Toronto-based, ai Toronto Seoul is a sustainable brand that carefully curates and produces PETA-approved vegan handbags and accessories. The women-led and family-run business located on Bloor Street West, was founded by mother and a three-daughter team. Their attention to details and commitment to reducing waste in the world would drive the core of the business starting with creating only what they truly love and producing in small batches. By the way, ai (pronounced ah-ee) means children/daughters in Korean.
The business idea began when daughter, Hannah, was diagnosed with a rare tumor called Desmoid Fibromatosis and underwent chemotherapy for two years. “During this time, our family supported me in every way that they could but it still was not enough,” said Hannah. “We always knew that we wanted to do something together, but it was during this particularly difficult time where it felt like the right time to create something as a family and distract me from my health concerns.”
Then, on an annual visit to Seoul, South Korea two years ago, Hun (mother) visited her cousin who ran a small production of vegan handbags, and the idea of the ai brand was born. “We’ve always been connected to and passionate about fashion and we’re so incredibly grateful to be building this brand together, as a family,” said Hannah.
They’ve recently collaborated with television personality, Tanya Kim to offer up a Spring edition. “The Mabel” is a hands-free and versatile stylish belt-bag piece has been revealed and will be made available mid-April. Known for her support of animal rights, health and well-being, her alignment to the brand was a natural fit. Tanya first took note of the brand on social media. “This is an instance where the internet IS a wonderful thing and can be the best tool in connecting like-minded people who share similar core values,” Tanya tells us. “As someone who’s been really leaning in to living a more plant-forward lifestyle, I was over the moon when I first-discovered ai Toronto Seoul while shopping online. I was immediately drawn to their gorgeous handbags (I have a slight handbag addiction).”
The minute she learned that they only used PETA-Approved vegan leather, she became obsessed. “I still marvel at the luxe quality of their vegan leather and the craftsmanship of their bags. Stunning! Bags and accessories aside, I LOVE the fact that a family of Korean-Canadian women (Hannah, Joanna, and Rebekah have become the sisters I never had!) is leading this sustainable luxury brand.”
The idea of creating a luxurious vegan line began many moons ago for Tanya. But as any urban dog mom or dad would appreciate, having an accessible and stylish bag to carry our essentials when out, especially in the city, is well appreciated. “As a passionate dog mom, (I have two, Mabel and Frankie) I found myself almost always having my hands full during our walks. Forget about answering that business call! I thought, there’s got to be a better way to be productive and functional during these outings while still looking super fresh!”
Fast forward to when the production process started approximately two years ago for the team at ai and Tanya. There were pre-pandemic meetings at local coffee shops with her idea and doodles in-hand, Zoom meetings with Seoul, Korea (Rebekah is based there), and masked meetings at ai Toronto Seoul’s Toronto HQ to examine swatches, samples, prototypes. “There was a lot of back and forth. A boatload of passion. We really wanted to nail it and get it just right… My need for perfection wouldn’t have it any other way (LOL).”
While you don’t have to have a pet to look twice at this line, it is a great consideration if you do. Additional complimentary leash to the belt bag is ideal and once again, function comes into play. The perfectly paired matching dog lead was created with local family-run Highland Hounds to handcraft the additional piece that is durable (it has a breaking strength of 1000 lbs), waterproof and easy to clean. Not only is the exterior made with sustainable materials but the interior as well. The lining is made of 100% recycled plastic water bottles.
Okay, I was curious if sweet Mabel, Tanya’s own rescue had any influence in the design details? “I’m so happy you asked! Miss Mabel was the BIGGEST inspiration for the entire design. From her classic “caramel-butterscotch” colouring to her sheer determination and strength — Mabel is 120lbs and a bit of a puller so I needed the leash to be durable, functional, and compatible with the bag. Even her actual paw print is embossed inside the bag, on the leash, and front and center on the product tag (scaled down to size, of course)!” said Tanya.
“The Mabel” will be available for purchase online at aitorontoseoul.ca beginning on National Pet Day, April 11, 2021. The limited-edition set includes a corresponding leash, an adjustable canvas strap and an adjustable vegan leather strap allowing the bag to be worn cross body or around the waist. The set will retail for $175 CDN. The line of goods are designed here in Toronto and produced in small-batches in Seoul, South Korea. Shipments are made to consumers from their Toronto HQ.