Our Fibreshed community is growing! We are so pleased to announce our support for and partnership with a very talented designer working to foster deep connections within the farm-to-fashion movement. Peggy Sue Deaven-Smiltnicks will be working with the Upper Canada Fibreshed to source material and dyes for her upcoming Fall / Winter collection. Below is a Q&A with Peggy Sue about her perspective on incorporating local fibre and dye into her work.
You can also visit her website to learn more: Peggy-Sue Collection
Why is promoting the North American fibre industry in your work important to you?
I began getting involved in the local farm to table food movement in NY where I first saw evidence of an extremely skilled and untapped fibershed. Farmers who were raising their animals for the meat industry weren’t able to have their animals’ hides or leathers tanned because it was too cost prohibitive to have such expensive inventory (lamb hides, leathers). Farmers who raised fiber animals (alpaca and sheep) were often times able to produce skeins of yarn, but were limited as to the “added-value” products they could offer using the yarns. There were many socks, hats, and other accessories, but few garments. The strengths lie in the fiber itself.
As a designer I went to fabric and yarn tradeshows and wasn’t able to find north american offerings. The North American offerings were still in the agricultural shows and craft fairs, but had not yet been able find a place within Fashion Industry Fabric Shows. Local fashion designers, while interested in using north american goods, didn’t have the farm connections already established to know to use their offerings.
I use North American Fiber because I believe in the longevity of the North American Farmer and preserving the genetics of a varied fiber landscape. It is incredibly important to preserve our agricultural fiber landscape. If designers do not use these fiber types for everyday clothing, there will be no demand for these farmed fibers and not financially possible for farmers to continue growing/raising such a variety.
Often times we as people overlook what is special “in our own backyard.” If we do not preserve our landscape by celebrating it’s unique offerings and sharing them with others through our works, they will fade and die out. The beauty of globalization is that we are now more than ever able to connect and share our heritage. As a designer I want to be able to celebrate my fiber and cultural heritage with all those abroad who curious to know more about north american fiber as well as those locally who have perhaps begun to overlook it. Traditions and cultures are meant to be shared, but if we do not simultaneously nurture and grow our own cultural traditions we will end up losing both; what we have to share as well as what is being shared.
Both polarities must be maintained and comingled. That challenge is why I choose to be an artists that designs north american, farm-fiber clothing, that we live in consciously and subconsciously every day. It is a tangible piece of cultural heritage that we live our lives in. It is our agricultural landscape worn through life.
What role do you see designers playing in shifting the fashion industry to more sustainable practices?
Fashion Designers and Consumers actively engage with one another both consciously and subconsciously. Designers are both driving consumer demand as well as responding to it’s needs.
The Fashion Industry rises to meet the needs expressed by designers as they are the gatekeepers of the final design.
In a perfect world, all design would be considerate and responsible and the industry’s practices would follow step. However, the fashion industry does not lead the charge for change unless it is called upon. This call has to be expressed by consumers as well as designers. Consumers have to bare the higher pricepoint that comes with enacting new systems (new machinery investments, new systems that require retraining, construction costs, and added labor costs due to the learning curve). Designers have to be active enough within their fields to see new industrial potential for improvement and integrate these systems within their designs.
The Fashion Industry may create new sustainable practices and goods all day long, but if the designers and design houses to not fight to implement them, consumers will not be able to actively support them through purchasing the end goods and the industry will not be able to financially transition these new procedures into the status quo.
This type of paradigm shift must be one that all three parties (industry, designers and consumers) are interested in actively pursuing, but ultimately it is up to designers to translate these new sustainable industry practices into wearable items for consumers. The designer is the interpretor essentially; therein lies the power for change.
Given the challenges of sourcing material in Ontario, what is your advice for other designers that may want to support our Fibreshed?
Talk to one another. Up to this point, a designer’s supply chain has been their most coveted trade secret. This secrecy is somewhat understandable when all of the supply chain has enough business from designers to keep itself running. That is absolutely no longer the case. Nowadays, when a designer doesn’t share their supply chain contacts within the local fibershed, she/he is condemning their suppliers to forever stay small or eventually go out of business.
The current industry is made up of large fiber giant mills who survived the north american fiber production exodus because or large military and hospital contracts and small mini-mill startup operations that are quickly trying to grow and improve to meet a relatively new, growing demand. These mini mills are the only north american options that provide enough differentiation on a small scale among goods offered to be used by fashion designers. And often times these mini mills are still getting organized and local fashion companies are too small to be able to risk a season’s fabric production on an inexperienced mill.
For those who aren’t keen on the all in approach (like myself), pick one item and begin working there. Pick a wool yarn that up till now was from anonymous merino sheep and source it instead from the Upper Canadian Fiber Shed farmer and mini-mill system. Yarn is the most successful of the raw goods from the UCFS that offers a fully traceable process down to the breed. Yes, there are breeds other than merino which are in fact far more interesting as a fiber and they are just down the road!
Start small, think big.
What local dye colours are you most thrilled about for your fall/winter collection?
As much as possible, I try use locally raised and grown colors. Consumers are no longer aware that beautiful colors exist naturally in fibers. Alpaca naturally grow fiber that is charcoal, dark brown, red brown, fawn, all shades of gray inaddition to white. Same goes for wool. And these colors are phenomenally more complex than what a dye could ever offer.
In response to that belief, when using colors from naturally derived dyes I get most excited about colors that people don’t believe could come from nature. Beautiful reds, delicate blues, Sun bright yellows, etc. My absolute favorite way to show naturally derived color within a collection is to use ONE plant and derive multiple colors from it. Most people don’t know that a plant can yield more than one color depending on the portion of the plant used as well as the derivation techniques, let alone that often times these colors are wildly different.
Is there a quality or certain aesthetic to our Fibreshed in Ontario that is unique?
There is a very large and varied color-raised alpaca population with a well raised fiber quality that is unlike any other fibershed I have worked with in the past. The sheep breeds I have discovered so far are very similar to that found in the NY Fibershed.
What is so interesting about the Ontario fibershed at present is the fiber artisan landscape. There are many incredibly skilled people who are working with local fiber and natural dyes on the individual, craft and art scale. Many of these artisans are unequivocally skilled at hand work: embroidery, cross-stich, dyeing, hand-weaving, quilting, sewing, spinning, knitting and crochet, and felting. Given the opportunity to collaborate their skills into a final wearable product that uses local fiber presents an incredibly unique aesthetic that prizes the superior hand-made skills and traditions of the Ontario Fibershed.