PHOEBE DAHL

The Elements

It should surprise no one that Phoebe Dahl grew up in “a household where magic was real”. In fact, one would hope that the granddaughter of legendary storyteller Roald Dahl would experience a childhood enlivened a bit by that same whimsy and imagination found in her grandfather’s stories.

Interview by Hillary Sproul

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But the elder Dahl’s work wasn’t only characterized by fantasy. His stories encouraged children to find their independence, to look at perspectives different from their own and–most of all–to dream big. And while it seems unfair to constantly link Phoebe–who inspires all on her own–to her larger-than-life familial roots, it’s hard not to recognize these qualities in her character. Perhaps this is because these very qualities are so beautifully pronounced in the work that she does as an advocate, as a humanitarian and–especially–as the designer behind the ethical women’s line, Faircloth & Supply.

Approximately 170 million children worldwide are not enrolled in school. With 70% of that number being girls, it’s hard not to acknowledge the inequality in access to education. In Nepal, the numbers are staggering. According to Faircloth & Supply’s website, 41% of girls in Nepal are married before the age of 18 and 10% are under the age of 15. Seeking to prevent sex trafficking, child marriage and children’s rights violations, Faircloth & Supply strives to open the door to education for girls in Nepal.

Partnering with Nepal-based The B Project and General Welfare Pratisthan, Faircloth & Supply works to provide the fundamental materials needed in order for girls to attend school (uniforms, school supplies and– in some cases–scholarships). With every Faircloth & Supply item sold, a school uniform donation is made to the girls in Nepal.

 

Women Weave, a women’s empowerment organization based in India, focuses on providing education and employment for women in the hand looming industry. In 2015, Dahl partnered with the company to support their mission to educate and employ these women while reviving the art of hand looming.

And though her work as a humanitarian is hard to ignore, let’s not forget that Phoebe Dahl is a designer. And a good one, at that. Offering women’s clothes, unisex options and baby/kids clothes, Faircloth & Supply’s sustainable clothing is designed in timeless silhouettes to create classic, utilitarian options in soft linens and organic fabrics.

The work that Dahl does is rooted in her unshakable ability to dream big. The ability to dream big means the ability to change the world around you. The magic she grew up with has carried her through to her adult life: “I feel as if I have been given a platform,” she says. “And it’s up to me how I use it. And damn straight am I going to use it for good–to spread awareness and inspire people.”

…And inspire us, she does.

 

HS: You founded Faircloth & Supply after a trip to both Japan and India. In what way did that trip influence the formation of your company?

PD: I launched Faircloth & Supply in August of 2013. I was living in Amsterdam and assisting a designer. We went on a trip to Japan for meetings, followed by India for production. Walking around the streets of Japan, my jaw was on the floor. The way people dressed had me in total and utter amazement. In Tokyo, there are thousands of eccentric styles but there was one in particular that grabbed my attention: girls were wearing oversized linen dresses over ripped Levi’s jeans with espadrilles. It was a very natural, utilitarian style. It was very simple and minimal but there was something so beautiful about it. We were then given a tour around the most inspiring shops and most beautiful linen mills. I left Tokyo with a reignited itch–stronger than ever– to start designing again.
India followed Tokyo. Being the first third-world country I’d ever been to, the economic strife impacted me greatly. The juxtaposition of the two cities back-to-back struck a strong chord. Upon arriving home, I quit my job and started Faircloth & Supply. And that was that!

HS: Why “Faircloth & Supply”? What’s behind the name?

PD: Faircloth is actually my birth-given last name; it’s my father’s last name. It’s kind of crazy actually, very 1800’s where John Blacksmith was the blacksmith of the village and Edward Shoemaker was the village cobbler… It seems to be my destiny.

“Supply” came later and has a double meaning: to supply you with a lifestyle as well as supplying girls with school uniforms and supplying infrastructure to communities in need.

 

HS: I love the work you do with The B Project, General Welfare Pratisthan and Women Weave. How did you begin working with these companies?

PD: I was having dinner with a friend. She was working on a film called Girl Rising, a documentary about educating girls on the gender equality that happens in developing countries: an issue that the rest of the world doesn’t acknowledge. I was so intrigued by what my friend was telling me; it really stuck to my heart. I immediately dove into research and the deeper I got, the more involved I became. I felt such a strong pull to the young girls of Nepal. I wanted to align with a small grassroots charity that I could be hands-on with and work with rather than just throw money at the problem. I wanted to be there, on the ground and involved every step of the way. I found this amazing company in Nepal called GWP (General Welfare Pratisthan). There was an instant synergy and together we’ve sent upward of 5000 girls to school… and counting.

Then I started traveling through different countries, identifying a need to connect with the right people who shared the same vision and values as myself. I wanted to find people who lived in the countries we were donating to, someone with inside expertise as well as cultural and social knowledge. I wanted to find someone who has lived through the heartbreak and the cultural inequality, someone who knows the true meaning of freedom and love only because they’ve lived through imprisonment and racism and hatred for their gender, the color of their skin or the god that they worship. I wanted to find someone who has suffered the pain and experienced loss and lived in a country in turmoil but–despite their hardships–has risen up and raised their voice to make a change for themselves and for their communities. This is how you find your collaborators of authenticity: through truth, human connection and heart connection. When you get off the computer and into the world, this is how you find these local heroes silently living amongst us.

 

HS: You’ve been studying and working in fashion since your teenage years. Was humanitarian work something that came later? Or, did you always intend to incorporate it into your work in some way?

PD: I have always been active in community involvement. When I was younger, I spent six years working with people with disabilities. So, when I started Faircloth there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t incorporate a give-back business model. My biggest struggle is that I want to do too much good. My heart is in so many places when it comes to global social and community involvement. I’d love to eventually have the privilege of extending my outreach to animals and the environment but for now, I must focus and not dilute my missions. My time is spent with my brothers and sisters in Nepal–exactly where I’m supposed to be.

HS: Today’s political climate has really sparked a renewed interest in activism across the board. You’ve been involved in humanitarian work for years. Have you felt an increased interest in the work that you do? Or felt an increased involvement around you?

PD: YES. And it’s incredible to watch… People were really sleeping and operating on autopilot. There has been so much lazy activism for years and the political climate has ignited a flame under the youth generation.
I have spent the entirety of my career devoted to empowering girls through education, ensuring that they have a place in society and that their voices are heard: something that should be a basic human right. Recent events were–at first–an enormous deterrent and a let-down but have no shown me that my work is more important than ever and that I can’t do it alone–and neither can you!

I am creating an army of change agents who stand up for themselves and their peers in times of adversity and who fight for their core beliefs and principles. We are no longer silent and no longer alone. We will show the world that when we come together, we are powerful–because we decide what kind of world we want to live in. It is time for us to band together and act out of love and acceptance for one another. Find parts of yourself in others and finally see that we are all one with the same driving force: love.

 

HS: Were you able to attend The Women’s March?

PD: I was! It was one of the most powerful moments of my life. I flew in for 24 hours and it was absolutely amazing. Every time I board a flight, I always observe the ratio of men and women in first class and it’s always male-dominated… but not this time. Not only was first class all women but the entire plane… in pink pussy hats.
Your family has very famous roots in storytelling. Did you ever feel a sense of pressure to go in that direction?
No pressure at all. There was never any pressure; we were raised in an environment where our creativity was nurtured–but not mandatory. I am very lucky because I am surrounded by such inspiring and creative women.

HS: Do you feel fashion relates to storytelling in any way?

Absolutely: it’s self-expression. It’s a way to communicate who you are in the world without ever having to speak a word. It’s someone’s first impression of you. You’re born into this world with your name, your gender, your family, your hair color and your eye color… The way you choose to dress and the friends you choose are the few things you get to decide on for yourself. It’s full creative self-expression.

 

HS: When did you first discover your love for fashion?

PD: I used to go visit my grandma–who owned an antique fabric and furniture store in Santa Fe–and she would teach me about the antique fabrics that she had in her shop. That’s where my love for textiles came from. She was a collector of antique French linens and 18th century farm plaids. I would sit and sew little hats with her–little berets out of these beautiful fabrics. That has been ingrained in me since I was a little girl. I took on her passion as my own. When I was in middle school, I would sew little circle skirts and they started to become a trend so I was very busy in elementary school. I would bring a little swatch book of fabrics so the girls at my school could choose how they wanted their skirts. Then I would go home and make the skirts. I made quite a killing. I was a little hustler.

HS: What are your plans for the future? Where do you want to see Faircloth & Supply go from here?

PD: I am spending a lot of time learning about the history of Mexican embroidery and incorporating it into Faircloth. Embroidery is something I’ve always loved and have been reintroduced to in Mexico City–which will open up new opportunities to expand community outreach amongst women in Mexico. I’m working with new artists to design amazing original embroidery pieces that I’m so excited about!

I’m also about to launch an affordable linen bedding line–which has always been a dream of mine. For the future, I’d like to be creatively inspired while simultaneously providing women and girls with the tools and self-confidence they need to not only survive but to thrive in today’s world.

HS: Do you have any advice for anyone who may be inspired by the work that you do? People who may want to contribute in their own way but perhaps are not sure where to start?

PD: Jump and don’t look back. That’s what I did… I quit my day job before I’d even thought it through. Of course it will be a struggle, but if you love what you do it will show through your work and will all be worth it. Your happiness is invaluable and your time irreversible.

Photographer: Easton Schirra

Art: Portis Wasp

Styling: Matthew Hensley

Makeup: Alexa N Hernandez

Hair: Eddie Cook

Shot at Studio 64 LA