Rebekah Yeoh is a woman on a mission. With an already expansive portfolio of work responsibilities (finance manager at YTL corporation, founder of Nimble Fingers Cambodia — just to name a few), there’s no slowing her down in her urgency and compelling passion to tackle societal issues, from promoting education for underprivileged children, to championing a more sustainable approach to fashion retail.
We caught up with Yeoh to talk about her latest social enterprise Recyclothes, the importance of a sustainable lifestyle, and what she does in her free time.
Lifestyle Asia (LSA): We’ve got to know — how do you juggle everything?
Rebekah Yeoh (RY): The answer to this is a simple fact that often gets overlooked – having stable friendships around me. I have an extremely supportive and loving family, I am in a solid relationship, and my friends are good people. I find that unnecessary drama often causes emotional and psychological stress, which in turn hinders productivity. Generally being on good terms with people and preserving relationships so that they don’t fester or grow bitter, is so often taken for granted, and this truly is the secret behind my ability to juggle everything.
LSA: What sparked your passion for community work?
RY: When my siblings and I were younger, my parents used to bring us to impoverished pockets of the city, and educate us on why resources weren’t distributed evenly. They then told us that we as a family could be stewards to help redistribute resources by tipping the scale. We were brought up to give a hundred percent in everything we do, especially as we were so resourcefully and financially blessed to do so. My father always said, “If there is a will, there is a way” and if we could do more, and had time to spare, we had to do it.
LSA: Having kickstarted Nimble Fingers Cambodia, and now Recyclothes, what were your biggest challenges?
RY: My biggest challenge were definitely time constraints and having to sacrifice my sleep. I had to focus mainly on my full time job, and work on my side projects like Nimble Fingers and Recyclothes after working hours. This ate into dinner times — which could potentially be spent with family and friends — and also sleeping hours. Nevertheless, the joy from doing so, much exceeded the loss of leisure time, and I believe the projects actually brought me closer to my friends and family in their own way.
LSA: What sparked the inception of Recyclothes with your co-founders?
RY: It really all started a year ago when us four founders — Ruth Yeoh, Melissa Yang, Yi Ping Teo and I — assembled to ignite a common purpose outside of our full time jobs. We realised a lot of people gave clothes away blindly or dumped them with children’s homes to make room in their wardrobes for new clothes. A lot of these disowned clothes were often in a bad state. We wanted to step in as an intermediary by filtering these clothes, washing them, exercising quality control, and selling the ones that were marketable.
We unanimously decided that the money raised from the heavily discounted clothes would then channeled to causes that create value. For example, the money is “recycled” into buying brand new uniforms for ill-financed kids whose families cannot afford to pay for uniform replacements — our beneficiaries for this include Dignity for Children. Thus, we formed Recyclothes.
LSA: Apart from its social cause, how does Recyclothes help minimise the environmental impact of these unwanted clothes, which typically wind up in landfills?
RY: If you look at the world today, and how much waste is generated from fast fashion, you will notice that clothes not only end up in landfills. In developing countries, poorer communities are frustrated with the sheer amount of it piling up in their backyard and don’t know what to do. Fast fashion has a damaging impact on the environment and on the people making your clothes, with the fashion industry reportedly the second-largest polluter in the world — just behind oil. In fact, the fashion industry has already grown too big to be resource-efficient.
LSA: Based on your observations, are more people turning towards sustainable fashion? How does Recyclothes hope to further this cause?
RY: The world is already moving towards the future, with sustainable fashion is trending and dominating conversations in the fashion community more than ever before. What we are doing with Recyclothes is making people think about the future of fashion. We believe every small action does make a difference and there are countless ways we can challenge ourselves to make conscious choices, leading to more ethical and responsible fashion choices. Recyclothes is a not-for-profit entity with a mission to raise awareness on sustainable fashion, and funding causes close to our hearts.
LSA: What do you next hope to achieve with Recyclothes?
RY: To have a presence in more countries, and to go global. To carry on the good work we are doing, and to make people rethink spending and their fashion decisions. What we are doing with Recyclothes is not a drop in the ocean, but more about creating ripples in both the online and ethical fashion industry.
LSA: Let’s do a blast from the past — what advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
RY: I would tell her not to overthink decisions. Even though every decision you make changes your life path, sometimes overthinking can prove obsolete. There were so many things beyond my control that changed my life path, and I wish I had not been so stressed about them back when I was 16. I think I would assure her that no matter what decisions you make, or how scary something seems, things do fall into place somehow and will eventually work out – it is just a matter of time.
LSA: Finally, when you do have free time, what do you get up to?
RY: I exercise. It’s the one time of the day I can truly be by myself and sweat away my stresses and worries. It is both therapeutic and rewarding – what’s not to love? I definitely picked up my love for exercising from my father. He is the busiest man in the world and still finds one to three hours in his day to exercise.
Join Rebekah in shopping for a cause, by visiting www.recyclothesgroup.com
(Main photo: Recyclothes)