Creative collaboration with Phoebe English for LFW AW20

Phoebe English is a recognised sustainable fashion designer who is included within the British Fashion Council's Positive Fashion collective. Weleda is excited to collaborate with the brand for London Fashion Week this February, sponsoring the skincare and haircare with Weleda products, which will be integral to the look of the AW20 menswear and womenswear presentation.

Image titlePhoebe English is a women’s and menswear label founded in 2011. The brand is entirely made in England and pieces are created with close attention to detail and quality, in contrast to the more usual ‘fast’ fashion. Design and production both take place in London, meaning the journey from sketch to garment is minimised to a modest 10-15 mile radius and the entire business operates from one studio.

Since her debut graduate collection in 2011, Phoebe has consistently shown at London Fashion Week and has a dedicated, global following. The brand's dual roots of sustainability and craftsmanship are crucial to each collection, and Phoebe has actively pursued change within the fashion world, such as working alongside the UK Environmental Audit Committee to help push through new legislation to improve sustainability within the UK fashion industry.

Fabric sourcing is done in the UK or EU using Global Organic Textile Standard organic cotton and Oeko-Tex certified materials that are free from harmful chemicals. Waste offcuts are returned to the studio to be put back into future collections, and surplus and deadstock fabrics are repurposed in a similar way. To finish pieces, the team uses a variety of biodegradable natural finishings such as buttons made from palm nuts and milk protein to avoid unnecessary plastic use.

Even the fabric care labels inside the garments are made from cotton, embroidered or digitally printed in London. The packaging is recyclable, biodegradable or home compostable. Pieces are packed in entirely plastic-free paper and card packaging consisting of recycled tissue paper, protective glassine paper bags, recycled paper tape and cardboard boxes. Customers are encouraged to contact Phoebe English for any necessary repairs, to prolong the life of their purchase.

“There has never been a more urgent time in our history to evolve and change how we do things. It has been made startlingly obvious that the world’s political systems are not designed for the climate emergency we face. As such, the changes needed rest with us, the individual. Fashion, at its very heart, is founded on a constant revolution and evolution of ideas and needs. The plan is simple. We must now look at design as a solution-based problem-solving strategy.”

The Phoebe English approach is to avoid trend-led design and opt for longevity when developing pieces because good design should last forever. This is something shared with Weleda, with cosmetics from the 1920s still going strong today such as Weleda Skin Food which was introduced in 1926!

Weleda sponsored the hair and makeup team with a range of natural and organic cosmetics, principally the Skin Food collection which was used to create the fresh, dewy look for the presentation. Hairstylist Cyndia Harvey tamed flyaway hair with a touch of Skin Food original and another Weleda classic: Revitalising Hair Tonic. Makeup artist Crystabel Riley hydrated faces with Skin Food Light whilst limbs were given a lustrous sheen with Skin Food Body Butter.

Makeup designer Crystabel Riley explained:Image title

"Phoebe's on-going conceptualization of the 'rebirth of practice' is really relevant to how I wanted to approach the makeup, working towards the idea of 'practice' based skincare.

We use heat and steam, layering Weleda's holistic range to create the perfect and 'cared-for' skin. My makeup team operates with a 'zero-waste' backstage approach, so I really want to demonstrate, and enjoy, the full multi-functionality of the Weleda range, utlizing a knowledge-based or rather 'practice-based' approach to the high quality ingredients. Moisture as masks, milks as toners, creams as light reflection. The Almond Soothing Cleansing Lotion is worked in to the skin with a lymphatic-conscious massage and taken off with hot reusable natural materials. With a model-focused approach to skincare, the most dehydrated receive Skin Food face masks, whilst others benefit from extra gentle skin stimulation with Lavender Bath Milk used as a hot facial compress. I also love using the spray Sage Deodorant as a natural anti-bacterial hand sanitizer due to the quality of the natural alcohol and essential oils. I really wanted to show that these luxury yet pragmatic skincare rituals work in tandem with the low-waste and considered approach of Phoebe's collection."

On the eve of her AW20 presentation, Weleda chatted to designer Phoebe English about the inspiration behind her new collection and her approach to sustainable fashion.

Image titleHow did the Phoebe English label come about?
I graduated in 2011 from the MA at Central Saint Martin’s. One of my first customers, Rose Easton, commissioned me to make a dress for her birthday party and then we started the label together. The first collection was very small and entirely made from handmade labour-intensive smocked textiles. We did a small show for SS12 and received an order from Dover Street Market London. Rose registered the company the very next day. Since then we have sold in international stores all around the world, had exhibitions, made installations and our archive work is now in the permanent Fashion Collection at the V&A. It's been an incredible journey, it has been extremely hard but it has also has given me the opportunity to learn so much and work alongside the most incredibly talented people, and that has been a daily pleasure.

What is the inspiration behind your latest collection?
This collection, titled Nothing New, builds upon the less damaging aims and pathways we have set out on over the past few seasons, how we can use design as a problem-solving tool. Happily now amongst a culture of increased awareness of the environmental impact of the clothes we buy, this collection continues to question and search for new ways of making clothes to better fit the realities of the truth of our environmental crisis. 

The collection set out on an exploration to see if it is possible to make an entire collection and its subsequent production from locally found 'non-virgin resource'. We reached out to our fashion peers across the design community in London to source 'waste' 'surplus' 'deadstock' and 'last season' fabrics of any length or quantity. The result has been an influx of beautiful high quality fabrics into the studio which combined make a patchwork of all the different design personality across the city. All of the aspiration for the collection started from here, from the fabrics as they arrived in the studio. Season on season we are building on what sustainable and regenerative design means to us, and this season it was important for us to collaborate with and explore our local area, rather than import materials from afar - what can we use that's already here and potentially being wasted? 

How would you describe the look you’re creating?
We have been working towards a trans-seasonal or seasonless approach. Each season we are slowly drifting away from the traditional sense of SS / AW season. We design clothing that can be bought/worn all year round rather than only within that season/time period. Clothing should be able to stand the test of time and be collected as a precious or useful item rather than bought due to a trend or specific season only to become obsolete a few months after. Good design should last forever. We have stopped annoucing the seasons as SS / AW as part of this ethos. 

Who is the Phoebe English customer?Image title
We have quite a broad range of clients so it's always hard to define this. We used to sell 'menswear' and 'womenswear' but there is such a crossover in the customers actually buying into those ranges that I now define it as just 'clothing.' We have a lot of customers who work in the arts, gallery owners, art reviewers, art historians and so on. We also have a growing market in both China and Japan, which is exciting as I think it is important to be able to start communicating with those markets about sustainable fashion in particular as they are so big. I like it when I have a 60-year-old wearing our pieces alongside her daughter in her 20s - for me, that's an indicator that we are going in the right direction.

Does your sustainable ethos make it harder to be a successful designer in today’s commercial landscape?
The landscape currently is shifting and I have found that our practices in sustainability have been received in different ways by different areas of fashion. For example, the press has been really interested and engaged with our developments. That also goes for our direct customers and clients who are tending to buy more into our designs because of a greater interest in where things are coming from and how they are being made. The buyers of our wholesale accounts, on the other hand, have been much slower in engaging in these areas and tend to be less interested in hearing about all our fabrics. I suppose this is because bricks and mortar stores tend to have an emphasis on making their shops look good on the rails and tend to have less time to speak to you and learn about the raw materials that have gone into those clothes. I'm sure there will be a shift in interest as the general public becomes more aware of the extremely damaging processes involved in making many clothes. We have seen a big revelation in the processes which go into the food we eat over the years, it's now really time that fashion had that as it is exactly the same in terms of the links it has to farming. The clothes that we wear on our bodies have all come from the earth at some point, it has either been grown on the land or drilled from underneath it. It all comes back to the planet. So our starting point as designers should be the planet when we are choosing and using those resources.

How important is it for you to partner with brands with a sustainable purpose in common?
It's very important to me. Through the whole process of re-educating myself and my team, I have found endless importance in conversation. Every single conversation I have had about changing and developing my practice has lead to at least one solution-based idea. It has been absolutely fascinating and really very exciting and has spurred me on and on to try and push further and be better. That's why it's so important to partner with companies and brands who hold the same values, there is just so much we can learn from one another. For example, hearing about how Weleda have been reducing their use of aluminium was so interesting and inspiring, I had no idea about the issues surrounding aluminium packaging and I'm sure I can share with you all piles of equally terrifying facts about the fashion industry in return. The only way we can evolve as businesses, consumers and as individuals is by communication and learning from one another so that we can all try and do better. Disinheriting the practices we have inherited and urgently designing new ones with frameworks and standards that fit the new times that we live in and correspond to the planetary boundaries we must remain inside.

What attracted you to Weleda for this collaboration?
I have been a fan and customer of Weleda for years, I remember walking around shops as a child and lusting after those beautiful glass bottles with their tantalizing description of heavenly scents. It felt the perfect time to partner with a company with such long-standing and admirable ecological bedrock as we launch this new collection alongside our statements of sustainability.

What are your 3 Weleda non-negotiables?
Well, Skin Food is absolutely my number one! And I am a huge fan of a bath, so Lavender Bath Milk is a must! I also really love the Almond Facial Cream as I have sensitive skin.

Photographs courtesy of Julia Grassie and Asia Werbel.