From Canada’s first women’s sneaker boutique to plant-based wellness products, these female-led ventures are doing buzzworthy things in Toronto.
It is challenging to narrow down a list of all the incredible women-owned businesses in the city because the drive, creativity, and work ethic of women-identifying folx are undeniable and unstoppable.
Ranging from food and fashion to arts and culture, these businesses have generated cult-status followings among locals. Some may be more well-known than others, but all of them deserve your attention.
Shopping local continues to be so important, particularly with female-led initiatives. These businesses should be celebrated throughout the year—not just during timely occasions such as Women’s History Month.
So if you landed here to learn more about some amazing local, women-owned businesses—thank you for your support and enjoy!
Food & nightlife
Kimchi Korea House
A family-run business, Kimchi Korea House may have opened just over a decade ago, but it saw a surge in popularity during the pandemic thanks to its matriarch: Mama Lee. She showcased her endearing personality on social media and helped keep this Korean restaurant on the map well beyond those troubling times. Mama Lee has also packaged her signature kimchi, perfect for your kitchen and as a gift to loved ones.
The relaxed vibe and impeccable design are the first things you notice when you walk into SugarKane restaurant. But almost immediately after you register the bright colours and rum bottle lanterns, you’ll take notice of the three sisters who founded it.
Nicole, Renee, and Donna Charles opened the space in 2019 after years of running their catering company, Spiked Punch. With a focus on their Creole culture, SugarKane serves up Caribbean- and Cajun-style eats alongside tropical cocktails made with Ting and sorrel.
Launched in 2017 by pastry chef Luanne Ronquillo, Ruru Baked is a specialty ice cream maker that turned an online pre-order business model into a full-fledged brick-and-mortar.
Known for its unique custard-based flavours inspired by Luanne’s Asian roots, the recipes may be fun, but they’re also very clean with minimal preservatives. Think miso butterscotch, matcha shortbread, honeycomb cereal milk and deep + delish cake. There is a second location at Pacific Mall.
Style & design
In 2019, then 11-year-old Mya Beaudry launched Kokom Scrunchies. Hailing from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, each scrunchie is named after Indigenous role models in her life to help pass along the inspiration she drew from them. Since then, her brand has grown to include scarves, bows, apparel and event textiles. Full of vibrant hues and floral patterns, it’s no wonder Kokom continues to grow.
Abby Albino and Shelby Weaver made a powerhouse move by opening Canada’s only women’s sneaker boutique and community hub in 2020. A beautiful space found in Stackt Market, it signals a growing opportunity to represent women equally in the sneaker industry.
Not only does it carry some of the hottest releases each season, but Makeway highlights incredible local BIPOC brands as well. It also hosts community initiatives, workshops and meetings to further foster inclusivity, entrepreneurship and support amongst women.
Omi Woods is a stunning jewelry line that pays tribute to “all of our connections to Africa and her diaspora,” as phrased on its website. The name itself draws on the founder Ashley Alexis McFarlane’s Jamaican-Ashanti-Maroon heritage: Omi means “water” in the Yoruba language, while the word Jamaica derives from the Indigenous Taino word “Xaymaca,” meaning “land of wood and water.”
The jewelry designs follow suit, made with fairtrade African gold and represent the rich history that culture is celebrated for. Although known for its signature coin pendants, you will find everything from earrings to anklets. The pieces can be worn daily but are special enough to become heirlooms—passed down from generation to generation.
Downward Dog Yoga Centre
With a long history in the city, Downward Dog Yoga Centre was founded in 1997 by Ron Reid, one of Toronto’s pioneer yoga practitioners and is now led by Karen Parucha, who is overseeing a modernization of the studio through thoughtful restructuring to address the systemic oppression prevalent in the Western yoga industry.
Boasting many of Canada’s leading instructors, the new location is in Ossington. In addition to yoga classes, people can practice meditation, pilates and even consider learning to teach themselves. Downward Dog now offers a teacher training scholarship to anyone who identifies as part of groups that have been historically oppressed.
Our mental health has never been more top of mind as it is today. Yet for Kate Scowen, it’s been a major focus most of her life, especially after she founded Hard Feelings in 2017. A social worker, counsellor and writer, she saw the gaps in getting help, specifically how long the waitlists for publicly funded therapy were, and decided to create a space that worked to fill it.
From low-cost counselling servicing many underrepresented communities to a storefront selling carefully curated books and resources to help build and sustain stronger mental health, this promising venture puts people and the community first.
Founded by Jennifer Harper in 2016, Cheekbone Beauty is an Indigenous brand that honours her Anishinaabe roots. Not only are the products cruelty-free, but proceeds also go towards making a difference in the lives of Indigenous youth by addressing the educational funding gap.
The beauty line consists of lipsticks, glosses and complexion products, is not only sustainably sourced but also made in Canada. Each shade of Cheekbone's liquid lipstick is named after an Indigenous woman working to better their community and the world.
Impact-led and clean beauty-focused, Evio was founded by Brandi Leifso when she was 21 living in a domestic violence shelter. Although born from humble beginnings, it has grown into a multi-award-winning brand carried across the nation and beyond. Yet Leifso has never forgotten its roots, donating more than $510,000 worth of products and funding to 27+ shelters across North America supporting survivors of domestic violence.
In Sanskrit, Sarisha translates to “charm and elegance,” two qualities the brand is brimming with. Founder Jacqueline Johal launched her mindfully created product line in 2018. She was inspired both by her Indian heritage and her time living in Paris. Natural and vegan, they take on a holistic approach that will speak to the conscious consumer.
Top picks are Green Goddess Glow Oil, Green Superfood Clay Mask, and Nourishing Hair and Scalp Oil. Affordable and travel-friendly, Sarisha will help anyone create their own intentional beauty rituals.
Arts and Culture
Tacit (formerly Mrkt Gallery)
An online gallery dedicated to the works of female artists, Tacit was founded by Nuria Madrenas in 2019. An artist herself, Madrenas recognized a gap in the market for her and her fellow women-identifying artists to sell their work and to grow their discoverability. Featuring art from local creatives such as LeeAndra Cianci, Rachel Joanis, Danielle Horvath and beyond, 50% of the profits go directly back to each.
A Different Booklist
Co-founded by Itah Sadu, A Different Booklist is a Black-owned bookstore committed to its community. Although it has been around since 1995, it evolved into a non-profit cultural centre in 2016, hosting author talks, lectures, children’s programs and visual art exhibitions free to the public.
Found on Bathurst near where Honest Ed’s once was, this space has endured in spite of all the drastic changes that have occurred in the neighbourhood. This has much to do with its purpose, which showcases the resiliency of Black people and the Black diaspora across Toronto.