After studying fashion design in San Francisco and London, Phoebe Dahl envisioned a line of sustainable linen casual wear, inspired by heritage textiles and utilitarian work wear. In 2013, she went beyond the boundaries of a traditional clothing brand by founding Faircloth + Supply, helping to forge a path towards women’s empowerment worldwide. In partnership with The B Project, each purchase from Faircloth + Supply provides girls with an education, through a multi-tierd approach providing uniforms, supplies, and training for the women who make the uniforms. We recently chatted with Phoebe to learn more about her social entrepreneurship that launched her dream job.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING 7-10 YEARS BEFORE FAIRCLOTH + SUPPLY?
PHOEBE DAHL: Oh, that was one of the best time of my life! I was living in San Francisco, studying at FIDM and living in the most beautiful white victorian duplex with all of my best friends on lower Haight-Ashbury. Girls on the top floor and boys on the bottom. It was an absolute dream and those friends are still the closet.
IS FAIRCLOTH + SUPPLY YOUR DREAM JOB?
PD: Absolutely! I’m so lucky that I got to turn my hobbies and my passions into my career. I’ve dreamed of this since I was a little girl. In fact, I was the only person in my high school graduating class who knew exactly what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go to college.
WHEN DID YOU HAVE YOUR “AH HA” MOMENT OF FAIRCLOTH + SUPPLY?
PD: Probably within the last year, when I moved into my dream office with an amazing team of people who believed in my project and vision as much as I did. I had a moment of immense gratitude and a real out of body experience.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS BUSINESS CONCEPT AND DID YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE IN IT PRIOR?
PD: I only had my education as experience, which looking back now, was in no way comparable to the experience you gain from real life practice. I have always wanted to be a designer. After going to FIDM in San Francisco and LCF in London, I moved to Amsterdam and assisted 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.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST KNOW THAT FEMALE EMPOWERMENT, ESPECIALLY IN REGARDS TO EDUCATION FOR WOMEN, WAS A CAUSE YOU WERE PASSIONATE ABOUT?
PD: I was having dinner with a friend who was working on documentary called Girl Rising, about educating girls on the gender inequality 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 and wanted to align with a small grassroots charity that I could be hands on and work with, rather than just throwing 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 – an instant synergy – and together we’ve sent upward of 5,000 girls to school, and counting.
HOW DID YOU FUND FAIRCLOTH + SUPPLY?
PD: I actually completely self-funded it. I started very grassroots; I made a sample collection, photographed it, built my own website, did all my photography, graphic design and branding and put everything online as made to order. Once I received an order, I would head to the fabric store, buy the fabric with the money I had just made and sew the piece for the customer. Then, I would send the piece to the customer 1-2 weeks later. I really put my heart and soul into every part of creating Faircloth & Supply. Just a few months after I launched, I was fortunate enough to have Vogue write a 2 page spread on my Faircloth – that really kickstarted my career.
NAME 3 OF THE SCARIEST MOMENTS YOU HAD WHEN DOING THIS?
PD: Going to my first meeting with Vogue at the Conde Nast building in New York – holy intimidating! Presenting my first brand deck to a large corporate company for a collaboration. And, doing a live podcast interview with the Huffington Post. I have done many of these since and it does get easier!
WHAT IS YOUR PIECE OF ADVICE TO ANYONE WHO WANTS TO STOP WHAT THEY’RE DOING AND CREATE THEIR “DREAM JOB”?
PD: Jump and don’t look back. That’s what I did – I quit my day job before I’d even thought it through! 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.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF COMBINING BUSINESS WITH ACTIVISM? AND, WHAT ARE THE REWARDS?
PD: The challenges and the rewards are both within your heart. It can be absolutely heartbreaking to see and experience the devastation that our brothers and sisters around the world go though, but when you realize that you can make a difference and provide infrastructure that can change generational cycles, that’s more rewarding that you could ever imagine.
I started traveling through different countries, identifying a need and connecting with the right people who share the same vision and values as myself. I wanted to find people who live in the countries we were donating to, someone with inside expertise and cultural and social knowledge. Finding 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 they worship. Someone who has suffered the pain and experienced loss and lived in a country in turmoil, but despite their hardships have risen up and raised their voices to make a change for themselves and their communities – this is how you find your collaborators of authenticity. Through truth, human and heart connection. When you get off the computer and into the world, this is how you find these local heroes living amongst us silently.
HOW CAN EACH OF US WORK TO EMPOWER WOMEN IN OUR DAILY LIVES?
PD: Encourage, educate, listen, champion, motivate and nurture. Anything is possible, even if you can’t see it!