Fashion Director, Mum and
Grace Lam has spent over 22 years in the fashion industry with a career that saw her launch VOGUE China. Today she works hard to advocate for sustainable causes and leads what she describes as a more meaningful life, one that is not always associated with high fashion but one that gives back to the community and environment whilst inspiring others to do the same. We caught up with her to chat about what sustainability means to her and how she implements this in her everyday life with her family and son Theo.
Tell us a bit about what you do and your background in the fashion industry.
I was studying a Graphic Design degree at Central Saint Martins in London where I met the Founder/Creative Director Terry Jones from the iconic i-D magazine. Terry thought I had potential in being a fashion stylist so I started interning at i-D. Soon after, I met their fashion director at large Edward Enninful (now the Editor-In-Chief at British VOGUE) and I became his fashion assistant for a few years. We worked with elite fashion talents including Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Mario Testino, Steven Klein, Paolo Rovers and Pat McGrath - it was an eye opening experience for me. After that VOGUE China approached me to help launch the magazine so I moved from London and split my time between Shanghai and Hong Kong. I was their Senior Fashion Style Editor for almost a decade but after I had my son Theo I wanted to freelance so I could spend more time with him. It is still the best decision I ever made. For me, family comes first before fashion.
How has your career in fashion informed your sustainability goals in your everyday life?
I have been working in the international fashion industry for over 22 years so I have seen a lot throughout my career. Nowadays people are more eco fashion conscious which is great as we simply cannot ignore the fact that the fashion industry is contributing towards so much waste every year. I personally have made significant changes to the way I consume fashion. I stopped shopping and buying new clothes around eight months ago. I'm training my brain to reject beautiful desirable things and instead remind myself that I have enough and I don’t need new items. When I think about all the rubbish that ends up in Hong Kong's landfills, it really puts things into perspective for me. I have also stopped hosting VIP shopping and styling events with fashion brands as I feel bad telling people to buy things they really don't need. We all have to start somewhere so I suggest starting small but start now. In the last couple of years I’ve also started exchanging kids toys with friends and ask for hand me downs from my relatives. The perception is often the worry that others might think differently of you when you purchase and wear second hand clothing but to me it’s about helping to create less waste and caring less about what people think. Saving face is not more important than saving the planet in my opinion.
At home we’ve also stopped using cling film, paper kitchen towels and plastic bags when grocery shopping. My family and I always bring our own water bottles to avoid buying bottles of water when we go out. I would rather not drink than buy a plastic bottle of water. I am always telling family, friends and even strangers to stop using plastic bags, straws and plastic umbrella covers. Sometimes I get weird looks from strangers but I don't care as they now know it’s a bad habit. I have been using menstrual cups for almost 2 years now and I love it! I am trying to tell my girlfriends and relatives to try them out but it’s an education process.
How do you inspire Theo to think in a more eco-conscious way?
My husband Jason and I are always explaining to him why we don't use plastic bags and why it’s important that we recycle. We bring him to recycling bins and show him how to separate things into different categories. We bring him to Po Leung Kuk orphanage to donate his old toys. Sometimes we go to the public library to borrow books instead of buying new ones. Theo loves watching Netflix documentaries about the ocean so we explain to him what happens if we pollute the ocean and how it would affect the sea animals and humans. For his birthday parties, we always remind parents not to gift wrap presents and we use recycle-able cutlery and homeware.
What do you think the future of fashion looks like in regard to sustainability? In Hong Kong and China as well as on an international level.
Unfortunately, more often than not, people put money first before our planet. In particular within the fashion industry, I think a big change that needs to happen is to stop producing so many collections per year - we simply do not need such a big turnaround of product. Bigger brands should look into using more sustainable ways of producing clothes and do better due diligence with factories, ensuring they are adopting more eco-friendly methods for production. People are doing more than ever before but it's still not enough. If the fashion industry stopped producing clothes for the next 20 years I'm sure we still have more than enough to last a lifetime. It's a scary thought actually.
I’ve always been passionate about giving back and helping underprivileged communities. Two years ago I started my passion project 'GRACE LAM STYLE', a YouTube show where in the first episode I revamped the image of a teenage mum and taught her how to recycle, reuse and renew her image. This exercise helped her rebuild her self confidence. After a few sessions, her social worker told me she has changed her life around in a very positive way. To me, making a small difference to those in need is much more rewarding than attending any fashion week. I want to use my 22 years of fashion knowledge to help more people in the future. I have also taken on some pro bono work recently and I cannot wait to see the end result. Feeling good about yourself is the key to happiness.
What are some of your favourite brands with an eco-conscious mindset?
Earlier this year, my son and I got really sick and we were both admitted to hospital. During that time, I had the opportunity to reflect on my family life and my career. This paired with the current climate in Hong Kong, I decided to change my career path. I did a full Instagram detox, deleting over 1000 Instagram accounts I was following. Now I only follow a few friends and narrow it down to pages that are inspiring and helpful to this world. It feels wicked as I don't spend time scrolling through reams of pages that don’t inspire me - I have more time to think now.
I want to start doing more projects that have a sustainable focus. I am in my mid 40s so I’ve already passed the stage of wanting the latest bags or shoes, being seen at the latest parties and going to fashion week as I have no interest in these kinds of trivial things anymore. I just want to help people in general. I think Hong Kong needs a little more love at the moment.
Here are some of the fantastic pages I follow that have a great message - click on the images to see more!