Toronto-based fashion designer Ellie Mae’s breakout moment was back in 2016, when Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau was spotted wearing one of her butterfly-printed jackets to the Canada2020 reception at the Smithsonian. Fast forward to today, and Mae’s designs have been donned by it-girls like Gigi and Bella Hadid, Kate Beckinsale, and Mila Kunis, and can be bought in-store at her new stackt market retail location. Her studio is known for creating hand-crafted, eco-conscious garments made from luxurious fabrics sourced from Italy and France, and now, she has expanded into the burgeoning luxury cannabis market. In collaboration with COFO Designs, Mae has just released a new line of cannabis accessories, featuring high-end doob tubes, grinders, and ashtrays.
Shop the line here, and read on as we chat with Mae about her career in fashion, what trends we should be looking out for in 2020, and how stylish products like these can help destigmatize cannabis.
To start, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
I’m Ellie Mae, the owner/creative director at Ellie Mae Studios based in Toronto. We are a direct-to-consumer casual luxury brand. We got our start after I came home from living in England taking short courses at Central Saint Martins. We started as a wholesale brand and quickly learned that world wasn’t meant for us. We craved a different type of creative process and fashion calendar. We have been direct-to-consumer for a year and a half now and just opened up our first retail shop in the stackt market in Toronto.
What have been some highlights of your career thus far?
I think the biggest highlight of my career thus far is the fact that we are still here. We have pushed through hardship and have always chosen to never give up. Switching over to being a direct-to-consumer brand was a huge highlight, because it completely switched our business model and got us in touch directly to our customers.
Many celebrities have been seen wearing your pieces, such as the Hadids, Gwen Stefanie, Mila Kunis, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau etc. How has this affected your career/brand?
We have been super fortunate to have had some awesome people wearing our brand. It has encouraged people who don’t know us to purchase our product for the first time and then become repeat customers. It is awesome brand awareness because these women choose to wear our pieces more than once which translates to our customers that they are loyal to our brand.
What’s a day-in-the-life like for you?
Every day is different! I try my best to keep my day as creative as possible. Since we make everything in our studio, there are always a bunch of things going on. We do all the patterns, cutting, sewing and production at our studio in Toronto therefore there never seems to be a “slow” day. The constant learning is my favorite thing about each day.
What makes Ellie Mae Studios unique? How would you describe your design aesthetic?
We refer to our brand as casual luxury. We use high end fabrics (lots of colour) and everything is designed and sewn in our Toronto studio, which is very unique in our industry. Being able to leverage our team to produce the volume we’re able to sell is important to our ability to grow organically. Being direct to customer means we’re able to use luxury fabrics and the best construction techniques at a more accessible price and by producing in house allows us to maintain quality and control price.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
All of the inspiration for our collections comes from a personal place. It could be a movie I’ve watched, a place I visited, or an old memory. Our inspiration is always a story; when we design, we talk about the day “she” [our consumer] is having and what “she” is wearing while having it. The collection we are working on now is inspired by vintage cars in the 50s 60s—“she” goes to work in the Mad Men offices, gets picked up by her boyfriend in a vintage car and “he” is taking her to American band stand to dance. We are always designing from a different era; there is a constant nostalgic vibe to all of our collections and a strong an ethos to music.
What trends should we be watching out for right now? In 2020?
The biggest trend for us in 2020 is tone-on-tone. We are obsessed with wearing different tones of our favorite colours.
I know being eco-conscious is a priority of Ellie Mae Studios. What are some steps you are taking to be eco conscious?
Being eco-conscious is definitely not an overnight switch, but a choice to do your best to be better every day—personally and professionally. We make one of a few of everything we design (we make for our demand right now). All of our pieces are numbered, so you would know you got number five in that style out of 20. When we ship to you our box is made out of recycled materials and we are doing our best to get rid of as much plastic waste in our studio as we can.
Tell me about your new COFO collaboration, and particularly the cannabis accessories collection. What is it all about and how did this opportunity come to you? Whose idea was it?
Our new collaboration with COFO came as organic as they come. Jeremy, our CEO, became friends with Randy and Desmond of COFO after the three of them bonded over their love of secret joints behind our [at the time individual] stores at stackt market. Jeremy has always been intrigued by cannabis accessories, so when he approached the guys of COFO if they could help manufacture some ideas, it quickly turned into a shared vision of accessories that could be made in Canada where all their furniture is created. Loving the creative process with them made us want to take our collaboration to the next level and create a shared space with both of our products. We took over a larger container at the stackt market, which is now outfitted with all their furniture and our clothes with everything in the space being for sale! This is our JOINT venture.
What was the process like designing these accessories, and how was it like venturing into the cannabis lifestyle industry?
It was a very different kind of creative process then we are used to. We had never worked with any of these materials, so we were definitely stepping outside of our comfort zone. It was so enjoyable working with other creatives with great imaginations. It’s still so new for us—so far, the cannabis industry has been welcoming!
Have you always been interested in cannabis? And how do you see it’s place in our society now, post-legalization? I feel like stylish products like this wouldn’t have been a thing just a year or so ago!
I have never shied away from cannabis. I have always loved it during my creative process to help get my juices flowing and imagination going. I think with people feeling like they can speak more openly about cannabis, it creates this new comfortable space for people.
How does this line differentiate from what’s out there in the market already? What makes these pieces unique?
I think the materials that we decided to use for our products sets us apart along with giving each of our pieces a little bit of a personality. The pop when you pull open the doob tube, the wobbley grinder when you place it down, and our guitar picks that are also hand-held grinders. All of our items can double as beautiful coffee table accessories as well as awesome products.
How do you think these products (and other well-designed accessories like them) will impact cannabis culture?
I think having beautifully considerate products in the cannabis space will take away the stigma of the cannabis culture. It isn’t about glass bongs or pipes anymore. There are tons of people who love to smoke who want well designed/made pieces in this category.
Some say that beautifully designed product lines like this help attract women to the cannabis market who might not have gravitated towards traditional paraphernalia. Do you think so? Do you think lines like this make the cannabis industry more women-friendly?
I don’t think I have ever thought of the cannabis industry as not woman friendly. I think beautifully designed things don’t necessarily just attract us woman but attract a certain type of customer. I think when anything is shown a little more consideration and thought the costumer who has an appreciation for that will show up.
Which are your (or is your) favourite product(s) from the line?
My favourite product is the quirky wobbly grinder. I love getting a little high and watching it go back and forth.