We talk to the force of nature behind Green is the New Black festival, Stephanie Dickson, about living consciously and what we all need to wake up to
If you’re interested in sustainable fashion in Singapore, listening to inspiring personalities and learning to live a little more mindfully, chances are you’ve bumped into Stephanie Dickson around town. Or you’ve joined one of her talks at The Wedge Asia, or hit the brilliant Conscious Festival by Green is the New Black in Singapore or Hong Kong– which just happens to be her baby.
If you’ve been feeling the momentum behind ethical brands and businesses in Singapore, more of us taking responsibility for how we affect the environment through our fashion and food choices – and our relationship with plastic – this is the woman who’s helping it all come together. How do you become part of this bigger, meaningful change? Stephanie says it’s all about taking care of yourself first and taking little green steps…
Singapore is the place to make things happen – but what was your lightbulb moment that made you strike out on your own with The Wedge and GITNB?
I went to high school here, my family is here, and after living in Italy I landed my dream job in fashion events in Singapore. It’s where I built my foundation – but four years in, the glamour began to fade. I realised I was on autopilot, wasn’t living my life and felt something was missing. I began watching a lot of documentaries, and a few – especially those related to fashion and what the industry is doing to the planet – hit hard. To produce a single cotton T-shirt, for example, it takes 2,700 litres of water. It made me think: do I want to stay part of the problem? That’s how I started The Wedge – I wanted to bring together a conscious community, talking about real issues.
The more I got into researching and buying more ethically and sustainably, people became curious about the brands I was supporting and where to get them. I knew I was great at events and bringing people together, and I saw a thirst for knowledge, so that’s why I launched Green is the New Black.
Sticking to a purpose that’s at odds with your career takes guts…
Everyone has their awakening moment: it comes down to whether or not you choose to follow it. I’m not about getting preachy: I just practise what I believe in. I talk about ‘The Matrix moment’ all the time: I chose to take the ‘red pill’ because what’s happening to the environment is too big for me to go on ignoring. It’s easy to fall back into your old habits, but I didn’t want to do that. I quit. And I figured out who my real friends were quickly.
You have a lot of balls in the air: how do you stay sane?
When you’re young and new it’s really hard to get attention. When I was in fashion, I had all the right connections, then I had to start from scratch and it was tough. Rejection and constantly pushing yourself to get out there can eat you up inside.
I had massive overwhelm and burned out in my first year. I just worked slowly, putting into practice what I was learning from the speakers I’d researched and worked with. I’m still a work in progress and I’m proud of that. You can’t do everything at once. It started with getting solid mornings in place: meditation, doing a gratitude journal. I really worked on being kinder to myself.
Is that what living consciously means to you?
For me, conscious living is about understanding that our decisions not only affect ourselves but those around us and our environment. I think of conscious living as living wide awake. When you have those moments of awakening, choose consciously what you’re going to do about it. Don’t stay on autopilot, and don’t just do what you’re expected to.
On a deeper level, it always starts with us. How do we show up in the world? At GITNB we always start with the mind, and that’s what our talks and guest speakers are all about. We have to be strong first – we need to look after ourselves so we can give more to the world.
What do you think we really need to wake up to in Singapore?
In Singapore, single-use plastic is a huge issue. What drives me is the thought that one day my kids will say to me: “What were you thinking?”. It’s as simple as bringing a reusable bag every day, and bringing a container for takeaway. It’s a tiny step, but if everyone did it? Imagine the effect.
For those of us who love fashion and beautiful things, how do we reconcile this with the environmental impact of consumption?
I used to consume all the time and was one of those girls buying online every month. I still do buy beautiful things – I just cherish them more. Think about who made your clothes, and the story behind it. When you can fall in love with that story it makes your purchase more meaningful. For me, the most important thing when I want to buy anything is whether it was ethically produced. It may cost more, but that’s because somebody was paid fairly to produce it. I want to understand the deeper meaning behind what I buy, and I’ll save up to for something because I want to be proud of what I’m wearing.
You curate a very special group of brands for the Green is the New Black marketplace: who’s really resonating with you in Singapore?
My favourite brand is Matter – I wear it all the time. It’s an incredible brand because it made ethical fashion cool, and not in an atas, or posh or unattainable way – the people behind it are so passionate and just keep telling great stories. It’s a model brand. Touch the Toes does great eco yoga apparel and curates beautiful clothes from other labels. I love Twin Within – which is based in Singapore. [Ed: check out Steph’s necklace!] I find my favourite brands and wear them all the time. I’m okay with repeating!
Has Singapore come a long way since the last Conscious Festival by GITNB? What has given you the most hope? What do we still need to work on?
It has definitely been a year of more awakening globally – people are waking up to the extent of plastic pollution in so many parts of our lives. And that gives me a lot of hope. But there is still so much awareness and education to carry out, especially in this region. After the latest UN IPCC report coming up saying we are on track to hit climate catastrophe in 12 years, it certainly sends a shiver down my spine that we need to do more, faster and everyone needs to play a part. I am glad to see that more individuals and companies are putting sustainability as a priority moving forward, there are more events and conversations and people taking action. Because it really is our collective action that will move the needle, at all levels.
What do you want people to come away with after visiting The Conscious Festival?
Whether you come to our marketplace or listen to one of the talks, we want you to come away with something you can implement straight away. The most important thing about GITNB is helping people feel empowered to make a change – take their little green steps to live more consciously.