Feature photo courtesy @i_am_chen_official

Tech-infused knitwear brands on the rise 


The future is knitwear. Or, rather, the future is knitwear infused with technology to create innovative designs. From brands that focus on sustainability to those that focus on tech to those that focus on both, it is no surprise that the future of knitwear has drastically shifted in the past few years. These days, knitwear seems to have become a separate category all on its own; adding depth and variety to the ecosystem are Asian and Asian American designers who utilize technology to further advance their designs. Shifting from the traditional handcrafted look, many brands with factory bases in China have begun to utilize technology in their creation process. Whether these advancements are focused on the creation of materials or on the weaving process, it is clear that high-tech machines have quickly modernized the knitwear we used to know.

From futuristic knit dresses to chunky grandma sweaters, here’s a look at four brands pioneering the redefinition of knitwear.

1. PH5

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Rather than a regurgitation of the typical oversized knit sweater, PH5’s creations are sleek, light, and bold. Not only are most of their designs machine washable, but they have also incorporated light and sheer yarn to create complexity in their pieces. Based on the numeric pH scale on which 7 is neutral and unisex, PH5 leans towards edginess with a hint of femininity in their creations. From ombre color-blocked dresses to bold, oversized, wavy blazers, the label creates sophisticated pieces that live up to the scientific name of the brand. Founder Wei Lin and designer Mijia Zhang established the brand in 2014 with the intention of creating innovative but functional knitwear - something they have certainly accomplished by using fully automatic Shima Seiki knitting machines to actualize their designs. Sheer pleated tops and machine washable knit blazers show how diverse PH5’s designs can be, truly embodying their mission of rethinking knitwear. By working with programmers and engineers who can code different stitches of silhouettes for knitwear, PH5 is a pioneer in the transformation of what knitwear can become: high tech and futuristic.

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2. Yan Yan Knits

Founded by childhood friends Phyllis Chan and Suzie Chang, Yan Yan Knits has won over the hearts of many through colorful and whimsical designs inspired by the nostalgic silhouettes of Hong Kong’s history. With pieces inspired by cheongsams and kung fu uniforms, Yan Yan incorporates their upbringing in Hong Kong to explore their heritage in a modern way. The products are also a reflection of what their grandmothers taught them-- to embrace their own individuality and to wear what makes them happy, something each piece reflects in its playfulness. Whether it is floral embroidery, children’s illustrations, or bold colorblocks, each little detail add a playful touch to their pieces. Not only are the final products unique, but inviting as well. As if inviting a viewer into a story, each piece has its own character and charm that relates to everyone in a different way. Yan Yan translates to “ren ren,” meaning everyone in Cantonese, and with its name the label emphasizes the connection between people in their creation process. It is both an expression of friendship and the essence of Hong Kong’s fast pace of living. But they also counter this pace by emphasizing a slow fashion business model and partnering with a factory in China to use leftover yarns to save them from going to the landfill. By creating small batch capsule collections or made-to-order pieces, Yan Yan implements thoughtful creation practices to minimize waste. 

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3. I-am-chen

While Chen Zhi always loved art and design as a child, she also loved technology. After dropping out of university as an engineering student to pursue fashion, she finished her bachelor’s in Fashion Design at Donghua University before transitioning to Parsons and then the London College of Fashion, finally graduating with distinctions in 2017. Soon after graduating, she established i-am-chen. With her background, Chen considers herself more a technician than a designer, as she loves factories and the precision that machines allow. True to that form, Chen seeks to use advanced machines and unconventional yarns to deliver pieces that are bold, colorful, and playful but relaxed. One look at her collections shows that she seeks to preserve the childlike curiosity and innovation that so inspire her, as bold colors join together to create vividly bright pieces. Chen is never afraid to focus on color and shape, creating many colorblocked pieces while utilizing grids, stripes, or pockets to further enhance the silhouette of each piece. It is no surprise that contemporary art provides profound inspiration for her designs, and her inspirations have included works by Kourtney Roy, David Hockney, and Alexander Calder. 

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4. Ply-Knits

Ply-Knits by Carolyn Yim is another brand that brings together sustainability, technology, and knitwear. Drawn to the emotional impact of images, Yim places a large emphasis on feelings and visual structure as inspiration for her designs. One look at Ply-Knit’s website will easily reflect the importance of film and imagery in its creative direction. With simple pieces like a long-sleeved striped polo or a printed cardigan, it’s clear these knits are made to last. Inspired by women in literature, art, and cinema, Yim seeks to create pieces that are timeless with an emphasis on the process of living rather than a quick buy. In addition to this, sustainability is a key component of the brand, with Yim sourcing deadstock or vintage yarns and using water-conserving knitting techniques to create her pieces. Made in Dongguan, China, Yim too uses Shima Seiki machines to create elegant and high quality pieces that are direct to consumer. By mixing modern digital knitting techniques with inspiration from vintage knitwear, Yim weaves together old and new in her sustainable and timeless designs.  

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