New York Fashion Week is the red carpet event for designers to show off their coveted collection; it can make or break upcoming designers. While it seems anyone can float around the Garment District of New York City and whip up a few pieces, only the innovative and most talented creators will cross the minds of publications such as Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily, and Forbes.
PH5—a contemporary womenswear label focused on cutting edge knitwear—has done just that. Recently wrapping up their sophomore season at NYFW, founder Wei Lin and designer Mijia Zhang take a moment off their busy schedule to talk PH5’s “story of art meets science.” Lin and Zhang seem to have mastered what happens “when an artistic designer has direct access to high tech” materials for their production.
PH5’s autumn/winter 2017 collection features drapey and fitted silhouettes against colorful asymmetric skirts and dresses to sexy jumpsuits with a crisscrossed back. Stripes and abstract patterns also played a central figure over cream colored tops and bottoms in the brand’s assorted collection.
YHM: Knitwear can be viewed as a seasonal fabric and not the most stylish trend. PH5 seems to solve that mystery with each collection, but we have to know. Why knitwear and what has been the most difficult part of breaking into the knitwear market?
PH5: Innovative, functional and hugely stylish knitwear is at the heart of PH5. Backed by a knitwear manufacturer, our goal is to become the laboratory for knitwear in the contemporary market—pushing the boundary of knitwear in young, inspired and playful ways. We want to challenge the conventional view on knitwear and let people know that knitwear is more than those cozy chunky sweaters people wear during winter. There is a lot more to knitwear than people think. It can be breathable, lightweight, colorful, and fashion forward. As a matter of fact, PH5’s second biggest retail market is Singapore, a tropical country with no room for the conventional knits.
YHM: Describe the “technical sophistication” in your design process.
PH5: Knitwear, in general, is more complicated than woven because the design process starts from the very beginning of picking the right yarns. We have many requirements on the yarns we pick because our stitches are very architectural. After matching yarns with stitches, we computer code programs into our knitwear machines, which will then generate fully-fashioned knitting panels in the silhouettes we design. Our garments are technically sophisticated because they require a lot of coding and testing.
YHM: Wei; we learned that your family has an apparel manufacturing company based in China. Is this where your inspiration for business and ideally fashion came from?
Wei Lin: As a second generation factory owner in China where labor costs and exchange rates are no longer competitive compared to many South East Asian countries, such as Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, I had two options. If I wanted to continue my family business—I could either shut down the factory in China and relocate to South East Asia where my factory could be priced competitively again; or I could do what many European fashion houses did back in the day and start a brand out of the factory and become a fashion house of our own. I chose the “easier” route.
YHM: Nice! What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your fashion company?
WL: Less is more. Sometimes it’s not about having a wide range of selection every season; many times it’s about staying focused and only doing what we do the best.
YHM: What is the creative process like? Do you prefer to set trends or follow them?
PH5: PH5 is heavily influenced by art. Modern art, in particular, is our design database. Each season functions like a research project on a subject Mijia chooses. She starts from a piece of artwork and allows herself to be intrigued by it, which then leads her to create various elements for the collection. We are influenced by fashion trends, but we set our own tone.
YHM: Mijia, tell us what sparked your interest in fashion. Do you have a style icon?
Mijia Zhang: My parents owned a vintage shop when I was younger. I still remember when I was playing in the warehouse with them. I think that’s what sparked my interest in fashion. I don’t have a fashion icon. I appreciate people who have strong individual style.
YHM: How do you describe your fashion sense?
MZ: I like to mix and match high fashion with low fashion. I like playful designs.
YHM: What questions do you ask before you begin any design project? What information is most important?
PH5: PH5 is for everyday dressing for the modern women who care about wearability, functionality, and seasonality. Every season before we begin our design process, we gather feedback from our customers and try to improve ourselves every season.
YHM: Tell us about the monumental experience of debuting your brand in New York Fashion Week in 2016 after already establishing PH5 in 2014.
PH5: It felt great. Definitely the best NYFW debut we could have ever asked for. We were lucky to work with amazing teams of people to put everything together and the collection was well received by Vogue, WWD, W, New York Mag/The Cut, etc.
YHM: Describe the woman who wears your pieces. What is she like?
PH5: She is smart and playful with the way she dresses and how she styles. And she is very sophisticated.
YHM: Who is your dream client?
PH5: We would love to dress smart and influential women such as Emma Watson.
YHM: How has the brand evolved since 2014 and where do you see PH5 in 5 years’ time?
PH5: We started out as a full collection without a strong focus on knitwear and in the past two years have gradually narrowed ourselves down to becoming a knitwear brand. We will continue to stay focused on the novelty knitwear category in the next five years. But as we grow, we plan to expand our size offerings and make our collections more functional and wearable for real women in America and abroad.
By Yegide Matthews | Designer Photo: Courtesy of Sam Deitch, BFA/Collection Photos: Courtesy of PH5