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Meet Design Futures 2022 Judge: Phoebe English

In the lead up to our Design Futures 2022 application deadline, we sat down with renowned sustainable womenswear designer, Phoebe English, to talk about her circular design practice and what she’s looking for in this year’s applications.

“I’m hoping to see something that we haven’t come across or thought of before,” Phoebe English, founder of her eponymous label and Design Futures judge, says of this year’s Fashion District challenge. “The current systems that fashion operates within don’t align with the future of the planet. So I’m excited to see creative new visions of alternative systems and approaches we can be approaching and working towards.”

Phoebe English would know, after all she’s created an alternative system of her own. Having founded her label in 2011, the British-born fashion designer creates pieces with close attention to quality and craftsmanship, which in an age of ‘fast’ fashion has made her a leader among peers. Reducing negative environmental impact has always been at the top of Phoebe’s agenda, and all of her production is made in London – from sketch to garment – to minimise her label’s footprint. A dynamic thinker with a careful, considered approach, Phoebe is on an ever-evolving search to better her practices, making her the perfect judge for this year’s innovation challenge which is focused on design for circularity. 

As the Design Futures 2022 deadline approaches, she talks us through her advice to applicants, her thoughts on designing in the current climate, and her own circular initiatives. 

What piece of advice would you give to sustainable designers and brands entering the challenge?

“To keep their minds open to things which are both possible and achievable now, with the current things that are available but also to take into consideration “big blue sky” thinking of what could be possible if other infrastructures were available in the future. Also to keep in mind that it is never possible to “win” at sustainability, we can only propose many solutions for the varied pressing issues that we face.”

Expanding upon what you mentioned at our Design Futures 2022 launch, what is the place of designers in a time when we’re physically drowning in stuff?

“The place of designers in a time when we’re physically drowning in stuff, is that we need to work doubly hard, not only do we need to be thinking about our design work but we need to be carefully considering the external factors that every design decision we make implicates and effects both planetary and socially.”

You mentioned that it’s important to think carefully when it comes to production and designing. How do you consider such big decisions?

“Design is always collaborative, you can’t design in isolation. Every design is a collaboration with materials and people. Design does not exist in a vacuum.”

What sustainable/circular initiatives are you currently implementing in your company?

“We’ve been trying to explore and trial as many different approaches towards a circular approach as we can over the past couple of years at the studio, such as the reuse of our own waste, the reuse of other commercial waste, designing “out” waste from the design stage, considering and reducing the chemical content of our clothing through natural dyes, and most recently we have explored how we can develop bioregional agricultural regenerative practices.”

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