aspirations to be a designer (noting she thinks she first decided on the career path at age 11), Jassal says, “There was nobody who looked like me that was doing this. This younger generation has a lot more women, and women of colour, doing things are not just doctor, engineer, teacher, and doing things that are more out of the box. That kind of inspires them, like, ‘If she can do it, I can do it as well.’”
She’s also trying to set an example for herself by honouring her time: that elusive idea that easily escapes the self-employed. Jassal says that while travel is her hobby (one she admits she wishes she had more time for), even getting a personal phone line has been a boon in her effort to tune out. The compulsion to constantly check emails and messages has diminished, allowing her to be transported by other means (i.e. Netflix and a glass of wine) while she waits for her next trip. For someone so plugged in to where fashion’s going next, Jassal confirms that sometimes “it’s nice to just disconnect.” Creativity, after all, doesn’t work on a deadline.