Business Fashion Lifestyle

Lost and Found in New York

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.

Living Hard

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.

Sustainable Farming

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 eye—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.

Starting Fresh

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.