Lost and Found in New York City
As told by Mackenzie Belcastro
Designer Peggy Sue is known for pushing the sustainable fashion industry forward.
This year, she was nominated for a 2018 CAFA Fashion Impact Award. In 2017, she won the Design Forward Sustainable Fashion Award. Here, the story of how her first "fast fashion" job in Manhattan fuelled her passion for sustainability.
I landed in New York with one month’s rent in my pocket and just enough cash for a plane ticket back home should this not work out. Not that I was about to let that happen.
You’re going to find work right now, I told myself. Never mind that all my friends had moved back home because there were seemingly no jobs for recent grads. Anyway, I’d figure it out.
With no one to emulate, I was flying by the seed of my pants. Everyone else I knew who’d stuck around the city post-graduation did so on their parents’ dime. They went out, got drunk, and let their hair down. They didn’t have to worry about their electric bills, or their rent. If they needed money, their parents would wire it to them—easy.
I was oceans away from being in that boat. My mom didn’t have the means to cover my cost of living. My boat was barely afloat and I was the only one who could keep it from sinking.
In the knick of time, I found work at a corporate fashion company. (Thank god.) I was tasked with building supply chains and bringing pieces to market. As it turned out, I had a knack for this. It seemed like the perfect job for me, but, as the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know,” and I never could have predicted what I’d uncover.
With a desire to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, I began to spend my weekends visiting friends who had recently purchased farms in upstate New York. I’d known they were involved in sustainable production, but I didn’t grasp all that it entailed until I saw it first hand.
I was shocked; it took them so much time and effort to produce their natural fibres—from growing the plants (cotton) to raising the animals (alpaca wool and cashmere) that would provide the initial fibre, it’s undoubtedly a long process.
I saw this and compared it to what I saw at work: products churned out on a mass scale in the blink of an eyes—something was off.
Needing to know what we were sacrificing for efficiency and low price points, I did some digging. With horror I discovered it all came down to favouring remote workers over local workers, and toxic dyes over natural dye. I felt sick.
I knew I had to make a career change then and there, but I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to build something that reflected my newfound values: sustainability and supporting local workers. That’s when the ideas began to pour in. If I built my own fashion line, I could work on addressing these two issues while building a collaborative space where creatives in the fashion world could express themselves.
Suddenly, I felt that familiar mix of exhilaration and fear overcome me, just like it did that day I landed in New York. Only this time, it was stronger because the stakes were higher. I had my sights set on a capital-intensive project, after all, and that meant money out of my pocket; money I might never get back. On the other hand, I reasoned, it was only money, and what I wanted to accomplish felt too important—I had to give it a shot.
I founded The Peggy Sue Collection in 2009. Now it’s 2018, and I’d say my only regret is the name I decided to go with. I kind of wish I’d chosen something that reflected the sustainable, “slow fashion” community.
I feel like I’m on my way to accomplishing what I set out to do. Granted, my company’s not perfect, and running it can be downright hard at times—some nights I only get three hours of sleep! But when I get to that point of exhaustion, I simply reflect and remember that I love what I’m doing.
Life in Waves
I’m constantly checking in with myself and asking, Do you like what you’re doing? Do you feel alive? And if the answer is no, then the conversation becomes, Okay, what does doing what you want look like? What makes you want to wake up in the morning?
It’s an incredible feeling when what makes you want to rise each day is the very thing you’ve worked so hard to build. The Peggy Sue Collection, today, is just that. It’s a line of what I call “lifetime pieces,” where every last detail is the result of exquisite consideration, from the closure to the waist-banding to the material. In other words, pieces that have been made thoughtfully.
One of my favourite things is to see a person put on a piece of clothing—to observe whether or not they’re comfortable, whether they prefer things to sit a little lower, or a little higher.
Something as simple as an interaction with a pocket can be invaluable information. It’s what takes me that extra step closer toward understanding my customer, seeing what they want, what they deserve. And while delivering that is another long process—it takes about a year and a half to get our product into the showroom, it’s always worth it. Taking that time means supporting farmers I love, creating a work environment that’s pleasurable, and ultimately crafting pieces that not only are sustainable, functional, and cherished, but actually bringing people of shared values together. I’ll take three hours of sleep for that, any day.