Monica Smiley

Fashion Illustrator & Creative Director, eighty seventh ST.


Why did you decide to attend the Fashion Program at Ryerson?

Becoming a fashion designer was always something that appealed to me when I was growing up. I used to sketch on the corners of my notebooks when I was bored in class. So when it came to applying to universities, the Ryerson Fashion program was a no-brainer. I always had my sights set on that program.

I grew up seeing Karl Lagerfeld sketching on TV and figured that’s how design worked but once I started the Fashion Design program, I realized it was much more challenging for me. Sewing was not my forte. Despite this, design was always on my mind and something I wanted to pursue. I didn’t even know fashion illustration existed till I got to Ryerson.  

Tell us a little bit more about how you got into your role as Fashion Illustrator & Creative Director of eighty seventh ST., and the responsibilities your job entails.

When I left Ryerson I knew my skills were in illustration, not sewing or technical design. So I wanted to focus on that. I couldn't get published in magazines as illustration wasn’t a big deal in 2009. At that time someone suggested to me to do stationery. I began by developing a line of card designs and started pedaling them around Toronto. Once I had interest from a couple of retailers that's when I started learning about manufacturing. As my stuff started appearing on shelves, people started to reach out to me about other business opportunities. It all happened very organically. There was no Instagram at the time, so my business developed mostly through word of mouth.

Today, my main business is greeting cards and stationery. We wholesale to retailers across Canada and the United States, including Nordstrom. We also work with a lot of private clients and do commission work. I create all the illustrations and then have help on the production side. It's a lot of work but hopefully it will get to a point that it's not manageable because that means we are growing and that's good!

How did your academic experience at Ryerson help you with getting to where you are today? What led to your interest in pursuing your job and field?

The best part about Ryerson was the internship opportunity. From a networking perspective, it was the most important thing for me. Learning Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator was also important because a lot of marketing and communication is done digitally. I also made great friends that I continue to collaborate with today. 

If you had to do it all over again, is there anything you would change about your time at Ryerson Fashion?

I am really grateful for the whole experience. The workload was great training: learning how to meet a deadline, how to stick to a project, and get things done. I may have benefited more from the Communications program but I don't have any regrets because the Design program helped me get to where I am today.

What does a day in the life of Monica look like?

Every day is different; it depends what is going on. Typically, I wake up and go to the gym and am in the office by ten. It's a lot of answering emails, invoicing, following up on customers. Designing happens in the evenings and weekends because that's when people don't email me. There is no set routine. Each part of my day includes social media reach out to connect with customers and followers. Mainly, I am focused on making clients happy during the week and then the weekend is for catching up on what I need to do to propel the brand forward.

What do you find are the most enjoyable and challenging parts of your job?

The most challenging part is having to keep track of all the little details like taxes, invoicing, banking and shipping. You have to stay organized and that’s not always fun. The best part is that I get to be creative and work with creative people who are open to my ideas. I have been very fortunate. Different projects have come along and allowed me to work on projects beyond stationery. I enjoy working with different people and brands to help bring their ideas to life and help collaborate.

Do you have an area of expertise or research you want to grow and learn about?

I am always keeping my eyes open to new ideas and trends and thinking about ways to elevate the brand. The retail industry has changed a lot since I started out. A lot of retail is moving online. A lot is switching over to more personable experiences. Everyone is trying to compete with Amazon. A lot of people are looking to social media for where to buy and how to connect with the brands they like. More than ever before you have to make a case for your brand: it's not just about the product anymore. It's more about branding and how you reach out to a customer. You have to be aware of what is around you and find out how you fit into the landscape.

What is your favorite part about working in the Fashion industry?

I have one foot in the industry and one foot out. I think that's the best way to do it because when your totally immersed in it you get lost. A lot of my collaborators are in the fashion industry. Fashion is the main inspiration behind our brand and what we do. It's so important to support it and stand behind it.

What advice would you give a fashion student interested in starting their own business?

You have to be in it for the long haul. It doesn't happen overnight or over a year. It’s something you have to build upon that constantly changes and grows. Have a vision, constantly be aware of what is around you, and be open to keep growing. Social media is a great tool. People can see how your ideas are changing and growing. The best advice someone gave to me was: "keep putting stuff out there and something will catch on."

Monica Smiley

Fashion Illustrator & Creative Director, eighty seventh ST.


Tailored Torontonian, Illustrated by Monica Smiley
Timeless in Tokyo, Illustrated by Monica Smiley
Merci Bicyclette, Illustrated by Monica Smiley
Model Mama, Illustrated by Monica Smiley
Champagne Birthday, Illustrated by Monica Smiley
Cape Town Cutie, Illustrated by Monica Smiley