Local Love: Toronto made t-shirts that aim to be a force for good


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It’s not usual for designers to send t-shirts down the runway. Unless that is, there’s a bit more meaning behind the everyday garment. And at the most recent Peggy Sue Collection runway presentation — their annual collection featuring day-to-day wear — there was plenty of backstory to the phrase-emblazoned t-shirt.

“Luxurious local fibre, while shown in a high fashion form, is actually most radical when widely adopted and worn every day,” says founder and creative director Peggy Sue Deaven-Smiltnieks. “We needed to make a t-shirt.” 

Deaven-Smiltnieks is passionate about showing people that fashion can be sustainable and can be a force for good. “We needed people to want to be a part of a local fibre and producing movement, and then give them the means to do so with an everyday item.” Enter the t-shirt ($125).

Transparency is key at Peggy Sue Collection; wearers are able to follow the supply chain of their garment right back to the start. This t-shirt has its beginnings in Lubbock, Texas, where white cotton fibre is raised organically by the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative (you might know ’em from the doc, True Cost) before it moves over to North Carolina to be milled by a family-run operation. Next up, the jersey fabric pops up in Mississauga, where it’s sewn into t-shirts by General Sewing. (Sidenote: usually the team avoids making t-shirts ‘cause it simply isn’t possible, given that the consumer expects to drop $20 on a shirt and that’s almost their labour cost!)

Next up? The shirts move over to Peace and Cotton right here in Toronto, where they undergo a process called sublimation printing. What does this mean exactly? Well, it starts by using water based inks — inks that are not as toxic as the alternative, plastisol dyes, are biodegradable in their own right but, over time, do wash off very slowly over time. Deaven-Smiltnieks notes that both dyeing techniques “have their pros and cons — it's like being a vegan versus being an environmentalist.”

The print — which is cotton, we’ll have you know — is transferred onto the t-shirt from a piece of printed paper with a giant heat iron. Finally, the shirts get the finishing touch; phrases ranging from ‘Closed Loop Fashion’ to ‘From a Farm’ are screen-printed on them in graphic lettering.

“I wanted people to feel empowered with their choices and to boldly say with their graphics all the good that they are supporting and believing in,” says Deaven-Smiltnieks. How’s that for making a statement?

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Karolyne Ellacott is senior editor at Post City Magazines. She can oft be spotted at Toronto’s most nostalgic diners wearing glittery heels and pink faux fur. Follow all of her eclectic writing interests on Twitter @kellacott and Instagram @itismekar.

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