11/08/2012 04:01 EST | Updated 01/08/2013 05:12 EST

Margherita Maccapani Missoni keeps family in focus with label, philanthropy

TORONTO - As one of three generations involved with one of the style world's most venerable brands, Margherita Maccapani Missoni is part of a rich legacy where fashion and family ties run deep.

Missoni is chief accessories designer with the family's namesake label which was co-founded by grandparents Ottavia and Rosita six decades ago. Her mother, Angela, serves as creative director of the Italian fashion house, renowned for its signature colourful knitwear.

Through her involvement with OrphanAid Africa, the 29-year-old is fusing her work in fashion with philanthropy, teaming with an organization seeking to help place children in safe and permanent family settings in Ghana.

"Our biggest dream would be for orphanages to disappear, so all the efforts are to give kids a mother and a father," Missoni said in an interview Thursday.

"Whether it's helping their family financially and then checking on them if they're fulfilling their duties... whether it's asking a family that's up for it to take in more kids than they already have, that's what we try to do."

Missoni was in Toronto for a personal appearance at Holt Renfrew in support of a charitable collaboration with the luxury retailer, with a stuffed bear and elephant featuring Missoni's signature zig-zag print being sold in support of OrphanAid Africa.

Missoni heads up the Italian division of the non-profit organization founded by former Vogue editor Lisa Lovatt-Smith. Missoni learned of the organization through a chance meeting with Lovatt-Smith, and said she felt the opportunity came at a moment in her life "where I needed a path to follow."

Missoni spent a month volunteering in Ghana, and said many moments remain with her from the time spent in the west African country.

She recalled teaming up with other volunteers to sift through and organize donations stored at a warehouse, setting aside what wasn't required at a local orphanage to take to others in need.

"We went up to the north of Ghana to take this stuff to other orphanages, and we actually realized that our situation that we thought already was pretty bad was actually a dream compared to what we saw.

"You would speak to the children, and (ask): `How many times a day do you eat?' (They would reply): `One.'"

Missoni has created a separate capsule line in support of OrphanAid in addition to her work with the family label, which is preparing to mark its 60th anniversary next year.

While she remained mum on specifics, Missoni said the fashion house planned to mark the milestone in different ways throughout the year, with a common thread woven throughout, be it a fashion show, ad campaign or collaboration.

Missoni said the longevity of the label is due in part to timing. Its launch in 1953 came at a point where there were few other fashion alternatives, allowing them to find and distinguish their place in the market, she noted.

"Since the passion has been going on from generation to generation, we were able to keep that spot."

Missoni said carving out a niche with its distinct roster of products has also helped to set the brand apart.

"We never pull down the quality of the product and I think that pays in the long term," she said. "People come up to me and say: `I'm still wearing a Missoni sweater from 30 years ago and it still looks great.' So quality, specificity and passion."

After a guest stint on "America's Next Top Model" in 2010, Missoni will soon be making a return to the small screen in North America. She is set to appear as a guest judge on design competition series "Project Runway: All Stars."

Missoni's advice for other aspiring designers would be not to compete with pre-existing fashions and labels but to "do your own thing" — and believe in it.

"If you try to copy something that someone else has done before, they're always going to be better than you. And you can always tell when something is not honest and spontaneous."