The convergence of fashion and technology is often hailed as ‘what’s next’ in the apparel industry, but for buzzy knitwear label PH5, the future is now. The New York-based brand is the brainchild of businesswoman Wei Lin and award-winning, Parsons-educated designer Mijia Zhang, who saw a need in the market for contemporary knitwear that would be able to keep up with the multi-faceted lifestyles of the ambitious, style-minded women they knew.
In order to serve this demographic, Lin and Zhang were focused on innovating knitwear by introducing a technical edge. The knitwear market, which is already fairly limited, functioned mostly in luxury, churning out cozy, chunky cashmere and merino wool sweaters and the like. The PH5 women, however, wanted to see what could happen if knitwear was created with the intention of being a ready-to-wear brand.
“For us, design is our priority,” Lin tells COOLS. “Knit just happens to be our medium, the way we translate our design.”
Knitwear, as a wearer, seems effortless—easy to pull on, free of stiff materials or undue seaming. However, creating it requires a level of detail and planning that is hardly recognized in the ease of consumption.
Lin explains it thusly: “For knitwear, it’s very difficult to design because everything starts from the yarn, so we don’t go to the market and buy fabrics and then designing patterns; we start by designing fabrics. Everything we make is knitted by computerized machines and essentially, we work with engineers and coders and technicians.”
Their emphasis on technology is apparent in both its conception and its manifestation: The brand uses 3D knitting, a method that’s so new that Lin says even they don’t know the exact potential of what they can do with the machines, which means that the brand is perpetually experimenting. 3D knitting also provides the unique benefit of being completely zero-waste, a boon in the current consciousness in the industry about making sustainable fashion.
“When you do cut and sew, when you do women’s, when you buy bolts of fabric and you cut it into patterns before you sew it together—with knitwear, we don’t do that. We knit in the shape we want them to be in, so there’s no waste,” Lin says. “It’s something that no one really thought about, but is so beautiful about knits and one of the benefits of doing an entire collection of knits.”
For both Lin and Zhang, PH5 represents both their past and present; all of their designs are knitted by computerized machines, essentially making their craftsmen the engineers, coders, and technicians at the factory. The factory outside of Hong Kong where they produce their bright knits is the same factory in which Lin’s mother began working at 30 years ago and now owns. As such, Lin and Zhang split their time between China and New York, a reflection of their own coming of ages, having both grown up in the former before coming to the United States for school as teenagers. The pair met when they became roommates in New York nearly seven years ago, then launched PH5 in 2014. Now, six collections of sleek but playful knits later, the colorful and architectural, but extremely wearable (the majority of their designs are machine washable), clothes have become staples for tastemakers like Instagram’s Eva Chen and stylist Fatima B.
“It’s a very typical New York story,” Lin relays with a laugh, while taking a break from PH5’s market appointments during Paris Fashion Week (the brand showed its sixth and most recent collection at this season’s NYFW). “We didn’t know each other and then you share an apartment and then you become friends and now, we own a business together.”
The duo’s experiences managing their rapidly growing brand in two countries, however, has only served to broaden their international impact, something Lin is extremely proud of.
“We as a brand have been global since day one,” she says. “We constantly travel to different markets to do our sales and we have our core teams living in different countries, we’re working remotely. We’re definitely the younger generation. I think with our international background, we didn’t want to be just one way. Especially with things like Instagram, it allows us to be more global.”
When it comes to the essence of the brand, however, the technical aspect is what really excites Lin, who explained that even the label’s name is rooted in science, a reference to the pH scale, where pH1 is acidic and pH7 is neutral—making pH5 both neutral and slightly acidic, which perfectly encapsulates the brand’s designs. In Lin’s words, they are “neutral, slightly quirky and fun.”
Ultimately, Lin and Zhang are focused on changing what the industry and consumers think of when they think of knitwear.
“We want to bring value and design to knit; we want to contribute,” Lin says. “We try to be a fashion laboratory for knitwear.”