We met Johanna Ho to discover more about the sustainable,
life performance brand PHVLO
A lot of ethical brands opt for more timeless styles so that their designs don’t date. I feel like you’re at the opposite end of the spectrum, in that your designs are almost futuristic, it’s refreshing. You’re not lead by current trends but you’re an innovator. Would you agree with that?
Definitely. When we started the brand (six months ago) we did a lot of research into eco brands but we didn’t want to jump onto the eco brand bandwagon. When we launched the first collection the biggest thing for us was not to pinpoint a certain season. When you follow this pattern, you are taking a lot of risks (with time and finance) and you end up with a lot of stock left over.
History is important to us as a brand. We thought about how historical events shape us and how history influences our future. We looked into how the suffragettes influenced fashion at the turn of the century. Without those key historic moments, we wouldn’t be who we are now.
Tell us more about your concept of the 25 hour person.
We call it sports couture because we thought functional fabrics shouldn’t be limited to sportswear. People have to run around more so than before. Their lifestyles are hectic. That’s why we talk about the 25 hour person. We’ve created a wardrobe around that. 24 hours is not enough, if you had an extra hour and a wardrobe that went with it – what would you do with that extra hour? We combine all of these elements into our designs.
One of the aspects of your designs that makes it so sustainable is that each piece is so well made. As a brand, do you feel that this means people won’t buy your products as often as they won’t need to replace items? How does that work as a business?
We are constantly challenging the idea of a product’s lifecycle. No matter how well a piece is made people eventually will no longer like it or they’ll grow out of it. It will always end up somewhere unpleasant. We are always looking into ways in which we can use technology. We are currently developing a chip that we can use in our clothing so you can save printing ink and paper and instead put all of the information on to this one chip. It’s completely machine washable. We are thinking about how we can use this concept to also get input from the customer, to get their feedback. For instance, after five years you can bring the piece back and we will study it and mend it or exchange it.
I decided to start Phvlo (after years of Johanna Ho – which had 11 stores in Tokyo) so that I could use my experience, knowledge and connections to help the next generation which is why we are also setting up a Phvlo Foundation to feed back into the community and educate the next generation.
With movements such as Fashion Revolution Week, we are starting to see more positive change in the fashion industry. But what is the next step? What else can be done?
I think the most important thing is that no brand can be 100 per cent sustainable. For us, it is important to have the research to back up your claims so that you are not misleading your customers. I was talking to my best friend in London who is a big designer for a very big brand and she was saying that there is so much talk about brands wanting to be sustainable but that most people don’t really know how to do it – it doesn’t matter whether a brand is new or established. If the concept of sustainability is just a marketing tool to attract Instagram followers then that isn’t enough. One shift that we can make is to look into how we can give back, rather than focusing solely on sustainability. It’s not just about using the right soil and the right fabric, it’s also about turning lights off when you leave the room. This is why I work with younger generations. We have time to educate them on what is wrong with society right now. Most people on the street are driven by what they like aesthetically before they look to see if it is sustainable.
You use some fantastic fabrics, such as Minotech, in your designs. Looking forward, which fabrics do you think will be dominating the fashion world?
Minotech is lightweight – it doesn’t have that nasty environmentally unfriendly spray on it. It’s all about the weave, it is water repellent and rain proof. We are also employing new fabrics for the second season (launched in May). We have a yarn from Japan which is made from crab shells. The resulting knitted fabric is anti bacterial and anti allergy. I used to be a knitwear designer, I really love knitwear but I realised that a lot of people find wool very itchy and not many people can wear it. This new fabric is so soft and feels so great next to the skin. We’re not just using it for clothing but also for baby blankets and travel blankets. It is combined with cotton. It is not as drapey as cotton which has a lot of weight to it. Cotton tends to drag after it is washed or worn. Because of the crab fibre this fabric holds its shape well. It feels like cashmere, but without the wool feel. It is breathable. You can wear it throughout the seasons.
What advice can you give consumers about living a more ethical lifestyle and in particular, choosing responsible fashion?
I think it’s all about being more knowledgeable when you go shopping. Since I launched Phvlo and have done all the research myself I’ve realised the importance of knowing exactly where you spend your money.
We still have to sell the clothes. You can’t be greedy. There are enough people in the world to support your brand. It doesn’t have to all be clothing. We are going to be doing more lifestyle products. We have the idea of doing linens – bed linens, cushions etc. It’s about looking at how you buy and being less impulsive. It’s about a new mentality.
It’s also about using the right factories and making sure people are not being exploited. People often push for the lowest price possible. This means that someone at the end of the food chain is being exploited. Striving for fairness is the decent thing to do.
The sky is the limit! I got to a real dead end when I was running my own brand (Johanna Ho) and I wondered what to do next. I was designing for the sake of it but my passion was still in fashion – observing and designing beautiful things. I wasn’t sure how to go forward without sacrificing my passion. Living my dreams is still my biggest goal. Take away the tech stuff and the eco angle, and at the end of the day, clothing is all about protection. It’s functional and has been since the stone ages when people first put fur on their bodies. Ultimately, a piece of clothing is just that. It’s how you put your individual passion and integrity into each piece that makes it different.
This feature first appeared in the May 18 edition of Natural Mumma Magazine. Interview by Holly Daffurn.