Beyond the Brand: Phoebe English
May 11, 22
By: Channing Shettle
Beyond the Brand aims to allow readers to be introduced to the designers and creative directors that are behind fashion's most-daring and radiant brands. This interview will introduce you to Phoebe English, the mastermind behind her namesake brand.
Was there a clear memory of the day that you knew you wanted to be in the fashion industry? What was the spark that set your flame?
Clothes have always made up some of my earliest memories from my childhood. I’ve always been interested in them since the very start so there wasn’t a specific moment per se. I always loved dressing up and going to jumble sales when I was little and organising different outfits for different parts of the day. I always found clothes and getting dressed a fun and imaginative experience and I sort of naturally went towards fashion as I grew up.
Some of our customers I’m sure are familiar with how far in advance fashion works, but to give them an idea, as of right now what season are you working on?
We advocate for a slow fashion movement so we don’t actually work in a super far ahead schedule like some companies. We now develop just one collection as carefully as we can over a whole year, this is so we can put more work and consideration into our sustainability practice around how we make and develop our clothes. It’s taken many years to evolve to this pattern and we are much happier working in a slower more careful way the idea being to be producing less but with more care.
How would you describe the wearer of Phoebe English?
I think there is a mixture of wearers of our clothes, I suppose many of them come from a creative perspective but I don’t like to prescribe a specific type of demographic, I hope people can come to the clothes and make their own response to them.
How do you unwind after a busy day in the studio?
I garden. We have an allotment near to the flat which is a complete haven in a busy city. I dream of plants all night and it has been a brilliant inspiration for our newest venture which has included trying to link our design practice to soil health and regenerative agricultural practices. We are trialing composting our fabric waste from the studio there too.
What’s your “why” for Phebe English? What is the underlying message that you tell yourself on days when you need to recenter yourself and your goals?
That’s is a good question, it has evolved over the years. When I began the label in 2011 I was just 25 and it was chiefly about expressing myself and making things by hand. Since 2017 I have reassessed my personal position within the world in terms of its planetary boundaries and fragile biodiversity, particularly in terms of how the fashion industry as a whole is highly detrimental to them. Now the "why" solely sits within and looks for solutions to these issues of overproduction and waste through the practice of design. The collections now form a source of practical solution searching alongside my creative output. The studio very much runs as a laboratory for these ideas as well as a recycling location.
Other than designing, do you have any other creative outlets you like to take part in?
I find planting and gardening very creative and relaxing, plants are such special things that bring such benefit to everyone around them, and I find them endlessly fascinating.
Being a designer, you have the ability to invoke emotions from your clients through the art of design. Is there any one emotion you would want someone to feel after seeing your collections?
I suppose I hope my clients would experience a feeling of love towards our pieces and that would allow them to enjoy them for a long time and to repair them and hopefully pass them on to someone else after their experience with that garment comes to an end.
In your opinion, what are the most critical aspects of the fashion industry?
Overproduction and waste. The industry produces a vast, vast amount of clothes and simultaneously wastes, destroys and burns vast, vast amounts of clothes. We have to ask ourselves where our places as designers fit within these broken systems where we place little to no value on the clothes we produce, buy, wear and own.
What is the ultimate goal for the brand?
For our design practice to be aligned with natural systems so we can put more back into the than we take out.
What do you think the biggest influence on fashion is at the moment?
I would say probably the internet; When I started the label, Instagram had only just started, now the fashion industry almost entirely exists digitally. It has had such a massive knock-on effect on our relationship with clothing the speed with which we expect to own things and how long we are interested in them.