Free range fashion: Award-winning Peggy Sue Collection helps urbanites meet the makers


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Designer Peggy Sue Deaven-Smiltnieks on the right with Anahita Belanger of Belanger Organic Farms

For many urban dwellers, the opportunities to meet and connect with the farmers who grow local food can be few and far between. Even rarer for the fashionable urbanite meeting the farmers producing the raw materials for locally-made clothing. But within Toronto’s ever-growing sustainable fashion community, this so-called rare opportunity is becoming a rite of passage into the world of hyper-traceable, ethical fashion.

The Farm to Fashion Runway —a panel discussion and networking event hosted by the Guelph Organic Conference — offered the Toronto-based ethical fashion world their latest meet-the-farmer-opportunity. Late last week, a clutch of designers, retailers, textile artists and organic farmers from across the GTA gathered together under one roof to discuss all things ethical fashion while swilling wine. (Organic, but of course.)

The panel brought together three aspects of the local fashion supply chain: award-winning eco-fashion designer Peggy Sue Deaven-Smiltnieks of Peggy Sue Collection, Toronto-based master weaver Deborah Livingston-Lowe and local shepherd and permaculturalist Jennifer Osborn of All Sorts Acres. (For the uninitiated, a permaculture is a sustainable agricultural system that won’t wreak havoc on the earth’s natural resources.) The panel was moderated by Becky Porlier, co-founder of the Upper Canada Fibreshed, an advocacy group that promotes sustainable fashion and farming.


This t-shirt from the Peggy Sue Collection uses organically raised cotton fibre

 

As the panel portion of the evening flew by, discussions ranged from how to bring local linen back to Canada to ethical farming practices, to celebrating all of the women-owned businesses in the room actively building the fashion supply chain. When the floor was opened up to questions, hands shot into the air.

How can designers connect with farmers? Are there any factories left in Toronto or even Canada? What kind of clothes can we make here? Questions, big and small, were answered by the panel who both suggested simple ways to make change (buy from local designers!) and expressed their frustration with the current situation (fibre farmers can’t get agricultural funding).

Perhaps the most interesting question of the evening came from an audience member who readily admitted his lack of fashion knowledge and desire to meet the farmer. “Can you please show us a garment,” he asked Deaven-Smiltnieks, “and then introduce us to everyone in the room that were a part of creating it?”

As Deaven-Smiltnieks held up a hand-woven top and introduced the farmers, the millers and the makers in the audience that had contributed to that single piece, the room slowly became quiet. All of the lives that make our clothes had suddenly come into focus.

Applause broke the silence.

The Upper Canada Fibreshed is hosting the 2nd annual LandMADE on February 4 at the Gladstone Hotel. LandMADE is a free event that connects local farmers with urban makers. 

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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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