When this year’s TFI New Labels Design Competition winner Peggy Sue Deaven-Smiltnieks attended the awards gala in Toronto in May, she arrived with about a dozen farmers, weavers, tanners and spoolers in tow. Even by fashion world standards, it was a sizeable entourage. But to show up without her crew of craftspeople wasn’t an option for the designer of the locally milled, locally made knitwear line, Peggy Sue Collection.
About a decade ago, farm-to-table became a foodie circle buzzword. Today, Deaven-Smiltnieks is part of the farm-to-closet movement: like the kale chips at your neighbourhood market or the grass-fed tenderloin at your favourite hipster bistro, each piece (fabric, lining, trim, even buttons) can be traced back to its origins. Deaven-Smiltnieks admits her ethos requires certain sacrifices (she hasn’t been able to find a plant-based fabric dye in North America, so for now her clothing only comes in all-natural hues), but style isn’t one of them.
Originally from Los Angeles, Deaven-Smiltnieks received her BFA in apparel from the Rhode Island School of Design and interned with Roksanda Ilincic in London before moving to New York to design for major companies like industry supplier Li & Fung, Saks Fifth Avenue and Walmart (she worked for Miss Tina, a clothing line by Beyoncé’s mom, Tina Knowles). Ironically, her fast-fashion experience ended up piquing her interest in the ethical and environmental aspects of the industry. “I learned what I didn’t want to do,” she says. At the same time, many of her friends had “gone farmer”—meaning they’d quit the Manhattan rat race for greener pastures upstate. She remembers attending a friend’s potluck one night and bringing grapes from a random grocery store. “I was the only one who brought anonymous, untraceable food,” she says. “One friend brought a heritage-bred chicken; someone else had fresh greens and colourful root vegetables from a farmer’s market. After that, I really started to think about sourcing.”
In 2013, Deaven-Smiltnieks moved to Ontario with her husband, who is originally from Toronto. “The fibre movement, which was already pretty big in New York, was just starting to happen here,” she says. “I felt like I could be a part of that.” They settled in Milton, because it was close to his job, but it turned out to be the perfect location for a newbie fibre activist as well, thanks to the rich community around her. Deaven-Smiltnieks began meeting with local farmers and artisans almost immediately—many of whom were skeptical of the girl from the big city (“they think fashion is kind of silly”), but she won them over with her passion, persistence and desire to involve everyone in the final product. “The line is called Peggy Sue Collection, but it’s really about all of us,” she says. “I want to preserve and celebrate the work these craftspeople do.”
Based on the hooting and hollering that erupted from the crowd when her collection hit the TFI Gala runway, the devotion is mutual. Crowd favourites included a form-fitting gown with cap sleeves, alpaca trim and plunging V (think Kendall Jenner does après-ski) and a pair of beautifully loungey wool flares. “Our company philosophy is very important to me,” says Deaven-Smiltnieks. “But everything has to pass the fashion test first.”
In Good Company
Peggy Sue Collection was up against some serious competition. Here are the three other finalist you should keep on your radar
The label’s name is what designer Defne Husrevoglu would call her band—if she had one. Instead, she channelled her passion for music into a collection of dramatic silhouettes that blend high fashion with street style. Each look from her show (slouchy jumpsuit, taffeta LBD, sheer midiskirt) was inspired by a member of California all-girl rock band Toy Pony. Metal face jewellery and an all-black-everything palette hardened the collection to Sex Pistols perfection.—Nancy Won