We began with the intention to inspire consciousness in our everyday, to cultivate a culture that encourages others to uncover where and why something is made. The Connected Clothing series spotlights on different individuals – why they wear what they wear and the significance behind their choices.
Janice Lee is a consultant and exclusive distributor of the adult toys brand VēDO for Asia. She’s lived on three continents — Asia, Europe and the Americas, and travelled to 44 countries. With the ability to speak and write the top three languages of the world — Chinese, English and Spanish, Janice worked as a language teacher, translator, hair model and food consultant. After attending a meditation retreat in France, she discovered the art of mindfulness from a Buddhist monk and peace activist and adopted a more sustainable lifestyle. Her intention in what she wears are rooted in two core values: to support local and buy second hand items whenever possible.
What is your intention behind what you wear and what you buy?
Essentially I haven’t bought much in the last 4 years. Before that, I was a corporate professional so I had a lot of things – clothes, bags, shoes. But I’ve been traveling a lot the last 4 years spending time in San Francisco, Mexico, London, and Romania and because I’m always on the move I tend not to buy as often. When I do, my intention is to support local whenever possible and to buy second hand items. I love buying vintage, I’m very old school in that sense. I used to buy vintage in Singapore. There’s a couple of options in City Hall, Funan Center, but a lot of them closed down because by the time vintage items reach Singapore they can be very expensive and no longer as affordable or accessible.
I used to buy leather too. I love leather and the handfeel of it but ever since I became a vegetarian after a mindfulness meditation retreat in France my buying choices have also shifted towards that. Of course, I’m not so black and white about these rules. Last year in Switzerland, I was attending a night at the opera and had to dress up so I bought leather flats but they were from a brand who donates part of the money to children in Vietnam. They also make sure the entire animal is being used and that there’s no unnecessary wastage. For me, because of the social cause and intentions behind it, it was a purchase I could stand by.
You were in the corporate world for 15 years, what changed and what brought you to where you are now?
I had alopecia in December 2013 and it was a very difficult time for me. I shaved my head, took a 6 month sabbatical from work, and I was situationally depressed. I left for the States and realized there was a different way of living so when I came back to Singapore, I went back to my old job and saved up for another trip. I left for Mexico, stayed on for 9 months and I immersed myself in the language and culture, then I spent some time in Guatemala and Belize. The entire time I was teaching English, Chinese, Spanish and doing translating work between the three as well. After that, I left for San Francisco to surround myself in an environment heavy with culture and art. I took a two week trip to Europe, then moved to London for a few months. Spent 2 weeks in France attending a meditation retreat and that was where I discovered the art of mindfulness from a Buddhist monk and peace activist. Then I moved to Romania and to cut a long story short, I came back to Singapore to be with my family. I’ve lived in 3 continents, been to 44 countries, but I’m tired of traveling. Home is where there’s balance. So now I’m back in Singapore and I sell sex toys. It’s all very random but I chanced upon the job at a Christmas party. I wasn’t looking but it all happened and worked out anyways.
Tell us more about your journey with sustainable fashion. How did it happen?
After learning more about mindfulness from the meditation retreat in France, I had a growing connection with the environment around me. I had no more cravings for meat or seafood, which is when I made the decision to become vegetarian and adopt sustainability into my other lifestyle choices. I try to use less plastic and recycle whenever possible. I’m in reality a flexitarian. I cook and prefer vegetarian options but whenever someone makes food with love “hecho con amor” (made with love), or it’s part of the culture, I will give due respect and enjoy the food. It’s not about being vegan or plant based—it’s all about “conscious living” including consumption of food and other tangibles. Don’t be excessive. Enough is enough. Contentment is key. As the Chinese phrase goes, 知足常乐.
When it came to fashion, I knew I had more than enough. I don’t need any more. When you’re based overseas, you try not to buy so much because you know you’ll have to bring it all back. But when I did buy, I’d try to buy sustainable as much as possible, from vintage or goodwill stores. The core philosophy doesn’t change: whenever possible, I support local and buy second hand. If I want to buy something, I’m not going to deprive myself, but I will be more mindful about it. There’s so much out there already.
What is your personal style and how has that definition evolved over time?
In my 20s, I was very typical; I had long hair, followed brands, and really invested in shoes and bags. After I had alopecia, I started downsizing and became a minimalist. This was when my style evolved. In the last 4 years especially, I pay more attention to the provenance of the clothing and nature is also a large influence in the way I buy. I love playing with colours too and now it’s become a signature part of my style where I play with colours on my eyes.
Tell me more about your closet.
A lot of my clothes are from my corporate days, where I only wore dresses. Now I wear a lot of colours and there’s more of a variety. I have key pieces I really like from my time in Mexico and Guatemala, and they’re practical as well. If I didn’t care about wastage or sustainability, I would love to have more long dresses added in there.
The perception of second hand clothing in Singapore is that there aren’t a lot of options available. What do you think of that?
Honestly, there are always alternatives. There’s Salvation Army, and you can also swap things with friends. In general, if I need to buy anything – even a coffee pot – I’ll go to Salvation Army to take a look first. Swapping events are also a great idea. For me it’s all about being conscious and aware of what’s going on, and doing something about it. If you’re aware of something but not doing anything, it doesn’t lead to anything productive or helpful. The action is where the impact begins. Sustainability has to be accessible, not just sustainable. It has to cater to everyone and it has to be inclusive too.
If your house is on fire, what are the five pieces you would save – even if it meant running back into a burning house?
I would want to save this lovely embroidered dress I got from Mexico, a shawl two of my good friends gave to me when I had alopecia, pieces from my time in Guatemala, for practicality sake – a rain jacket, and a vintage cocktail dress.
Janice Lee left a corporate human resources job for a new way of living when she was struck with Alopecia, an auto-immune disorder. Since 2014, she has recovered and lived on three continents — Asia, Europe and the Americas, and since travelled to 44 countries. With the ability to speak and write the top three languages of the world — Chinese, English and Spanish, Janice worked as a language teacher, translator, hair model and food consultant. In December 2017, she returned home and three days later chanced upon her current role as a consultant and exclusive distributor of the adult toys brand “VēDO” for Asia. The brand’s philosophy of inclusivity, self-care and self-love complements Janice’s approach to life of playing, exploring, sharing, being mindful and knowing our own bodies better. Find her on IG here, and visit her website to learn more about her.