Toronto Fashion Incubator’s Brave New Label

Ascending the grand staircase at One King West, media pass dangling around my neck, I am at a total loss of expectation for what the Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI) New Labels presentation will show.

I am ushered behind the runway into a world of pulsating energy and anticipation, where sinewy models are dressing hurriedly, yet instinctively pose at the sight of my camera. As I move around the room something catches my eye: an intricately knit, fur-trimmed, mid-length dress. My reactionary swooning dissipates my impartiality.

Showtime nears and I take my seat, attempting to return to a more neutral state, as to fairly interpret the three other presentations. But as Peggy Sue Collection appears and the hand-woven wools come to life on the runway, I am in full support. Reminiscent of Altuzarra, Peggy Sue’s show was a stunning tribute to natural material. Within minutes of deliberation amongst the judges, Peggy Sue is crowned as the 2016 Most Promising New Label.

Since 1992, TFI has provided a stage for emerging Canadian designers via the New Labels competition. Having been primed through six months of mentorship, the New Labels presentation is a culmination of the four finalists’ progress. With a $25,000 cash prize from none other than fashion philanthropist Suzanne Rogers, the victory is no small award. “It’s no secret that I have a tremendous passion for fashion—not just what we see in the current season’s collections, but fashion’s history, its rebels and pioneers, its social influence and, perhaps most passionately, its future. TFI, the world’s first official fashion incubator, is all about the future.”

For even the most established Canadian designers, staking their claim in the market is an ongoing challenge. With over 25 years in the industry, TFI executive director and New Label mentor Susan Langdon knows this better than anyone. “The consumer market is overly brand and price driven, which makes it difficult for Canadian designers to make sales.”

After speaking at length with Peggy Sue Deaven-Smitnieks I can see that her vision extends much further than fashion alone. Her dedication to the fibre farmers of Ontario is a triumph in collaboration and homage to the Canadian landscape. “These artisanal communities are waiting to get into the fashion community without sacrificing their skill sets. It has been an incredible conversation.” Humble and inclusive, Peggy Sue notes that “winning this award isn’t just about my designs. It feels like a vote for our local economy.”

Eager to understand and support the industry she so heavily relies upon, Peggy Sue does not shy away from any stage of production. In true farm-to-fashion spirit, you can find her, on any given day, shearing alpacas or attending a weaving course.

When asked where she’ll be in five years Peggy Sue laughs. “I’m going to be here. I’m going to have my muddied wellie boots at the back door, next to my high heels.”

Photography by Brett Clarke

Photo by Brett Clarke

Photo by Brett Clarke

Photo by Brett Clarke

Feature image by Brian de Rivera Simon

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