TORONTO — After spending three years working by day at a mineral exploration company to make ends meet and by night on her fashion label, Sarah Stevenson Design, fledgling designer Sarah Stevenson has won the Toronto Fashion Incubator’s New Labels contest and the chance to create a clothing line for Target.
The win, which included a 25,000 Canadian dollar, ($24,750 at current exchange) cash prize, was revealed on April 30 after a runway show before 700 buyers, industry insiders and media on hand at Toronto’s historic event space, The Carlu.
“I was in shock when I heard my name. I kept squeezing my stylist’s hand backstage because I couldn’t believe it,” Stevenson, 32, said.
Since launching her label in Toronto in 2010, Stevenson has single-handedly made the fabrics for her designs, which are clean, simple and embellished with beautiful, laser-cutting techniques.
“It’s been double the work and tough do to with no financial help. This win has made every struggle worthwhile,” she said.
Stevenson, along with 19 other emerging Canadian designers, entered the annual competition in December. Four finalists were selected by a judging panel that included John Morioka, Target’s senior vice president of merchandising and Elisha Ballantyne, Target’s divisional merchandise manager of apparel and accessories.
This year’s finalists included the edgy Canadian-Japanese design duo SevenThirtyOne, Paria Shirvani and contemporary dress and separates brand Christopher Paunil.
“Sarah put together the most cohesive collection and showed lots of consistency in terms of thinking through her vision and who her brand is for,” said Ballantyne.
Inspired by the still-life paintings of Dutch Baroque artist Rachel Ruysch, Stevenson’s collection features richly hued florals and hand-painted textiles transferred onto silk. The collection also showcased Stevenson’s laser-cutting techniques, which she honed while studying at Toronto’s George Brown College from 2006 to 2008 and in Milan in 2009, where she pursued a master’s degree in fashion and textile design.
While in Milan, Stevenson turned down an internship at Giorgio Armani to return to Toronto and launch her label.
“The first thing I did when I got home was contact the Incubator. They helped me figure out how to run a business,” said Stevenson.
The nonprofit organization was created in 1987 by the City of Toronto to boost the fashion industry and offer support and mentorship to budding Canadian designers and entrepreneurs. Since then, the Incubator has spawned similar organizations in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Dublin, Stockholm, Amsterdam and Milan.
The organization introduced its New Labels competition in 1992 and has since launched the careers of Canadian designers Joeffer Caoc, David Dixon and Todd Lynn, as well as top models Daria Werbowy and Shalom Harlow. This year’s partnership with the Minneapolis-based Target has sweetened the winner’s pot.
According to Ballantyne, Target will meet with Stevenson over the next month to begin work on an exclusive, limited-edition apparel collection that will be sold across Canada in 2014.