TORONTO — Fledgling Canadian designer Peggy Sue Deaven-Smiltnieks once believed that she would spend her life designing fashions for the stage and screen. “I thought it was my calling until I realized that my work would never go any further than some stage storeroom in Los Angeles or New York. That revelation was heartbreaking to me,” said Deaven-Smiltnieks.

Fast-forward to 2016 and the Peggy Sue Collections, the eco-friendly knitwear label helmed by the Milton, Ontario-based designer, now casts a new spotlight on the career ambitions of Deaven-Smiltnieks. Earlier this month she emerged victorious at the Toronto Fashion Incubator’s New Labels contest thanks to her design philosophy, which is devoted to creating clothes utilizing North American fibers that can all be traced back to the farm land from which they came.

The win, which included a 25,000 Canadian dollar, or $19,000 at current exchange, cash prize, was revealed after a runway show before 300 buyers and executives on hand at Toronto’s downtown event space, One King Street West.

“I took a huge risk when I decided to create clothes with materials that impact a local economy, as well as ensure that the lineage of all my fibers was transparent. But I couldn’t resist this challenge,” Deaven-Smiltnieks said.

“So often when consumers purchase an ‘eco-product’ they think it’s more charitable than wearable. I wanted to change that attitude,” said Deaven-Smiltnieks, who works directly with farmers, start-up mills and artisans to design her sustainable clothing.

Deaven-Smiltnieks, along with fellow finalists Karen Quirion for KQK; Defne Husrevoglu for Gun Control, and Angelene Fenuta for Angelëne were judged by a panel that included Canadian designer David Dixon and Lord & Taylor senior vice president Suzanne Timmins.

“During the six-month process that led up to New Label’s runway show, Peggy Sue presented a strong, sustainable business model to our judges that relied on local artisans. But she also listened to their advice and used their feedback to evolve her work for this year’s competition,” said Susan Langdon, the executive director at the Toronto Fashion Incubator, or TFI.

Langdon’s 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 been replicated internationally, spawning similar organizations in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Dublin, Stockholm, Amsterdam and Milan.

TFI introduced its New Labels competition in 1992 and has helped launch the careers of Canadian designers Joeffer Caoc, David Dixon and Todd Lynn, as well as models Daria Werbowy and Shalom Harlow.

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