Designer to Watch
In 2017, conscious fashion is a buzzword. With featured articles popping up in mainstream fashion mags and fast fashion brands adding conscious collections to their stores, knowing where your clothes came from is trending. But there are still only a handful of brands and designers that walk the walk as well as they talk the talk. And one of those designers is Peggy Sue Deaven-Smiltnieks.
I first learned about the designer’s Peggy Sue Collection at Design Forward 2016, the annual fashion show hosted by Toronto-based non-profit Fashion Takes Action. As an organization that’s focused on bringing awareness to the fashion industry’s impact on the planet and offerings ethical alternatives, I knew that the designer’s inclusion in the show and the chic designs meant that she was one to watch.
Peggy Sue’s inaugural collection focused on tracing animal fibers from farm to garment. Ontario alpaca and wool yarns were used to create glamorous sweater dresses and knit coats. But in 2017, she turned her attention to the ethics of plant fibers. Specifically, the most used plant fiber in the fashion industry: cotton. “I wanted to create luxe fabrics and fashion-forward designs that celebrated made in Canada, respected the people of our supply chain and envisioned fashion as a sustainable practice,” she says of the collection.
The Ethics of Plant Fibres
It was an ambitious project. After all, cotton is arguably the most resource heavy fabric in use today and not just because of its popularity, but because of the toxic upshots of dying and other processes.
In order to change the way we think about cotton, Peggy Sue released a runway collection like none other. You’ll notice that it’s centered around only two tonal sets: blues and browns. And that’s deliberate. The blue tones in the collection really focus on one of our biggest uses of cotton: denim.
Traditional, denim has been heavily processed and chemically dyed that iconic blue. However, processes can leave waterways all over the world running with toxins such as cadium, mercury and sulfates. And because all world waterways are connected, there’s no way that these compounds poured into water halfway around the world is not affecting your food and water close to home.
It was because of these facts that Peggy Sue had her pieces woven and constructed from upcycled Canadian denim. Many of the pieces feature Japanese sashiko stitching, or have been deconstructed entirely to create garments with of the moment details, like the fringed skirt in the photo above.
The other half of the collection, in shades of beige and brown, has been created using virgin materials. But unlike other designer collections, Peggy Sue has provided three ways in which hers is ethical and transparent. The first is the use of organic cotton. In contrast to conventional farming methods, organic farming does not use chemical pesticides and is better for our food and water, but is also better for our overall health once those fibers are worn.
Going a step beyond that, Peggy Sue used coloured varieties of cotton so that toxic dying processes were not necessary. This was the first time that I’d ever heard of cotton buds coming in any colour besides white. But like flowers, cotton buds can be bred for different tones.
Finally, Peggy Sue delivers the radical transparency that other designers and brands can only promise by tracing her textiles through the weavers, printers, back to even the farming cooperatives and individual who grew the raw materials.
The organic cotton came from members of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, with coloured varieties being sourced from California’s Fox Fibre. Fabrics were handwoven by Toronto-based Upper Canada Weaving, and the cotton bud prints were created by Peace and Cotton, also based in Toronto. This fully traceable collection is truly a North American one, having been grown in the United States and turned into textiles and then ensembles right here in Ontario. And Peggy Sue herself is an American transplant now based in Toronto.
The 2017 Collection
I adore this collection. Among my favourite pieces are the sashiko stitched cropped jeans, and anything adorned with the cotton bud print: from skirts to blazers, scarfs and her amazing evening gown, complete with real cotton buds that stand out from the fabric. And I can’t forget about her amazing slogan tees that perfectly express how I feel about the fashion industry.
And the accessories! In the pic above you can see me shopping the collection at Made Inland back in May, and checking out the ‘shed’ antler earrings and pendants. For Peggy Sue, sustainability doesn’t mean going without, but using what we can. This jewelry was made from Ontario deer antlers that have been shed from the animal as a natural part of their growth and life cycle.
You can tell by the way she takes time with each of her clients that Peggy Sue is a seasoned professional. She brings experience with couture houses in London to ethical fashion, and you can see evidence of that experience in her sketches and garment construction. But unlike the haughty houses of conventional haute couture, Peggy Sue is an extremely approachable person! Whether you’re interested in purchasing a $40 accessory or a $2,000 gown, her ethics show through her interactions with everyone.
Since her 2017 annual collection debut back in March, I’ve had the chance to see Peggy Sue Collection at several runway and trade shows as well as pop-ups and markets. And it’s really gratifying to see an ethical designer doing so well. I especially love the fact that Peggy Sue designs only two collections per year: this cotton one with pieces that can be worn year-round, and an upcoming animal fibers that’s best for fall-winter. In an industry where even the most well known conventional designers are continually pushed to design for more and more ‘micro seasons’ each year, this is a break with traditional that is not only appreciated, but needed.
And now that she’s shown that knits from animal fibers and cotton can be sustainable, ethical and transparently produced, I can’t wait to see what she tackles in 2018!