January 18-27, 2019

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What can we do to increase awareness of our makers outside Toronto? What are the barriers that hold us back from thriving in the international marketplace, and what opportunities can we leverage?

Exporting Toronto Design aims to support Toronto designers and makers by creating a forum where they can connect, collaborate, and participate in critical conversations about designing and making in Toronto. This initiative reflects the increasing importance of Toronto as a hub for designers, along with the growing role and impact of design on Toronto’s economy, and the need for greater resources and support.

With the support of an engaged and insightful design community, this new initiative was launched by the Toronto Design Offsite Festival in collaboration with Design Salon TO in January 2015.


Toronto has amazing design talent. But, for the most part, it isn’t well known beyond our borders. Furniture, lighting, textiles, and more, make up an array of products that rival those of well-known design centres like Amsterdam, London, Milan, and Brooklyn. Why is Toronto not well known for its design talent?

The series builds on creating actionable steps with one principal focus: working together to promote Toronto design beyond our borders.

Through a series of talks and events built through an iterative process, this initiative serves as a dynamic forum for the design community in Toronto.

The series

Series 01: Getting Started | January 20, 2015
Series 02: Collaboration | May 20, 2015
Series 03: At Home & Abroad | November 10, 2015
Session 04: Where do we go from here? | June 1, 2016

Session 01:
Getting started

Tuesday, January 20, 2015, as part of the 5th annual Toronto Design Offsite Festival, a conversation entitled “Exporting Toronto Design” kicked-off to a great start with guest speakers from Toronto and the U.S. The panel discussion was moderated by Joy Charbonneau, and the headline speakers included:

Following the panel discussion, Greg Judelman from the Moment, led the audience and panel through a brainstorming process to begin delving into some of the hot topics raised, such as government support for the design industry, networking and collaboration, and how to best package or brand Canadian design.


The consensus was that in order for designers and makers to succeed, they need to export their work to other markets. In particular, being in Toronto, we have an advantage being so close to the U.S. But how do we make this easier for designers and makers who typically are not entrepreneurial? The message is they need to be — it’s no longer an option. Resources like an incubator (something akin to the Toronto Fashion Incubator or NY Designs) need to be created to help support and promote the industry. This could also be where greater focus is given to the question of how we “box up and sell” Canadian design. In conjunction, greater support from various government and trade organizations is needed to promote Canadian design in different countries. Lastly, the need for greater collaboration and networking was strongly emphasized. This means collaboration not only with other disciplines within the design industry, but also with business. As designers need to become more entrepreneurial, they will benefit from greater interaction and networking with business leaders.


Did we answer our problem statements?

What can we do to increase awareness of our designer/makers outside Toronto?

What are the barriers holding us back?

What opportunities can we leverage?

All speakers expressed support for future initiatives related to the effort of promoting Toronto design. Moreover, the audience feedback concluded the hopes of strengthening dialogue and collaborations in order to achieve a greater presence of Toronto design in the international marketplace.

Session 02:

Two heads are better than one.

For its second session, Exporting Toronto Design asks the question: What kinds of projects, initiatives, and events can we work on together to better promote and export Toronto design internationally? What kind of networks can we build to further our shared goal?

This session brings together leading thinkers and designers to discuss and identify avenues of collaboration to advance the international recognition of Toronto design. We invite designers from all disciplines to meet, and participate in the conversation.

Together, let’s think big to come up with creative and tangible ways we can draw from strength in numbers. Let’s celebrate and bolster Toronto’s position as the largest design workforce in Canada, and the third largest in North America, through collaboration.

The event features short presentations by our guest speakers, and a guided workshop session where both speakers and attendees break into smaller groups to discuss ideas and issues around the topic.

Guest Speakers:

Ashley Rumsey and Stanley Sun, Principals, Mason Studio
Christine Caruso, Partner, Distl
Derek Brunelle, Director & Founder, Toronto Made
Alissa Coe, ceramic artist

Moderated by Lori Harrison, Design Salon TO
Facilitated by Simon Mhanna, Toronto Design Offsite Festival

Session 03:
At Home & Abroad

The battle cry is writ large: it’s time for action, “Let’s do something that can’t be ignored!”

In our last session we dared to think big, asking “What if? What wows? What kinds of ideas could really have an impact on the design community?”

For our third session, Exporting Toronto Design will delve into these ideas further. To set the stage, we begin by exploring design happening both at home and abroad to learn and be inspired by real world examples of exemplary projects, so we can begin to grasp what already exists before taking a leap into what’s possible.

The event feature presentations followed by a guided workshop session where attendees and speakers have an opportunity to dive deeper into actionable ideas.

Guest Speakers:

Lola Sheppard (Lateral Office) and Catherine Osborne (Azure Magazine)

Workshop Facilitated by Simon Mhanna, Toronto Design Offsite Festival

Design Challenges:






Session 04:
Where do we go from here?

In the previous sessions of Exporting Toronto Design, we identified the obstacles preventing Toronto design from breaking into the international marketplace, and explored possible opportunities we can leverage to improve awareness of Toronto design. After our last session, we established design challenges in five main categories including Network, Hub, Education, City and Identities, and these insights will be the core focus of the upcoming event.

On June 1 we’re hosting Exporting Toronto Design Session 04, which aims to close the loop by sharing the outcomes we have gathered from Sessions 01, 02, and 03, and identify working opportunities to promote and improve international recognition of Toronto design. This event will feature a playback presentation, and engaging discussions with guest speakers.

Guest Respondents:

Davide Tonizzo, Industrial Design, Design Industry Advisory Committee
Jeremy Vandermeij, Executive Director, Toronto Design Offsite Festival
Justin Leclair, Co-Founder, Partner & Principal Strategist, Distl
Laura Stein, Creative Director, Bruce Mau Design
Lori Harrison, Designer & Founder of Design Salon TO, Lori Harrison Design
Paul Rowan, Vice-President of Inspiration and Founding Partner, Umbra
Todd Falkowsky, Founder & Creative Director, Citizen Brand and Motherbrand

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