03/07/2014 02:23 EST | Updated 05/07/2014 05:59 EDT

Designer Sarah Stevenson pays homage to Canada in collaborative line for Target

TORONTO - Sarah Stevenson combed through the Target archives to see the works of top fashion talents who had made their mark on the bull's-eye brand — and she still can't quite believe she has joined their ranks.

"I'm still pinching myself because it really is a dream come true," said the Toronto designer.

"It was so amazing, so cool to go through the pieces," she added. "I've admired those brands for a long time, so to be amongst them and in their company is a huge honour. I'm thrilled."

Target is well known for collaborating with some of fashion's leading names. Vancouver-raised Jason Wu (who designed Michelle Obama's inaugural gowns), Italian fashion house Missoni, American designer Zac Posen and London-based label Peter Pilotto have all partnered with the company. With many consumers unable to afford their higher-priced designer offerings, the affordable, limited-edition lines tend to generate big buzz and often lead to sellouts.

Stevenson is poised to make her own imprint with the debut of her collaborative line with Target. While Montreal-based designer Melissa Nepton also teamed with the retailer on a line carried in its Quebec stores, Stevenson's collection will be carried in most stores across the country beginning March 23. The 15-piece collection has items ranging from $24.99 to $59.99.

Stevenson earned the chance to design for the retailer as winner of the Toronto Fashion Incubator New Labels contest last year, an annual competition for emerging design talent where she also took home a $25,000 cash prize.

Her winning runway collection featured richly hued florals and painted textiles transferred onto silk. Consumers will see some signature elements of her brand esthetic in the spring line for Target.

Stevenson said she started off creating all the prints and designing the fabrics by hand before working with the retailer's design team to modify the garments for customers, which includes offering a variety of silhouettes and shapes.

The line doesn't shy away from embracing vibrant colours, whether it's in subtle splashes on a shirt collar and cuffs, to bold statement patterns like the watercolour print adorning blazers, tees and pants.

"I really wanted to pay homage to Canada and who I am as a brand. ... And obviously that's wearable art, that's prints and florals. So I stuck to what I'm known for," Stevenson said.

"I looked to Toronto gardens in the springtime for inspiration because it was a nice nod to Canada, and I think it translated beautifully."

Target Canada spokeswoman Lisa Gibson said they haven't made any decisions on future designer collaborations, but their goal is to continue to innovate within the realm of fashion and design.

"Whether that's supporting existing well-known designers or whether we'll carry on supporting Canadian designers, I think for us it's more about choosing the designer partnerships that really make sense for our guests and that we know they're going to appreciate and love."

As Target marks its one-year anniversary in Canada, the discount retailer's first foray beyond U.S. borders has hit its share of rough patches. The retailer has faced high expansion costs and disappointing sales as shoppers complained about near-empty shelves and notably higher prices than at U.S. Target stores.

Despite the challenges, Gibson said the company remains "absolutely committed to the Canadian expansion" as it prepares to open three more stores, celebrating their grand openings on March 14, with another six locations planned in 2014.

"Everyone is really laser focused," she said. "In-stocks obviously we've been open about that being our number 1 challenge, and we've made significant headways in kind of clearing through some of the issues that were causing the problems."

— With files from Linda Nguyen.


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