LEILA KNOLL Wildlife & Domestic Veterinarian & Designer/Sewist

I met with Leila to learn more about what makes her tick, what inspires and ignites her and to learn about her work experiences. We are all animal lovers here at Bird of Flight, so Leila's work inspires us!!!  We are in awe. 

What is the most moving experience you’ve had in your veterinary work

The most moving experience I’ve had in my vet work is when I get to celebrate a “win” with a family & their animal. Veterinary work is a lot of emotional work and can be overwhelming at times, but at the end of the day when you get to tell someone their animal made it through surgery or is in remission, knowing that it was a team effort taking care of their pet, that moves my mountains.

How would you define your style and what inspires you the most or gives you the most joy to wear?

I have a hard time defining my style because I feel like it changes often and is directly related to my surroundings, environment, and lifestyle. When I first started sewing, I was a freshly graduated veterinarian. I could only wear scrub tops and jeans at work and I worked most days of the week. So, when I got home to sew I would make these extravagant, puffed sleeve + big skirt dresses. 

I then became a graduate student and had a lot more gaps in my day-to-day wardrobe that I could fill with sewing projects. I realized how impractical my sewing practice was and shifted towards simpler, everyday-wear clothes : “basics” that I felt were missing from my closet. I explored “office” clothes, athletic-wear and loungewear. 

This year, I became ~fun-employed~ and my sewing practice took off; primarily because sewing is a big outlet for my mental health and because I had a lot of free time on hand. On top of my altered lifestyle, I also changed my environment and my surrounding landscapes  on an annual basis - from the Southwest desert with red sandy canyons to the lush green mountains of Tahoe to the prairie-lands of Alberta, and now to the awe-inspiring mountains of Salt Lake City. 


When you’re designing and making your own clothes, do you have a muse, a time period that inspires you, or do you just free-flow it?

I thrive on improvising when I sew and tend to make changes to a pattern as I’m sewing it up. I love being able to see something I want and directly alter the pattern as I go along. I don’t have a specific muse in mind, but I do subconsciously tend to match my surroundings in color. So being in north central Utah, I have been reaching for greens and reds to mirror the changing fall colors.

Where do you call home and what makes that place feel home to you? 

Home is where my animals are :)

Tell us about your beautiful dogs. 

I have two dogs, Nico & Suge. 

Nico came to me when I was just starting undergraduate college. She’s now eleven years old and spicy as ever. She found me when I was volunteering with a local dog rescue organization, K9-Lifesavers in the DC metro area, as a breeding farm reject. Once I saw her, this catahoula puppy with massive paws and a big ole head, I couldn’t say no. 

Suge (pronounced “shoog” as in short of “sugar” with a southern accent) is a newer addition to my home and I found him four years ago when I was working at my veterinary internship clinic. His father was a patient of mine and I worked closely on his case with his owners for a good part of my internship year. When I learned that he had a litter, the owners wanted to gift me one of his puppies as a thank you for all the help that I had done for them over the year and me, after watching/sobbing through the Wes Anderson film “Isle of Dogs”, could not refuse a black scruffy dog in need of a home. 

Nico is the quintessential diva of the house - belting out big barks & farts from her Tempur-Pedic dog bed, while Suge is the happy-go-lucky dog with one thing on his mind: fetch ball.

What makes you feel the most alive? 

I relish in the simple tender moments I get to experience, often alone, but also with others. I experienced loss at a young age and I feel like this reshaped my values and aspirations for life. I feel most alive when I am content with just being. Whether it’s hanging up my laundry on a clothesline and feeling the warmth of the morning sun or sitting outside at sunset with a cup of tea and breathing in fresh air with the not so subtle scent of a nearby bonfire.

What do you look for in the perfect shoe? 

The perfect shoe for me is one that can be versatile and work with many outfits but above all, be comfortable. I was the kid that never wore shoes around the neighborhood, and I continue to appreciate being on flat ground most times.

What’s your favorite shoe from Bird of Flight and why? 

I think the Shy Clogs are by far my favorite Bird of Flight shoe. When I graduated veterinary school, I moved to Texas for my internship and eventually caved and bought cowboy boots for work. I haven’t worked cattle since that year, so I don’t often have the opportunity to wear my “work boots”. 

The Shy Clogs give me an alternative option, a “dressed up” cowboy boot if you will, in the form of a beautiful and comfortable clog. So when I wear them, I remember the fun times I had working down in Texas but also look cute in my “city” clothes now.

Anything else you want to tell us about your amazing work with animals

I think getting outside is so important for everyone’s mental health, and I also think connecting with nature and the animals in it is equally as important. To acknowledge and respect wildlife in all their glory. It is such an honor to be around them and try to coexist as best we can. I’ve just accepted a job working as the wildlife veterinarian and zoonotic disease consultant for the Navajo Nation and I am so excited to dive into more free-ranging wildlife health projects. 

tell us a story that brought you to tears. 

One story that comes to mind is when I interned at a wildlife rehabilitation center during my undergraduate years. I was assigned to work in the raccoon nursery ward and that is when I realized I wanted to become a wildlife veterinarian. Taking care of these orphaned animals that have truly excelled in cohabiting with humans, was just wildly interesting to me. They are such inquisitive animals and it was so fun to see firsthand how their minds worked as they explored their world - primarily through feel with their little fingers. Releasing them back into the wild is probably the second best feeling, knowing that I was able to help them when they needed help and let them go back to their home and “rewild” them.

Leila is here with Nico and Suge, wearing our Ojai boots!  You can follow her journey on instagram @leila.makes