NEW YORK — Standing around Samsung’s tech-filled event space in Manhattan in striped knit dresses and jumpsuits, miniskirts with wavy designs and leggings that went over their heels, PH5’s models looked like disco-mod glam bots sent from the future.
It was impossible to tell just by looking, but among the models at the presentation Thursday were several nonprofessionals, including two alumnae of the Girls Who Code program, which aims to close the gender gap in technology through education.
“This is my New York Fashion Week debut,” said Adriana Chavez, a home-schooled high school junior who wore a gray sweater with a sleeve that landed past her knees.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Danielle Mullan, a senior at Hunter College High School, said as she tried to take in the scene backstage before the show in a bright red asymmetrical dress. “I’m a little nervous.”
Mijia Zhang, the creative director of PH5, and Wei Lin, the company’s founder, have been working with Girls Who Code to design a sweater with a special code on it. “As a brand, we have some influence, and we really want to bring a good influence to people,” Zhang said.
Most of the clothing PH5 produces is made with a computer: Zhang works with programmers to code various stitches based on her vision, and a machine creates the pieces from there. “With knitwear you have to constantly program,” she said. “I think that’s something people aren’t aware of. You can be into computers and work in the fashion industry.”
Zhang, a Parsons graduate from Qingdao, China, who won the Kering Empowering Imagination award in 2014 and worked at Christopher Kane and Nike, did not know how to code when she began working with Lin, her onetime roommate. “I understand more of the language now,” she said. “I learned how they make the different stitches. I know what the code names are.”
Lin’s mother runs the factory in Dongguan, China, where all of PH5’s clothing is produced. (“My mom worked her way up from being a factory worker to running a factory,” she said.) As it happens, Zhang was the first designer to work directly with the factory, “The engineers had never seen a designer before,” Lin said.
As someone who had grown up with the factory as a central aspect of her life, Lin, who had worked in consulting, decided in 2014 that she could give it a new identity. “I could utilize the factory’s full capacity and give it a shot at becoming a fashion house,” she said. She recruited Zhang to design, signed herself up for the business end and PH5 was born.
“There is more and more fashion coming out of Asia,” Lin said. “It’s going from ‘Made in Asia’ to ‘Designed by Asians.’ We’re just part of this movement.”
At the PH5 presentation, Reshma Saujani, founder and chief executive of the Girls Who Code program, was there to support its alumnae. “One of the things we tell our girls is we have to change the image of what a coder looks like and the industries where coders are most prominent,” Saujani said. “When you think of coding, you don’t necessarily think of knitwear.”
As a society, Saujani said, “we’ve told our girls that they’re not multidimensional. They’re either nerds or not nerds. We’ve taught our girls to hate math and science even if they love it.” She listed examples, like a girls’ T-shirt produced by Forever 21 with “Allergic to Algebra” printed on it and an “I’m Too Pretty to Do Homework” T-shirt that J.C. Penney targeted at girls.
“You can be supersmart and have your hair done to the nines,” Saujani said. “We have to stop putting girls into boxes and see them for who they are.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Source: Pulse. Ng