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Sarah Stevenson wins TFI New Labels and a chance to design for Target

TORONTO - As if a $25,000 cash prize wasn't enough of a boost for a budding designer, TFI New Labels winner Sarah Stevenson could soon see her creations reaching the homegrown masses with a chance to design a line for Target.

"It's almost indescribable to put it into words, really. It's difficult because it is so huge. I can't even fathom. It just means I get to reach such a huge demographic," said Stevenson in an interview at the Carlu in Toronto following her win on Tuesday night.

"I've been trying so hard, doing everything on my own. I'm been trying so hard to reach as many people as I can, but it's really challenging. And this will just open up so many doors and allow people across the country to be able to see what I'm all about which is so, so exciting."

The 32-year-old designer took home the top honours in the TFI New Labels contest, an annual event organized by the Toronto Fashion Incubator.

TFI partnered with Minneapolis-based retailer Target for this year's competition, an annual showcase for a select group of emerging Canadian designers.

In addition to the $25,000 cash award from TFI supporter and philanthropist Suzanne Rogers, Stevenson will have a chance to create an exclusive, limited-edition collection to be sold at Target stores across Canada.

The winning runway collection showcased by Stevenson featured richly-hued florals and painted textiles transferred onto silk. The designer said she was inspired by Dutch still life paintings in the baroque period, specifically the work of artist Rachel Ruysch.

"What was distinguishing about Sarah was her manipulation of fabric, her own printing," said designer and New Labels judge David Dixon.

"She took basic fabrics and incorporated them and made them her own with her own laser-cutting, her own printing, her own prints. The styles are on trend. It was cohesive."

Stevenson has been designing for about eight years, and started her label just under three years ago. She studied in Milan, pursuing a master’s degree in fashion and textile design, and dreamed of returning to her hometown of Toronto to help kickstart the local textile industry.

"I've been struggling for almost three years to try and do that. It's been very hard doing it on my own. I do everything by myself. And I just needed a breakthrough. I needed a step. And this was my breakthrough."

Stevenson said the lucrative cash prize will allow her to cut back on her full-time job with a mineral exploration company and focus more on designing and her business.

Target Canada senior vice-president of merchandising John Morioka said the decision to partner with TFI New Labels stemmed in part from the desire to focus on young and emerging designers. The retailer is well-known for high-profile partnerships with top-tier designers and labels like Vancouver-raised Jason Wu, Missoni and Zac Posen.

"This was a design competition, so we wanted to pick the best designer and then we'll figure out how to make it work for Target. But ultimately, you have to start with really good, strong foundation of design," said Morioka.

As for where the line will be manufactured, Morioka said their sourcing team will look at the designs and determine where the best possible place is to deliver the quality and value the retailer seeks to deliver to its stores. "We'll make that decision once we get a little bit further down the design process."

Montreal-based designer Melissa Nepton was crowned the winner of the Target Emerging Designer Award in February, earning a shot at creating a line for Quebec-based Target stores.

Both exclusive homegrown collections are set to arrive in the retailer's stores next year.

TFI is a non-profit, small business centre that offers support and mentorship to budding Canadian fashion designers and entrepreneurs. The organization's concept has been adopted by cities worldwide, including New York, London, Milan, Melbourne, Auckland and Amsterdam.

Target has opened several stores in Ontario and is expected to launch between 125 and 135 locations in Canada.

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