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“We call ourselves responsible because we try and do the right thing,” Spencer Phipps tells LN-CC from his home in Paris. “Fashion is such a polluting and problematic industry, the only thing we can do is be as responsible as we can, to try and clean up after ourselves, and to help shine a light on a better way of life,” he adds.
Since its inception in 2018, PHIPPS has been founded on the principles of respect and curiosity for the natural world. In collections titled Like a Rock (spring/summer 20), Treehugger: Tales of the Forest (autumn/winter 20) and Spirit of Freedom (spring/summer 21), the goal has always been broader than better products. Behind-the-seams, there’s a desire to educate, to enhance lives, to cultivate communities. Spencer’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious.
While isolated at first, the industry is beginning to wake up and push for positive change. COVID-19 has laid bare existing weaknesses and systemic failures within the fashion industry, while giving it a rare moment to reflect and reset. “It’s been nice that everyone else has been having these conversations and for us, it’s reaffirmed how we’ve long felt and encouraged us to push harder,” he adds before smiling. “Aside from being responsible for taste, there’s a responsibility for every minute action taken,” he notes. From what you’re making to how you’re making it, selling it, communicating it and disposing of it, each and every facet of the process should be under a microscope. Instead of watching a return to age-old inefficiencies in the fashion design, manufacturing and supply chain, we can build a better fashion system from the foundations up. One of the architects should be Spencer.
While the industry-at-large is in reflective mode, the San Francisco-born designer – who did seven and three-year stints at Dries Van Noten and Marc Jacobs respectively before launching his own label – continues to be attuned to the wider world, continually conscious, forever pushing. Growing up in the Bay area, immersed in nature and raised by his ex-hippie, foodie mum and architect dad, he believes that he was always going to be an eco-warrior. “I learned where things came from and how that can be a story in itself,” he tells us. When he left home to study at The School of Fashion at Parsons in NYC, he bought organic groceries because that was just how he’d always experienced them. “It wasn’t the norm but since then, we’ve seen the Whole Foods-effect on society, where this isn’t so freaky,” he says. “We haven’t seen that in fashion, until now.” It’s time for the PHIPPS-effect.
“I’ve always been powered by this idea of trying to better myself,” he says simply. To do so within fashion, one of Spencer’s inspirations has been Patagonia. After reading books by climber, environmentalist and co-founder of the technical outdoor-apparel company, Yvon Chouinard (Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport, The Responsible Company) Spencer wondered why couldn’t this culture be applied to a fashion company? “Patagionia’s purpose and sheer level of humanity was just so refreshing and so obviously missing from the fashion industry,” he adds. “Of course mistakes will be made, but it’s how you react to them and grow from them that truly matters,” he notes.
Over the last two years, Spencer and his team have been deeply involved in new developments in sustainable textiles as well as questioning and refining every other facet of its business practices. “We’re trying to make the most environmentally responsible products we can, so everything we make is vetted and checked,” he explains. From organic cotton to naturally dyed and locally woven wools, ECONYL© regenerated nylon from sea plastics to upcycled and market sourced textiles and garments, PHIPPS works with a wide variety of responsible textiles, and is continually pushing themselves further with each new collection.
“Ultimately, there’s a lot of work to be done and some brands are trying more than others but I am hopeful that we can change as individuals, as an industry, and as a culture as a whole.” To help inspire this, PHIPPS is reconnecting consumers to nature, making responsibility a desirable luxury and building a community around this idea - people will, in turn, find themselves working together to build a better future. This desire goes beyond PHIPPS.
Every action Spencer takes is powered by a notion of self-improvement. Put simply, a desire to be better! During the early lockdown for the pandemic, Spencer sparked curiosity and awe after uploading his workouts-at-home on his recently built climbing wall to Instagram. “When life gets busy, you get preoccupied with shit and like most good sport pursuits in any city, they aren’t located next door,” Spencer explains, “and I didn’t have time to disappear for three hours to climb, so I converted my house into a gym.” From home to gym to studio, Spencer’s commute is a ten minute walk and he can workout as much as he wants, which is handy because he’s training for the French edition of Ninja Warrior, the next level obstacle course that originated in Japan and took over the world. At the end of September, he’ll be tackling Mega Wall (a 5.5m wall), The Heroes' Tower (a 23m high rope to climb in less than 40 seconds) and so much more, so training is a little more regimented than usual. “I’ve always trained for fun but now I’m following a schedule and tracking performance,” he says. “It’s unusual for me to even want to attempt to quantify my athleticism because it’s just fun! It takes me back to being a little kid and trying something new.”