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Career Q&A with sustainable and ethical label, Philip Huang

By Aileen Yu

Nov 6, 2020

Fashion |INTERVIEW

Based between NYC and Bangkok, designer Philip and creative director Chomwan recently told FashionUnited how they envision using their brand as a global platform to bring customers a quality product that embodies the ethos of going back to the land while empowering local communities. Philip Huang, the eponymous label was founded in 2016 by the first Asian male model hired by Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana and his ex-lawyer wife, Chomwan Weeraworawit. As seen in Tatler and named by WWD as one of the four designers to watch at Paris Fashion Week SS21, the sustainable indigo-dye brand produces contemporary designs that merges indigenous knowledge passed on for generations from artisans in Sakon Nakhon, Northeast Thailand.

According to consumer data tracker, PSFK Research, the fashion industry is placing new value on sustainability, circularity and efficiency. Along with these current market trends, a surge of social protests worldwide have also led shoppers to re-evaluate their stance on issues such as eco-responsibility, local production and inclusivity. In this Q&A series, FashionUnited is spotlighting four sustainable and ethical brands that were already on the path towards a more socially conscious and circular fashion future.

Husband-and-wife team Philip Huang and Chomwan Weeraworawit

What’s the best part about creating your own sustainable indigo-dye label?

The best part is working with the community and learning new “old” knowledge. It’s always a journey and we discover a lot when we leave the city and connect with artisans. Going back to the land to discover processes that have always been synonymous with their (the artisans) way of life, it is so far removed from what is the norm in cities.

We have found the exchange to be inspiring and humbling, it’s really old and new coming together to create something, and we are dependent upon each other. Then of course, finding a way to merge the by-hand with the needs and aesthetics of today.

What challenges have you faced running the brand and how do you tackle them?

There are multiple challenges that we meet at different stages of what we do. On the macro level – I suppose the space we are in is considered niche, small. We find it remarkable how all of this knowledge in a way has existed: there has been natural dyes as long as humans have made textiles. It was our ancestors 6000 years ago who discovered indigo. Before that there were mud dyes and various other dyes derived from the land and plants. It’s strange knowing this and looking around and seeing that most of the dyes on our clothes today are synthetic and made in factories. So a challenge will always be communicating what we do and growing that message of going back to the land and about the people.

The way we work is that nature guides the narrative. For example, during a particularly wet year, the garments that come back from Isan might look a little different, or the rainy days might make the process slower. It’s been a challenge that we’ve really been happy to accept as it required us to adapt to the circumstances and know that this is part of the “other way” – working in harmony with the land, nature and the community.

Therefore, all of this affects how we release the collections and the capsule lines, do post-production and quality control to ensure that the garments are really wearable and last. It’s a new old model! How to “scale” to make things work, diversify and evolve production so that it becomes a really sustainable model for everyone involved and for the customers so that they’re able to experience it.

What is the label’s mission and what do you mean by empowering the local communities?

The mission is to find old knowledge that could disappear because it is remote and exists with rural communities that are not part of the “system” of fashion or development that is prevalent. We learn the knowledge and make sure that we can share it, that the community is happy to do that and that there is also a next generation to take on the knowledge. We then make it accessible and approachable. Perhaps it is possible to empower the communities through their own knowledge and not industrialization, which has been the case for the last decades.

The mission is to find old knowledge that could disappear because it is remote and exists with rural communities that are not part of the “system”. Perhaps it is possible to empower the communities through their own knowledge and not industrialization, which has been the case for the last decades.

Chomwan Weeraworawit, Creative Director, Philip Huang

Philip Huang has already made a noticeable impact on the industry, what else do you envision for the future of your brand?

Thank you very much! We see the brand as a vehicle, so Sakon Nakhon indigo is the first process and savoir faire that we focused on – it’s always existed and belongs to the community – we function as a platform to make that knowledge accessible through the clothes and products that we make. We see the next steps for us to be finding more knowledge. Growing the skill base and at one level creating a sustainable source of income for the communities, helping the decentralisation and really creating something that is new and innovative drawn from the old.

Mostly, we see the brand as a global platform and hope to keep making what we make so that this knowledge and culture can manifest into quality products that people can value and cherish.

Do you have any advice for success?

Not giving up, keep going despite knowing that you are different and that what you are surrounded by is just one way, even if it is the norm. Also, believing that there is always an alternative solution if you are willing to stick with the dream and to find the community that supports you. And realizing that the community can grow.

What is your go-to sustainable and ethical outfit?

CW: Definitely the Bowman Jumpsuit, each one is made with 4 meters of hand-dyed and handwoven indigo Ikat. We made it into a jumpsuit that is totally versatile, it can be worn in the daytime with sneakers or at night with some heels.

PH: Any one of our hand-dyed 100 percent organic t-shirts, the indigo or tie-dye indigo, the dune mud-dye, I wear the original crew or the wide crew. I like to pair the tees with our Isan Crossover Pants either in the black raw cocoon silk or the hand-spun handwoven cotton. I’m usually out and about a lot so I have my black Patagonia fanny pack to top off the look and make it functional. The fanny pack and belt is really light and water resistant, the perfect finishing touch to the outfit as we really love Patagonia’s ethos and approach.

Finding Oasis: a visual essay documenting Sakon Nakhon indigo and Philip Huang’s S/S 2021 collection.

Photos: courtesy of Philip Huang