It’s a gloomy Sunday afternoon, and Anu Raina is patiently waiting for me at the Toronto Designers Market at her pop up for her s/s 2017 scarf collection.
We spend the afternoon chatting about her journey becoming a designer, her art, fashion week and her upcoming collection.
Raina’s new Spring 2017 lookbook is a collection of scarves inspired by her travels. Prints include a map of the Paris subway line, a map of Manhattan, and a design of the Statue of Liberty.
“As this passion for art continued in my adult life, I felt designing offered everything I was looking for in a creative career,” she says.
Raina’s love for art goes back to her childhood spent playing in India’s northern state of Kashmir. Ever since she was a kid, she was naturally drawn to different colours, textures and patterns in her life.
From the pomegranates and daisies that bloomed in her grandfather’s backyard to the moment she fell in love with Toronto’s warm autumn hues, Raina knew she was meant to create her own designs.
She moved to London, England from India on her own to study fashion.
“Initially it felt really overwhelming to the point that I wanted to quit. I was competing with so much talent, but then I decided to do my own thing and work on my concepts to offer something fresh and new than to follow the trends,” Raina says.
She moved to North York, Toronto in 2004 with her husband, son, and a degree in fashion design specializing in women’s wear from the London College of Fashion. Later, she graduated with several awards from the textile program at Sheridan College in 2010.
Raina said doing her own thing instead of following the crowd helped reinforce her belief that the fundamentals of design and creativity stay the same through the ages.
“It is always the designers who stay true to their vision that are able to establish their brand,” she says.
She made her Toronto Fashion Week debut in 2010 with her ready-to-wear clothing and accessories collection.
Unfortunately, Toronto Fashion Week was cancelled this year due to lack of funding.
Raina said fashion is a serious craft and churning out new collections to compete with the global fashion scene every six months is very financially taxing for new designers.
“The biggest challenge in Toronto is the survival of designers in this tough industry. Ontario Arts Council gives millions of dollars’ worth of funding to struggling artists, but the funding to new designers is practically negligible,” she says. “The closing down of Toronto Fashion Week made it very demoralizing.”
The industry doesn’t knock Raina down, however. Each collection comes with a letter written by the designer that poetically explains the inspiration behind her concepts. A reflection of her childhood spent in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, was the inspiration that kicked off her debut collection.
“Because my prints are inspired by my own journeys, they don’t necessarily fit into every season’s theme in fashion magazines. I feel I have a need to be true to my own self. I just do what I do because it makes me happy,” she says.
Her Spring 2013 collection followed a similar concept with pieces covered in pomegranate and daisy patterns. These prints were inspired by the colours of her grandfather’s garden where she spent her happy, carefree Sunday mornings as a child.
“I was a loner as a child. I found refuge in art, it gave me immense joy to play with colours and create textures. Even today, expressing my stories in my prints is like psychotherapy for me. I want the world to remember me for my original work,” she says.
Almost like a love letter, she expressed her adoration for Toronto for the first time in her Fall 2012 collection. Pieces included prints of the city’s skyline and textures that reflected the berries and seeds she’d pick with her son during that first Toronto fall after immigrating to Canada.
Raina paid another tribute to Toronto’s beauty in her Fall 2014 collection inspired by the different shades and visuals of Toronto neighbourhoods like the Annex and Queen West. The collection included a second edition of her Toronto Skyline print, which was selected by the Textile Museum of Canada for an exhibition in New York and London this past spring.
Sarah Quinton, Coordinator of the Greater Toronto Area project at the Textile Museum of Canada, knew Raina’s Skyline print was perfect for the exhibition.
“I was familiar with Anu’s work and her Skyline print fit the theme of GTA perfectly. I knew right away that I wanted to select it for the project,” Quinton says.
“There’s nothing more exhilarating than showing off ‘Toronto love’ to the whole world.”
“Toronto inspires me endlessly. The mere thought of being able to make a small contribution to the culture, art and design scene of this great city makes me so happy,” Raina says. “There’s nothing more exhilarating than showing off ‘Toronto love’ to the whole world.”
Visual stories of her travels are to be continued in her Fall 2017 collection.
“I am working on a few ideas right now, and of course, they are a part of the memoirs of my travels. People will get to see them soon when I shoot my next collection,” she says.
The designer is currently looking for the next face for her new line of scarves inspired by the Mighty Canadian Rockies.