Sandy Kaur Gill, known on Instagram as @thesandylion, describes herself in her bio as a “Stylist, Designer, Educator, & Massi.”
Gill frequently posts styling tips for her 97k followers on the social media platform, along with short videos that demonstrate how a trendy or classic article of clothing can be styled in different ways.
As a stylist, Gill has worked with multiple public figures such as Lilly Singh, Beena Minhaj, Utkarsh Ambedkar, Nabela, Salone Money, Deepica, and Humble the Poet. She is also a brand ambassador for brands such as Nike and The Raptors.
In addition to her considerable success in the creative world, Gill still has her day job as a teacher. In interviews, Gill describes herself as an educator first and foremost — both at her school and as a stylist.
In an interview with We are Sikhs, she notes that “for [her] peace of mind, [she] could never see [herself] quitting [her] teaching job,” regardless of the success of her creative career.
In an interview with Hayley Elsaesser on her blog, Gill notes that, before trying to make it in the fashion world, she prioritized graduating from her Masters of Teaching.
“Growing up as a female in a Punjabi household, stability was something that was always highlighted,” said Gill. “So naturally I wanted to get a job and finish schooling for a career that guaranteed one.”
Her love for fashion began long before that, though. In an interview with Indian Wedding Buzz, Gill recalled how fashion became her outlet for self-expression after she was bullied in high school. She cites her dad and her sisters as being one of her earliest fashion inspirations, and how she learned how to use borrowed and hand-me-down clothing creatively from a young age to put together statement outfits using limited resources.
Gill may never have taken the step to share her styling knowledge and skill with the rest of the world if she hadn’t received well-timed pushes from her close friends. Lilly Singh (also known as Superwoman) is a close friend of Gill’s who first encouraged her to post pictures of her outfits online on Instagram. Another close friend, Humble the Poet, prodded Gill to make her Instagram account public so that her pictures would reach a wider audience.
Gill began by taking one picture a day. Every day during her day job at a law firm, she would go into the washroom and snap a picture of her outfit to post online. The consistency, along with the confidence to make herself public for the world to see, is what led to her becoming a known presence on social media.
Gill offers the same advice to anyone who wants to make it big in fashion: do one thing every day to move yourself towards your goal, whether it be “posting a picture of your outfit every single day or going to the mall for inspiration.”
For any creative, she recommends they expose themselves to their art every day. And finally, similar to the key pieces of advice from her friends, Gill encourages creatives not to “be afraid to share [their talent] with the world and reach out to others to collaborate and share those ideas.”
Gill also reassures creatives who may be taking an unconventional route to their dreams. For her, prioritizing teaching on some level through the entire journey has helped her to forge her own path and has even complimented her fashion career and creativity: “By being surrounded by children all day I am able to stay creative and they always keep me stimulated [and] down to earth,” she says.
“For all the young people reading this, it is perfectly okay to not have a real plan and it’s okay to improvise along the way.”
As Gill continues to grow as a stylist and social media presence, she continues to balance various influences and initiatives in her creative work and messaging.
She works with both Western and Indian fashion influences, sometimes fusing them into one. While one of her most widely-recognized designs — The Sandy Suit — includes heavy influence from her South Asian heritage, Gill has commented that she doesn’t want to be labelled a “South Asian influencer.” Instead, she strives to take a “universal and worldly approach” in her work.
Gill has previously spoken on how her upbringing as a Sikh woman informs how she approaches all of her work, as it all shares the common theme of education. She also notes that “seva has been a huge influence as well because to give back to our community is everything.”
In her work, this approach translates into Gill showing up as an engaged member of her community. Most recently, she has been creating commissioned wearable art, and donating the proceeds to charities of her choice.
In her art, her personal and professional identity, and the journey she has taken so far, Gill lives out the creativity and authenticity she strives for in her work. As she fuses her roots in education with her styling career, her Sikhi values with her engagement in all of the communities she occupies, her professional platform with socially conscious initiatives, and — of course — South Asian fashion with Western fashion, Gill demonstrates how beautiful and powerful it can be to blend together the different parts of one’s identities to create something entirely new.
The 5X Mainstage is just days away, featuring Avan Jogia, ALOK, Nav Banga (Browngirllifts), Sangtar, Sandy Lion, KayRay, Pallavi Sharda, BFunk, and special guests sharing some real talk about their journeys, about their creative expression, and about how they got there.
Have you ever wanted to know what it takes to level up in your creative field? We got to pick the brains of these incredible headliners, to bring you knowledge, real experience, and inspiration.
Register for the Mainstage here.