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. Connected Clothing is a series of sustainable fashion interviews spotlighting different individuals – why they wear what they wear and the significance behind their choices.
Though she spends her time as a TV personality, radio host and sustainability advocate, Charlotte Mei is a nutritionist first and foremost. Her journey as a nutritionist started with writing down all the questions she had about food in her everyday, brought her to the UK for university, and then on Eat List Star and Crave as a TV personality in Singapore. It all began with a question, and that same spirit of curiosity akin with her sustainable upbringing inspires her relationship with her clothes. From the delicate notion of storing her mom’s vintage jewelry in separate bags, to the conscious habit of picking up trash in public spaces–the value of taking care of things and taking care of them well is an instinctive credo.
Read on to view our sustainable fashion interview with Charlotte:
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Radio host, TV personality, and nutritionist. How do the dots connect?
I started out as a nutritionist, it was what I studied in university. When I was deciding what to study I remember thinking I don’t want to fight for the same piece of pie that everyone is going for. My best subject was math but it didn’t make sense for me to let that be the deciding factor, I wanted it to be based on my passion. At the same time, I didn’t know what I was truly passionate about so I wrote down all the questions I had within a day and I realised a lot of thoughts I had were about food and health. I was constantly thinking if I eat this, what happens to my body? Is this good for me? Bad for me? Why? I realised I was geeking out a lot about health and biology, and I guess when you’re 17-18 it’s always on your mind. For me, at that time, it was as much about body image as it was about health. I was raised in a home where my mom would tell me “eat more whole-meal bread instead of white bread”, but it didn’t make any sense to me and I always had questions. So I read up on my own and found out I could study about food. I knew I didn’t want to be a chef, so I went into nutrition.
When I came back to Singapore after studying in the UK, I started working with a nutrition firm and did a lot of public health talks. Which is really funny to think about now because growing up as a kid I was really shy. I didn’t use much of my voice, and I’d be scared to even pick up the phone. But when I had to do these talks, I never got nervous because I was talking about something I was passionate about. I was flipping through the newspaper at work one day, and I saw a call for Eat List Star, a competition calling for the next Jamie Oliver, chef slash presenter. It was open to professional and amateur chefs so I figured I’d give it a shot. To my surprise and shock, I was picked to join the show and ended up second place.
That opportunity really opened up many doors for me. After that, I had my own TV show, Crave, where I went around Singapore to taste different types of food and at the end I would cook my own healthy version of the meal. Then I helmed my own food podcast on the radio. These were all things I never pursued or was trained in even, but I learned so much through the opportunities and the beautiful people around me really helped me out.
I’ve always dreamt of having my own cooking show. When I was young, I used to pretend I had my own show and always cooked the same thing: spaghetti bolognese. I would narrate as if I had an audience in front of me. My mom cancelled cable so I grew up watching the travel and living channel; I watched Samantha Brown, Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, and that was where I got all my inspiration from. It all started from not having cable tv. Who knew. In August 2018, I started my very own cooking show. It was a long time coming. Someone asked what was stopping me from filming and I told him it was my kitchen. So I decided to put down an investment to do a cosmetic upgrade, because if that was the only thing stopping me from doing the show then I had to do it. Now I feel so proud of my home and my kitchen, it’s my set, work place, and dining room all in one.
You mentioned that you were raised with the values of sustainability, can you share more about that?
I attribute that all to my dad. I don’t know where it came from for him, maybe it’s because he grew up in Europe and they’re a bit more conscious about these things but since I was a kid, my dad would ask for everything to be put in one bag whenever we went shopping. He always had a handkerchief in hand, and encouraged me to bring my own as well. Which I used to think was very lame but now I do it too. We use napkins at home, which I guess it’s very European because when I tell my friends here they feel like it’s gross. But you wash it! I really want to challenge the mindset behind that. I feel like the way we use tissue paper is so wasteful.
I pick all these things up from my dad. Whenever we went out in public and there was trash, he would tell me to pick it up and put it in the bin because he wanted me to understand that this is a shared space and so we can all contribute and take care of it. Growing up, I quickly realised the importance of being aware of the space I take up, the impact I have, and the things I leave behind. Now it’s normal for me to pick up trash that I see on the sidewalk and throw it away. Oh! Another thing, whenever we had papaya for breakfast he’d cut some calamansi and squeeze the remaining lime over his face. All in the name of natural exfoliators. He’d also cut tea bags after he was done with them and put them in the soil. For me, sustainability is so instinctive and it really goes to show that a lot of your beliefs and values come from your upbringing.
You’re an advocate for sustainability in all its facets. You encourage vegetable-based meals, live a low-impact lifestyle at home, and support sustainable shopping. A lot of this sounds more intimidating than it really is, what advice do you have to encourage people to start?
From a nutritional and sustainability point of view, eating more vegetables is just beneficial as a whole and in Singapore especially when we talk about local food, I don’t think we are eating enough vegetables. I encourage people to add more vegetables to their diet because it’s good for your health, but also lessens the impact on the Earth. I want to encourage people to not just develop healthy relationships with food but develop a relationship with food in general. 70% of people eat out daily and when you’re eating out, you don’t really care so much about what goes into it, how it’s cooked, or where the ingredients are from. I think a lot of people can eat blindly, and see food as a means to feel full, but food should be a source of nutrients. Half of your plate should be filled with vegetables, ¼ with carbohydrates and the remaining ¼ with protein. We can afford to have more vegetables! So my tip for an easy step into sustainable eating is to include veg in every meal you have.
When it comes to sustainable shopping–ask questions. Ask where your clothes came from, who made them, and what material they are made out of. I read up quite a lot on fabrics last year because I wanted to know once and for all. There were so many conflicting messages out there. One thing I avoid now is purchasing polyester clothing because I realised how detrimental it is to the environment. So I try to avoid polyester materials, and shop from smaller brands, specifically brands that know who made their clothings.
I know it feels especially hard with fashion because there’s ads everywhere, so I curate what I see on social media. I choose to follow brands that actually care, follow their stories, and support them. And now I can walk past brands like Zara and H&M and actually feel zero temptation to look in. Sustainability is one thing but ethics is another. Yes, the clothing might be made from a sustainable material but do you really care about who made it and the condition that they made it in? That’s why I care more about the ethical aspects of a brand and their process more than sustainability.
What is your intention behind what you wear and what you buy?
Comfort. 100%. It’s something I got from my mom because whenever I dressed myself up, I always asked her is this nice, is this pretty, and she would always say as long as you’re comfortable. At the end of the day, you don’t look good if you don’t feel good, and feeling good comes from comfort so that’s number 1 for me.
What is your personal style and how has that definition evolved over time?
I guess I have two styles. One is the spunky, colourful, and daring kind of style where I would dress based on how I feel and that has more colours. I also have the other side that’s a bit more clean, monochromatic, simple, and chic and again that side of me is not trendy at all. It’s just a rotation of my evergreen staples. My style is really dependent on my mood so I go back and forth between the two.
What is the relationship you have with your clothes?
We’re tight but I’ve learned to be able to let go and not be so sentimental with my clothing. I think when I was young, I’d hold onto pieces for the memories but I really learned to let go and pass them on to people that can benefit from them or love them more.
What item of clothing makes you feel most like yourself?
Jeans. I remember when I was in secondary school, one of my friends would say “Charlotte, you’re always in jeans.” I just love how comfy they are and how you can do anything you want. And they last for years!
Tell me more about your closet.
I custom built it to save space and there’s a lot of old pieces in here that have lasted me for years. If it still fits well, looks good, and the material’s still good, why not right? I use all my things for a really long time. A comment my mom made is that I’m the only one of my 3 siblings that uses things until they break apart. But that is why my mom hands me all her bags and her scarves cause she knows I’ll take good care of them.
I’ve got a lot of scarves. My mom passes me all of her scarves, and I’m a sucker for them cause I get cold all the time. I have this scarf from when I was a kid, whenever I fell sick my mom would wrap it around my neck because she said this is the place I needed to keep warm. I’ve kept it ever since, and even brought it to university. It’s tattered through the age of time, and just humidity in general. It’s so old that it’s literally ripping apart, but it’s so beautiful–it’s the picture of an angel– and I don’t know what to do with it!
Source Collection t-shirts are so soft and it’s the best thing, it’s like heaven. I can’t say enough about them. I love supporting local brands. Oh and I love long dresses. You know how you asked what item of clothing makes me feel most like myself? I know I said jeans but another one is a maxi dress with pockets. One of my favourites is from Maisha Concept, which is another one of my favourite brands.
If your house is on fire, what are the five pieces you would save – even if it meant running back into a burning house?
The scarf that I’ve had since I was a kid, and this other scarf I have from my mom. It’s hard to answer because I don’t have much of an attachment to my clothes! If anything I would say jewelry, my mom gave me some of her vintage jewelry and I really treasure them. There’s even a photo of my mom wearing it. Oh and I would also save a box of photos I have, also from my mom.