When fashion designer Anu Raina first moved to Toronto in 2004, she was captivated by the intersection of Dundas Street and Spadina Avenue. While holding her son’s hand that afternoon, for Raina, the busy streets bustling with people of different backgrounds, the crisscross of the streetcar wires up above, and the view of the CN Tower, felt like home.
But it would be 10 years later that she would immortalize that on her Dundas Skirt in her T.O2 collection, in 2014 during Toronto’s Fashion Week.
“It’s a very interesting intersection. It was just magical: the city, the chaos, the people, the subway and the tracks,” says Raina. “Torontonians have a big heart. It was my first impression and I just wanted to capture the sense of Toronto in print.”
And it’s a skirt that has now gone viral, thanks to Toronto’s new mayor. On her first day in office and during her swearing-in ceremony, Mayor Olivia Chow was seen wearing the skirt, which artfully showcases an illustration of Dundas West’s streetscape.
“Olivia Chow is the city’s mayor, and even by this small gesture of wearing a local-made skirt, she’s helping artists like myself,” says Raina. “She’s helping keep ‘made in Canada’ and ‘made in Toronto’ alive in some ways.”
In fact, thanks to the mayor’s recent fashion statement — Chow first made an appearance in the skirt when she ran for mayor in 2014 — Raina has made the skirt available for pre-order on her site for a small run.
It’s a journey that Raina couldn’t have imagined after pursuing her career in fashion. While Raina acknowledges a lot of her work has been inspired over the years by a book she’s read, an idea in her head or a place she’s visited, beneath her successful and colourful designs lies a profound journey that has also been shaped by personal triumphs and tragedies.
A graduate of the London College of Fashion in England and of Sheridan College where she studied textiles, Raina has since spent countless years collaborating with organizations including eBay Canada, The Law Society of Upper Canada, Keilhauer and the Art Gallery of Ontario. But it’s her first collection after graduating from Sheridan that she remains most proud of today.
For Raina, “Chapter 2 Page 1” wasn’t just her first collection but was also a tribute to her childhood, where she lost her home in Kashmir due to the riots and her mother to breast cancer — and all at such a young age.
“There’s a print [in that collection] that was inspired by the little letters and symbols woven into cashmere shawls,” she says. One of Raina’s distinct memories growing up was visiting the weavers and looms with her mother.
“The weavers would sing songs, and each symbol represented a different color. They weaved, not knowing what they were creating, and yet the outcome was always a beautiful cashmere shawl,” she says.
And it’s a moment she’s tried to incorporate, every single day. Like the weavers of her childhood, Raina follows a melody of creativity that helps push her designs each and every time. While her “Chapter 2 Page 1” collection was a testament to losing home, her T.O collection were a testament to finding it.
“I just follow my heart and I just try to create because that’s what makes me happy, keeps me alive and motivated,” she says “I’m just enjoying the journey of telling stories and I love bringing people together. And that’s my hope: that I can inspire people and help bring people together.”
Currently, interested shoppers can purchase other And Raina originals in store at her Oakville location, or online on her site.