Fashion Conscious

Image courtesy of Faircloth & Supply © Photographer Monica Badder

At 28 Phoebe Dahl is young to be the head of an important humanitarian organisation. What’s more, the model, fashion designer and granddaughter of children’s author Roald Dahl and cousin to British model and chef Sophie Dahl, is an influential spokesperson on women’s rights. Perhaps making use of her position as a noteworthy name, Dahl feels strongly about making a difference and has combined her status and talents as a fashion designer, to create a fashion brand that provides vital support to families living in rural communities in Nepal. Dahl launched Faircloth & Supply in 2013 in Los Angeles. With its simple aesthetic and unisex style, this is fashion for fashionable and conscious minds.

Inspired by a trip to India where she witnessed firsthand social injustices, including poor access to education and the high risk of human trafficking experienced by women, today Faircloth & Supply works towards what Dahl terms as “empowerment”; believing her clothes to have the capacity to free communities from poverty, once and for all. For each item sold Faircloth & Supply pledges to donate two school uniforms, school supplies and a one year scholarship to a girl in Nepal, working in partnership with non-profit organisation General Welfare Pratisthan.

I meet Phoebe Dahl to learn more about Faircloth & Supply and her path into ethical fashion.

Image courtesy of Faircloth & Supply © Photographer Emily Hope

You set up Faircloth & Supply in 2013, can you tell us a bit more about your early studies in fashion?

I went to college in San Francisco. I’ve been designing and sewing since I was about ten years old. 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 and 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 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. I later went to college [the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising] in San Francisco. When I was applying to colleges, none of my classmates had any idea of what they wanted to do but I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and so I just went for it.

Your work across India and Nepal enables girls to attend school. Can you tell us a bit more about how Faircloth & Supply is instrumental in developing economic rights amongst women in these areas?

For every piece of clothing sold we donate all the necessary supplies for a girl to attain an education, including school scholarship, school supplies and a school uniform. Educating girls decreases the risk of sex trafficking, early marriage and early pregnancy. A girl with an education can earn 20% more as an adult narrowing the pay gap between men and women. Educated mothers are twice as likely to send their daughters to school, creating a cycle that transcends generations and an infrastructure for lasting change.

How did you find the organisation that you work with in Nepal?

I travelled to India in 2012, it was my first time to a developing country and I had this sense of feeling at home. I wanted to know everything about its culture and people. I saw gender inequality first hand and when I returned I researched like crazy. I looked into gender oppression and gender inequality and everything I was finding all led back to education. After researching organisations, I realised that I wanted to work with a small grass roots company where I could really become involved from the ground up and where we could work together and collaborate, instead of me giving a monthly donation, throwing money at the problem. I wanted to find someone who lived in the country we were donating to, someone with inside expertise and cultural and social knowledge. Finding someone who has lived through the heartbreak, the cultural inequality, someone who knows the true meaning of freedom and love only because they’ve suffered imprisonment and racism and hatred towards someone of their gender, the colour of their skin or the god they worship. I ended up travelling in Nepal where I found that person; [I] picked up the phone, immediately booked a flight out to visit him and immersed myself in his culture for three weeks, learning everything I could from him and experiencing his would through his eyes. I was on the ground with him meeting girls who had suffered from horrific domestic abuse, women who had been captured as sex slaves and escaped, and girls who had been sold as brides at the age of 12 – looking in to the eyes of these little warriors, to see so much pain overcome with so much strength. The love they are starved of when the reach for your hand, just to hold for a moment – to feel a moment of love and human connection without any expectation from them. This is where your authenticity comes in; this is how you find the strength within to become a leader and a voice for the billions of girls not as fortunate as yourself.

Images courtesy of Faircloth & Supply © Photographer Emily Hope

The focus of your work is women. Is this a fully female organisation that is run by women for women?

It is 100% run by women for women.

The style of the clothes you sell is very simple and made of linen. What is the inspiration behind the designs and who is your principal designer?

I am the designer; I design practical and simplistic pieces, for the people. I want to create clothing that is functional, affordable and sustainable. Elegant and timeless pieces that encourage women to be comfortable and confident.

Everything I design is a reflection of my personal style: everything I make I would, and do, wear. I’m a firm believer of: “If I’m not going to wear it, why would anyone else?” I only work with natural fibres, so predominantly linen, cotton and silk. My aesthetic is to be chic, while simultaneously comfortable. I design for a woman who travels a lot, she is cultured and curious. If she has to run away for a weekend, she can throw any and all of her Faircloth pieces in her carry-on luggage and look effortlessly chic. It’s important to me that women who wear my clothing feel sexy and powerful without having to show too much skin. If you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing it really shows and I want that to shine through, it all comes from within. It feels like there is a lot more confidence floating around among women these days. You hardly see women in skin tight clothing any more, everyone seems to have adopted an effortlessly chic style. We saw this happen in the second wave of feminism in the 60s, with style icons like Bridget Bardot and Jane Birkin.

Can you tell us a bit more about the process of creating the clothes? From studio to warehouse to wear?

First, I sketch all my design out; narrowing that down is the most difficult part. We then go into sampling and pre-production. I source my fabric from different deadstock warehouses around downtown LA and make the pieces come to life. Once everything is perfect we go into production with our factory. I love having everything in LA as I get to be a part of the process from start to finish.

Image courtesy of Faircloth & Supply © Photographer Martina Tolot

You are the granddaughter of Roald Dahl. Growing up, has this influenced you? Do you feel that you have the power to be more influential than others?

I grew up in a household where magic was real and this carries through to my adult life. I feel as if I have been given a platform: it’s up to me how I use it and damn straight am I going to use it – for good and to spread awareness and inspire people.

What did your family teach you about philanthropy and women’s rights?

When I was growing up my mother would volunteer as a chef at the summer camp for people with disabilities. She would bring my sister and me there every morning as young kids. Being able to acclimate to this environment as a kid and being raised in an environment where everyone in all shapes and sizes is accepted and treated equally really morphed me into who I am today. It has influenced my capacity for compassion for all of humankind.

Greatest inspiration and why?

The girls I meet along the way. Their strength and perseverance is beyond an inspiration. They don’t have a voice in their society so I’ve taken it as my duty to be the global voice for them. When I’m there, I’m an absolute sponge, taking in every story to be able to bring it back and retell. Our girls are always so excited to get their uniforms, which is such a contrast to school kids in the US! The girls rip off their clothes and put on their uniform. For them it represents so much: a future and the opportunity to move away from the gender oppression that they face. One of the girls told me that she wears her uniform even on days she’s not at school because it acts as a body guard against traffickers. Traffickers don’t approach girls that are wearing uniforms because they know that they are educated against them, and won’t be easily coaxed to go away with them. It holds a lot for these girls.

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