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Spotlight works to scout powerful creatives and artists who are changing the game in their field, and give them the hype they deserve. 
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Layli Samimi

Interviewed by: Desiree Nikfardjam

Summer is the coolest. No pun intended, but it really is. That’s when school’s out, the snow is gone, and I can feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. While I love the snow, summer is by far my favourite season. So when I came across Layli Samimi’s brand last winter, it didn’t matter that the sky was grey and the sidewalks were filled with dirty snow. It brought the same warmth, colour, and playfulness the summer always brings.  


Layli Samimi is a super mom, wife, entrepreneur, and the founder of Layli Dyes Hard. When she was seventeen, she took an introduction course to batik and shibori where she learned about the Japanese techniques of manual resist tie-dyeing. While dyeing started out as a passionate hobby, Layli soon realized she had too many dyed pieces for herself.


After conducting a successful Instagram story sale, she made an official account for her pieces. One unique feature of Layli’s brand is the intention put into each piece. As an adherent of the Bahá’í faith, Layli says that no matter what creative medium she is working with, there needs to be a connection between herself, her spirituality, and other people’s spirits. 


For Layli, inspiration comes from her natural surroundings. After being raised in Alaska and having lived in Los Angeles for 10 years, Layli has been exposed to a variety of natural landscapes.

Having such a deep connection to each colour and design, and then translating those emotions into a fun and vibrant piece of clothing for someone else is the true meaning of art and fashion. Layli walked me through the inspiration and meaning behind some of the colours and designs she currently uses. 


The Indigo is inspired by the prairie clouds and skies of South Dakota. The Evergreen, my personal favourite, is inspired by the green rainforests in Southeast Alaska. Sunbeam is related to the golden and bright light of Los Angeles. The charcoal was also inspired by the rocky beaches and grey skies of Southeast Alaska. 

“The only thing that’s ever really… made me reach an equilibrium in a really deep way is when I’m able to get myself in nature,” Layli told me during an interview. “So how can I also try to bring in as [many] of nature’s elements into my pieces.” 

However, not all her dyes are inspired by nature: “Cocoa blush, to me, is not really related to nature as much as it is more of a feeling of a feminine delicacy. Just being very soft, but then the rings make it very strong.”


As for her designs, there are many to choose from. The Indigo sweatshirt is similar to the classic tie dye pattern we all know and love, with Layli’s own twist. She explained how she took the classic spiral ring at the centre of a piece of fabric and added smaller rings to create a juxtaposition that she loves.


The Blocks design was created in the midst of the pandemic last summer. It was inspired by her need for order and control during a year of complete chaos. While reflecting on the design later, Layli realized how much it resembled the whole world during quarantine.  “It also totally looks like a bunch of houses,” Layli said. “Everybody inside their houses, and… contained in their houses.” 

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Her Lemon Lime sweatshirt is a tribute to her Lakota Uncle, who has reminded her of the importance of returning to one’s center. “He would say, ‘my only responsibility to myself in life… is to sit by myself and return to my center, because my center always tells me the truth.’”


I later asked Layli what it’s been like building her brand during the pandemic to which she responded, “It’s been amazing!” Not only have people been on their phones more and on social media, it has also given her the time to form bonds with her followers and supporters. Layli feels that people are paying more attention and being mindful of where they’re putting their money. Layli said that “people are picking up on the spirit and the intention of work more whether they know it or not.”


While Layli uses natural low-impact dyes, she’s always looking for new ways for her brand to be more sustainable. She is currently in the process of using upcycled cottons for picnic and beach blankets. 

“I’m going to call it the reunion and it’s all about these big pieces of fabric... for gatherings — really reuniting with our communities, our families, our loved ones.” I can’t think of a better way to come out of a pandemic, and reunite with family and friends around a hand-dyed picnic blanket.

To me, this is what makes Layli’s brand so unique. Not only are her pieces one-of-a-kind, they are also colourful and fun, yet intentional and meaningful. There is a story behind each piece. A memory. A connection. I own the Indigo sweatsuit with personal custom intentions, and aside from the fact that I’m wearing a work of art every time I leave the house, I really do feel the energy and intentions Layli has put into my clothes. I feel protected, like someone is looking out for me. 


Layli’s clothing makes me feel the same way I feel the sun watching over me in the summertime. The warmth, the vibrant colour. And if you don’t really believe in that kind of stuff, Layli’s brands might remind us of the hard work that goes into the clothes we wear, or the hard work that goes into running your own business. Either way, it reminds us to be mindful, and not just of where we put our money but also where we put our time and energy.  If you’re interested in following Layli’s journey, check out her Instagram page, @laylidyeshard.

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Zallah Yasamin-Akbari

Interviewed by: Ananya Gupta


In the midst of a vaccinated summer, I find that I am finally able to appreciate the little things again. Summer is all about bright days filled with all the playful aspects of life. Free from the stress of online classes, I have dedicated my time to much more joyful activities. In my search for things that make me smile, I came across some incredibly colourful paintings created by Zallah Yasamin-Akbari

Zallah is an up-and-coming Afghan-Canadian artist who primarily works with oil paints to create post-impressionist style pieces. Throughout her childhood, Zallah struggled with verbally expressing her feelings and found that painting was a successful emotional outlet. Despite her strong connection with visual art, Zallah was persuaded by her parents to pursue a more practical career in interior design architecture. However, after graduating with a Bachelor of Design degree from Ryerson University in Canada, Zallah found that it simply wasn’t for her.

“I can’t sit behind a computer screen from nine to five, I just can’t do it,” she clarified. “I’m a visual person, and I need to be working with my hands and be talking… I can’t just be in my little cubicle.”


After a four-year design program and a couple of internships, Zallah was confident that her passion lay in painting. Since graduating a year ago, she has started her own business, Zallah’s Canvas. Her business consists of a range of artwork, including: original paintings, prints, stickers, and custom commissions. 


Zallah began by painting her traumas that were too personal to share. “I wouldn’t tell people my stories… but I would paint a picture about [them],” she elaborated. “And if people get it, they’d get it, because they can relate to it.”

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Initially, Zallah stuck to acrylics for her artwork but during the pandemic, she found herself experimenting with oil paints. Her favourite piece has been her first oil painting, called “Preserving Shell.” This piece can be quite meaningful to anyone who was isolated away from their significant other due to travel restrictions. 


Along with sharing her own experiences through art, Zallah is also passionate about painting unique depictions of her favourite characters and musicians. Music has been influential to her work, and also allows her to better connect with her audience. Her recent pieces include bright portraits of Severus Snape, Kali Uchis, Popcaan, and Tyler, The Creator. Amazingly enough, Zallah’s painting of Popcaan was purchased by Drake! He also went on to request another Harry Potter themed painting. Zallah has the surreal ability to call Drake a client.

Utilizing oil paints has also allowed Zallah’s work to have more texture and brighter, vivid hues. As she is largely inspired by and relates to Vincent Van Gogh, she emulates his style with very colourful pigments. She appreciates how emotion-driven and playful post-impressionism is in comparison to impressionism. Even though most of Zallah’s artwork consists of portraits, she strays away from photorealism and plays around with splashes of colour to create a more memorable and unique image. 


“I don’t like painting something that looks exactly like it does in real life,” Zallah explained. “[Art is] not supposed to be orderly… so you really just do what your heart tells you.”


This is true for Zallah’s portraits, as she draws from real life but also puts her own imaginative twist on things. The post-impressionist feel of her pieces comes from their abstract and lively nature. This is especially present in her painting of Severus Snape, which contains such brilliant colors that it seems truly magical.

“It makes me feel like there’s no worries in the world. It really helped with a mental illness that I was suffering from… it’s just something I have to keep doing for therapy.”

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While she hasn’t experienced instant success, becoming an artist has been quite freeing and therapeutic for Zallah. “I don’t feel like it’s a chore,” she noted. “It makes me feel like there’s no worries in the world. It really helped with a mental illness that I was suffering from… it’s just something I have to keep doing for therapy.” 


Despite the struggles of the art world, Zallah is adamant to do what she loves. She is also very supportive of beginners, as she shares progress time lapses and painting tips on her page. “With every piece you experiment with something new,” she said. “And that gives you that additional skill for the future [so] you’ll know how to do it… and when you keep practicing, you’ll become better.” 


Zallah’s paintings really capture the essence of summer. Their colourful nature can brighten up even the gloomiest of days. As we enjoy these sunny days, remember what brings real joy to our lives. “Because without music, and without art, and anything creative, really, life would just be so simple and boring,” Zallah concluded.

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