PH5 is the latest brand making waves in the Fashion world & is now available in Australia exclusively at Parlour X. Australian born Zoe Champion, along with Founder Wei Lin are the driving forces behind New York based brand PH5. Zoe and Wei have used their Chinese & Australian influences to create PH5's eccentric styles with knitwear as a focal point. Not afraid to push the boundaries when it comes to their collections, they are still able to keep sustainability at the forefront of PH5's designs. X Files speaks to Zoe and Wei about their varied roles, the brand's production & design processes, and their commitment in becoming an environmentally sustainable business.
Exciting, experimental & slightly eccentric, PH5 challenges the conventions of knitwear design in so many ways. Please explain more about PH5 & your current direction.
Wei: Yeah, we wanted to be a knitwear laboratory in the advanced contemporary space – pushing knitwear in fresh, season-less, and experimental ways. That’s also why we named the brand as a chemical value. Currently we are pushing to become a more sustainable and environmentally conscious brand as well.
Zoe: Yeah, resourcing all our best sellers in recycled yarns and looking for the most innovative yarns and techniques to create unexpected knitwear pieces.
How do your roles differ as business partners.
Wei: I handle more of the business side of PH5, while Zoe handles more of the designs. We have a few other business partners, and we discuss most big things together.
Zoe: Yeah, I lead the design concept for the collection each season, and work together with Wei and others on our team for feedback at each stage. But we tend to consult each other on most aspects of the business, two heads are better than one!
Wei, how does having a family history in knitwear manufacturing and production influence your work with PH5?
Wei: Quality matters a lot to us. We are blessed to be able to innovate and try new things without having to worry too much about production minimums, which frees us on so many levels.
Zoe: Having come into the factory you really get a sense of the family spirit, all the people who work there are our biggest fans and are excited to experiment and try new things with us, even if they’re difficult and take a few goes to get right.
The past 18 months have seen so many of us working remotely. How have you navigated working over distances, with Wei in New York & Shanghai, Zoe in Sydney and your manufacturing in Asia?
Zoe: We are basically business pen pals. Constantly writing to each other, checking in, and on video calls. It’s great having a partner in Wei who is so knowledgeable about knitwear and fashion so I can trust her opinions about what is coming out of the factory.
Wei: Yeah the past 18 months were super tough for so many of us. But we are lucky because our team is small enough that the number of Zoom calls are still manageable. And on the bright side, we also get to draw inspirations from different places even though we can’t travel much.
Zoe, please explain your design process?
Zoe: I always like to start with how I’m feeling at the start of the season, with what is happening in the world that is impacting me and is filling up my conversations and thoughts. From there we add the PH5 touch, by looking at it through a quirky, whimsical lense. For example, for Resort '22 I was stuck in lockdown and was wishing I could visit our factory, wondering how it was all going. This is where the concept of our machines being bored and wishing I would come to visit them, coming to life and creating art themselves through light shows at night.
How do global trends influence your business & design decisions?
Zoe: I think it is less trends in terms of clothing trends, but more trends in society, what is our community talking about, what is our community excited about, what are they searching for. We want to create pieces that fulfill a need people didn’t realise they had. Those special pieces that complement their mood and bring joy.
Wei: We urgently want to push ourselves and our peers in the fashion industry to do more in the sustainability space. Let us all come together on this and see what we can do as an industry to help combat the global environmental crisis that we are all facing.
Wei, please explain more about PH5’s production process? Where do you source your materials?
Wei: We work with a few dedicated yarn mills every season because we know their quality, and they have most of the yarns we need, especially in the sustainability space. We attend a few yarn trade shows every year to check on the newest innovations and technologies.
Zoe, you studied in both Sydney and New York. What are the similarities and the differences between the design approach you’re taught in Sydney versus New York?
Zoe: I think they’re quite similar actually, UTS did a great job of creating a space to be creative with no boundaries, and encouraged you to create unconventional textiles and work from the ground up. This is where I first developed my knitwear craft and that was only further developed at Parsons, where again I was given the space to spend hours experimenting on machines, making intricate textiles as a base for design and pushing concept fuelled designs.
Many of the designs from PH5 seem to draw inspiration from structural, almost architectural shapes and proportions, which isn’t always easy to achieve with knitwear as a core fabrication. How do you navigate bringing the designs too realisation with this choice of fabric.
Zoe: Our incredible factory and engineers are the only way we can achieve our physics defying shapes. They spend hours coding the intricate programs to bring our pieces to life. And we work at choosing the best consciously sourced materials to hold those structures, without being rigid and stiff. You can drape or pattern make whatever shape you want, but if the machine can’t handle knitting it, you’re out of luck.
The name PH5 is a moniker which uses the numeric pH scale as a metaphor to rate the brand’s balance between edgy, sexy designs and femininity and softness. How did you come up with this idea to name the label?
Wei: Our goal when we first started the brand was to become a knitwear laboratory. So, a chemical name for the brand made a lot of sense to us. We wanted the brand’s aesthetic to be slightly “weird” and slightly “off”. Hence we named it “PH5” because it is also slightly off the centre.
One of PH5’s latest team members is a CGI being named ‘AMA' who acts as the Chief Decision Scientist, and also starred in the AW21 lookbook. Can you tell us about the idea and process behind AMA’s creation, and what her day to day duties entail?
Wei: AMA was created because both Zoe and I are a bit shy to put ourselves as the face of the brand. So we needed someone to communicate with our followers and customers. Someone that is aligned with our values and beliefs. So we created AMA to do that. She is here to guide us in scientific and honest ways to becoming a more sustainable brand. Every time we talk about AMA, in a sense we are talking about how to make PH5 more sustainable and environmentally conscious.
Zoe: Yeah she is someone we created to not let down. Whenever I’m looking for new fabrics or processes I think “would AMA be happy with this?".
If there was one thing you wish everyone knew and understood about knitwear as a fabric, what would it be and why?
Zoe: That it is designed to work with your body, not fight against it. Tight knitwear can support you and move with you, and looser knitwear is there to comfort you.
Wei: That it is not just “a fabric”. Knitwear is a category just like woven. There is so much depth in knitwear that it’s more than just "one thing".
There’s some great information available via your website about PH5’s Sustainability Report. How important is it to be transparent and honest with your sustainability goals, in this world of overwhelming information?
Zoe: For both Wei and I sustainability and the impacts of the fashion industry is something that weighs heavy on our minds. The Sustainability Report was a way to be transparent with our community, but also a way for us to be setting tangible goals and checking in on our own progress. The toughest part of writing the report was that there’s so much nuance involved in what is a better choice to make in every aspect of our process, it can be overwhelming, but I think customers deserve to know what they’re purchasing and we are lucky to have a community that cares and is interested in hearing more.
Please explain the process of designing with different seasons & climates. How does this effect your design & fabrication choices?
Zoe: We try to have a range of weights of fabric and materials to carry people through a season, which means we can be stocked in most climates. Australia is a fun challenge being on the opposite schedule but we sell to many hot climates so we always have pieces that can be worn in the heat. Finding materials with a mix of natural and man-made to allow for breathability while maintaining stretch and structure makes it easier.
Parlour X is proud to be the first stockist of PH5 in Australia. Why is Australia an important market for PH5?
Zoe: It’s my home! I love Australia and I think Australians aren’t afraid of having fun and having a laugh, which fits perfectly with the PH5 vibe. I think the easy going nature of Australia makes the stretchiness and movement of knitwear so perfect, even though when I started designing knitwear everyone told me I would have to leave Australia or move to Tasmania because all they thought I was doing was making chunky jumpers.
Which piece in Parlour X’s order is your favourite and why?
Zoe: For me it’s the teal green mini skirt. I asked the factory to send me the prototype because I couldn’t wait for production to be done. I love the way it shows off your leg but in a way that still makes you feel covered up and the colour feels super fresh.
How would you describe the PH5 person?
Wei: Very confident in their own skin, and dare to be a little different and edgy. Appreciates all things interesting and new. Has a great taste in art and fashion, and loves to travel.
Zoe: The PH5 person is intelligent, with a sense of humour and doesn’t take themselves too seriously. They have an appreciation for art and design and love engaging with culture and society.
What is next for PH5?
Wei: Continue building this brand to a level that when people think of knitwear, they think of PH5.
Zoe: To continue innovating and find interesting and purpose-driven people to partner with and grow our community, like artists or scientists to find fun, left of field projects to work on.
Shop PH5 exclusively at Parlour X.