Vancouver designer Angela McGrath recently caught our eye with her striking and intelligent line of fine leather products. Operating under the name Epoche Designs, she has ventured into uncharted territory in the booming handbag industry. It was in her final year studying at Emily Carr University that she began to envision her place in the ever-changing fashion vista. Every piece in her collection is handsewn and uniquely screen printed – the patterns are created in an intuitive manner and treated like paintings. For the most part, they are inspired by landscapes and the different elements of her surrounding environments. Her thoughtful and meticulous process results in functional, evolving art pieces.
She often asked herself, “How can I fit into another category that is going to be something I haven’t seen out there.” Eventually, her daring nature and intuition led her to a vision for adventurous products that marry her background in Fine Art and Fashion. She initially began her creative journey creating leather bags from salvaged jackets, furthered her craft at Parsons New School for Design and eventually completed her degree in Print Media at Emily Carr University.
We recently sat down with the rising artist and discussed what shaped her creative direction, the challenge with working such a malleable material, and the sources of her inspiration.
Looking back, what’s the first art piece that you were truly proud of.
That’s hard! Because anytime you make a piece, you’re truly proud of it. Then sometimes you look back, and you’re like, “Oh that was pretty bad.” (laughs) As silly as this sounds, the first thing that made me think, “I’m a badass” was when I drew Simba from the Lion King! (laughs) That was when I was about 12 years old. But for more serious pieces of work, I think they came together in my fourth year at Emily Carr. I really started finding my voice and my aesthetic. The things I made there are the things I’m still proud of – they’ve stood the test of time!
Were there any challenges or fear about working with leather when you first started playing with this material?
One of the biggest fears was the cost – because you’re doing something risky on expensive material. If something goes wrong, you’re out on hundreds of dollars, so it’s kind of crazy. I wasn’t too scared or hesitant about the implications of using leather because it’s such a common material. But the direction I chose to go with, in line with my background in using recycled leather, I still wanted to do something that was smart and wasn’t destroying things.
So the choice of vegetable tanned leather seemed like the right choice – because chrome tanned leather is just horrific for the planet and it’s terrible for the workers that process it. It’s very toxic to their lungs. So I wanted to make a better choice than actually support artisans. It’s a crazy process that makes this leather. But in the end, you can’t please everybody. I think that leather is not a wasteful material. Once you have a good leather bag, you keep it forever. I hate disposable fake leather because it falls apart and then you’re just buying another one.
I was drawn to your ethos about respecting the unpredictable markings that appear on the leather over time. You’ve written, “These are not supposed to be hidden; instead they are celebrated for being individual.” Has it impacted the way you see flaws in different parts of your life? Has the process made you take a magnifying glass to yourself?
I love the uniqueness of these materials and the whole process. So sometimes, I get down because my own clothes and style don’t live up to that – they’re just bare and not up to standard. It does draw me to a certain aesthetic in other peoples’ clothes – things that are really hand made. It’s kind of made me bitter when I go out shopping – it’s hard to touch materials at an H&M or something. I used to enjoy shopping, and now I just think, “Why can’t these garments last?!” It makes me feel like I’m just throwing away money.
Is there something in your collection that captures your personality the most?
I guess this bag (pointing at her Tofino tote)! I just love it because it can do it all. It can carry everything I need to take out with me when I’m going to work, then the gym afterward. I just love the pattern – I love doing marks more than realistically sketching somebody out. I love representing something through movement. It’s light and encapsulates my day-to-day life now where I’m just running around all the time.
I know that every bag is named after a place, so what is the significance of that?
I was channeling the idea of that place when I was making the pattern. So with the Tofino Tote, I was thinking of the waves crashing during storm season. That represents that to me.
Do you find that there is a safe haven that you go to or think of when you need some peace of mind or a burst of inspiration?
I can’t always get to the mountains, but just being able to see them is really cool. I grew up mostly in Texas. I lived in Dallas-Fort Worth from when I was 5 to 15 years old. My whole family is Canadian, so we’d always come back for vacations. So just seeing the mountains and seeing pine trees has such a significance – it calms me down and makes me feel at home.
Angela’s products will be available through Dutil.’s online store until the end of March. Visit our feature page to see the whole collection and place an order.