Sharmilli Thangarajah is a finance professional with a passion for fashion. While on her maternity leave 10 years ago, she decided to turn her fashion hobby into a business, after facing many obstacles. Today, she’s had one of her dresses featured on the Red Carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, and a thriving bridal business.
What brought you down the path of becoming a fashion designer, specifically on bridal/formal wear? What did you do before that?
It was actually a coincidence that I started this business. I always had a passion for fashion and fashion shows. I spent a lot of time reading and watching fashion-related content on TV. However, I am a financial professional with degress in business/finance along with a CPA license. I built up my career in the corporate world and climbed the proverbial ladder to senior management. While I was on maternity leave with my daughter, I was really bored as I was used to being busy (I’m a workaholic). Since I had a lot of free time during my mat leave, I decided to start doing some research into the fashion industry. I attended some seminars and travelled to a few countries to explore options. In the end, I decided to create a couture collection. I did a photo shoot and participated in a few fashion shows. I received so many compliments and encouragement that I didn’t stop. It started as a hobby, but I continued to work on the business in the evenings and weekends after I went back to work. After 2 years, I started my first boutique with a few of my own collections that I made. I continued to collaborate and participate in industry events and shows. I got invited to particiapte in Toronto designer shows and Vancouver fashion week. This brought me a ton of publicity and recognition for my brand and the boutique. I started with a couture collection as a hobby and it turned into a bridal and formal collection.
I first became aware of your work when your dress was featured on the Red Carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. What are some wins over the years that you are proud of?
Being an immigrant coming to Canada as teenager and adapting to the new culture opened up my eyes to many opportunities. I see Canada as a land of opportunity. As a woman, I am proud of overcoming challenges and starting my own business in the Canadian fashion industry, while having my brand recognized in many magazines and fashion shows (including Vancouver fashion week, Miss Universe Canada, Miss Canada and the Cannes Film festival). I am also proud of the Toronto Sharleez Fashion gala, which I host annually, collaborating with other Canadian designers and artists to support my foundation which helps other women in need. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve all of this without my strong work ethic, love for my business and the support from others around me.