Upon entering Stephanie’s cosy home on a Sunday morning, we could not help but notice the green and wood touches in the naturally lit living room. Perfectly fitting for an eco warrior and one of Singapore’s leading social entrepreneurs - Stephanie Dickson is the founder of The Wedge Asia, Singapore’s leading conscious community, as well as Green Is The New Black (GITNB) Asia, Asia’s first conscious festival.
Once an event planner for fashion weeks in the region, Stephanie shared with us how she left the rat race and entered the social entrepreneurship scene, a result of her realisation that she was consuming too much and that “there is no Planet B”. With her positive and affable personality, one would be mistaken that her journey was always smooth-sailing. In this interview, we discuss the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, her journey to self-discovery, sources of inspirations and motivations. She also dishes out tips on how to change the world through changes in our daily habits, because it “all starts with us”.
So Stephanie, tell us more about yourself and your journey towards social entrepreneurship.
I am the founder of The Wedge Asia and Green Is The New Black (GITNB), but for four years before that, I was planning fashion weeks around the region. It was really crazy, rewarding and fun, but after a while I kind of realised I was on autopilot and in a little rat race - I wasn’t really living my life and was consuming way too much. One day, I was just like “I can’t do this anymore”.
So I started The Wedge, a conscious community where people could connect and learn more about how to be better humans through a monthly series of events, but in a fun way that was not preachy and more welcoming.
Then, I started watching a lot of documentaries and realising that there was no planet B. i thought, “Hey, I’m part of the problem, so how can I be part of the solution instead?”. I looked at my experiences and said “Okay I can do events”, so how about creating an event where we can bring together amazing changemakers but also learn about sustainability in a fun way.That was how GITNB started in October 2015 and we’ve had four festivals since then, with the last ‘Conscious Festival’ happening two weeks ago.
How did the event go?
It was amazing, we had 2,300 people come, which is the most ever, and it was really exciting! We had amazing speakers at the talks, and in the marketplace, we had 70 conscious brands. We had a lot of edutainment partners too (e.g. Animal Alliance and Connected Threads Asia) so there was more education through games with these partners.
We also had a ‘Green Warriors’ exhibition, so that’s something we launched this year and are going to be doing every year now. We have 30 Eco Warriors in Singapore who are really going about changing their industry and fighting the good fight for the planet and for people. That was a really successful launch - these people are unsung heroes who some people know about but not everyone does, so we profile them with a beautiful greenery-themed photoshoot.
In April, we also announced that we’re taking GITNB to Hong Kong.
That’s exciting! What is your vision for GITNB?
Basically, we’re GITNB.Asia - so our big vision is to really take GITNB to different cities around Asia with different partners and do something different but localise it for each market, and really bridge the gap for the conscious community around the region.
We launched our online platform last week at the event as well, which is basically a go-to guide for conscious living in Asia. There’s an e-directory where people can discover conscious brands, and there’s also a lot of content and videos where people can discover what it really means to be conscious e.g. what is climate change, what is ethical fashion etc. So we’ll have that connecting the region, and then we’ll have the festivals in different places to bring together the local communities. It’s all coming together and making sense now, and we’ve pivoted a lot to get to this point.
Can you share what drives you in life?
I just love bringing people together, I always have - I was always the girl who would run parties and in university I was in the marketing society where I could bring people together and have a lot of fun doing it. So for me, what drives me everyday is that there’s so many incredible people changing the world, and a lot of people don’t know about them and the work that they’re doing. I want to be able to share and discover these real people changing the world a little bit everyday and share them with others.
Just realising that there’s no planet B too and we’re all playing a part also drives me. I think I can help people realise that conscious living is really easy - it’s just a lot of little steps everyday and you can change your life one small step at a time.
Leadership is one of the main pillars of YWLC - as the founder of your own company, how would you view your own leadership style and how you influence people?
Such an interesting question, I think, to kind of analyse the way you lead. I’d like to think I’m kind of a hands-off leader, in a sense that I come with my big vision and I really open up to ideas, especially at our committee meetings. Any idea is a good idea and it’s about how we can make the idea a reality.
I want to inspire others and make them realise they can be a part of something bigger. It’s really about figuring out what are the strengths of my team members, how I can make them feel excited and passionate, but at the same time, make them feel completely empowered with the tools they need and autonomous, without feeling like I’m micro-managing them.
With the full-time, part-time and freelancers I work with, I just guide because they have the power to do it themselves, at their own time. Now we’ve been travelling a lot more, so figuring out how we can work without sitting at the same table is something I’m working on.
The main thing is understanding what they need to do the best that they can and then giving them that.
Is there any leader who has inspired you in your career so far?
Marie Forleo is my unofficial mentor - she doesn’t know she’s my mentor but I follow her and what she’s been able to achieve is incredible. She’s based in the US and she does a lot of video content and courses, so she’s like a coach in a way. She’s such an incredible entrepreneur and she’s so positive. When I read that, (points at quote on wall) “Clarity comes from engagement not thought” - I went, “I get it”. I am a really analytical person, and when I realised that I’m not going to get answers while thinking stuff through, I’m gonna get it by actually engaging and taking action - THAT was a game-changing moment for me.
Another person is Mark Manson - he wrote The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***, and that book was game-changing for me. It’s like the best book I’ve ever read that’s not Harry Potter (points to full collection of Harry Potter books on the shelf). His work is amazing because he has this no-bullshit approach. He just has this amazing way of taking complicated things and making them really simple. I have a lot of respect for his work. I really respect that because I think there’s so much fluff out there. And what we’re trying to do is help people and empower them to make small changes on a daily basis.
In Singapore, the crazy social entrepreneurs like Jacqui Hocking are people I took up to - she’s just a force to be reckoned with. What she’s been able to achieve in just a short period of time is just incredible. She started off in videography and then started the Singapore Environmental Film Festival, and then her own company Visual Strategy Storytelling (VSS) and within 12 months, she had 12 employees and now she is doing all these incredible films and documentaries in the region.
Have you had a mentor before?
I have a few people in Singapore that I look up to. Andrea Edwards is one of them. She’s really cool, she’s been in content marketing and branding for years and she actually started a content marketing company before content marketing was even a thing but it was just too soon. She was too ahead of the curve but now she’s started again.
She is just a really inspiring person, she really believes in us and what we’re doing and she’s always trying to help us open doors. She’s been a great mentor and friend to us over the years.
You work with a lot of younger people, what advice do you give them?
People come to me for 2 things. One is advice for events - so I can tell them what to think about and how to think an event through in terms of guest experience.
Other people come to me for advice on how to build what I’ve built so quickly and for them, I really talk about mindset stuff a lot. I have had a rollercoaster time since I started my company. I’ve gotten very low and very overwhelmed, and when all my foundations were shattered, I had to rebuild myself and how I wanted to be in the world and it’s hard work.
So I guess when I have friends are going into entrepreneurship and I have young, really inspiring people who come to me for advice - my biggest advice is “Work on yourself, do a lot of self development, a lot of personal development every day”. Because that, when shit hits the fan and it always will, at least then you have a really solid baseline, and you won’t fall so deep next time because entrepreneurship is a freaking roller-coaster.
I always tell my friends to love themselves in the mirror and make it a habit. The things that are going to change your life are small habits that you create. And so for me it’s always in the bathroom because I have to look at my teeth everyday, and I remember to do it then. When I’m in the shower doing my shampoo, I repeat my mantras and I know it’s sounds really lame, but it’s really powerful.
I think learning how to love yourself - that is the best gift you can give yourself, your company and for the people around you. Because when you love yourself, you’re less hard on yourself, you’re more real and people realise that. You can give more when you give to yourself.
You mentioned roller-coasters - will you be able to share what the lows were and how you overcame them?
I was really down, really overwhelmed, completely burnt out and one of my girlfriends was like, “I think you’re depressed” and it was really hard to confront that as I’m usually a happy and positive person. I got to this really dark place where nothing was good enough, I had low self-love, low self-worth, and everything was a real struggle.
At that time, it was the worst thing I had gone through, now that I look back it’s the best thing I’ve ever gone through because I was able to really grow from that point. I first started with meditation,and then after that, gratitude journalling, and forming a very strong morning routine with the mantras - telling myself I love myself, telling myself to be kinder to myself and being like “you know what, it doesn’t matter, life is gonna throw you shit and that’s when you grow and that’s when you’re challenged”.
Reading a lot of self-help books like Mark Manson, Elizabeth Gilbert and following Marie Forleo and finding people that inspired me and spoke the language I spoke also helped, because there’s lots of gurus and people out there who are giving advice, but you have to find the one who speaks the language you understand and when you do, it’s like ‘I GET IT’.
And there’s some things that take a really long time to shift. Another Maria Forleo quote - “everything is figureoutable” - I’ve been trying to channel that quote for 2.5 years but only a few months ago, it finally clicked.
I had a really stressful moment - three things went really badly wrong at once and normally, I would have lost the plot, gotten really mad, upset and crying but at that moment, I was like, “you know what, I can’t control any of this, there’s nothing I can do.”
That was so game-changing and powerful - it never happened before, I always wanted to get to that point and I took 2 years of really trying and then it really happened and it actually worked!!!
In our overly connected world, it’s really hard sometimes to be patient and to repeat stuff and just keep going even though you’re like, “it’s not working”. But you just keep doing and doing and one day it’ll work. It’s a delayed gratification, but when it happened, I felt stronger.
So you were saying that people should take small steps to make a difference, so just off the top of your head, what are a few things we can tell our members about what they can do to change the world bit by bit?
The first thing is, start with yourself, start being kinder to yourself, start telling yourself you love yourself, whatever works for you. That is the very first thing, because it does all start with us.
The second thing, which is a really easy thing to do, is to say no to single use plastic. I’m talking about plastic bags, containers, straws - if everyone said no in Singapore to single use plastic, it would be incredible. A lot of people think their small actions don’t matter, but if everyone made a change, it would be huge. It’s all about the bigger picture. Zero Waste Singapore has a huge BYO campaign (bring your own water bottle, bring your own container and you get rewarded or discounts from certain outlets) - that kind of stuff is so amazing and it’s so simple. It’s about making that daily habit shift. If you eat at the food court everyday, or even 3 out of 5 days, and you times that by 52 weeks, you think about the amount of plastic and container bags you use and put yourself in the same room, it would be really scary, so why can’t you just take your own container?
Another thing is really thinking about your clothes and your consumption. We do have the power to vote with our wallets. We need to really educate ourselves about the products which actually use unsustainable palm oil - WWF and PMHaze are coming up with a big lists of brands that are making change which we should support, and brands we shouldn’t. And that’s a really empowering thing, if you empower yourself with knowledge and you educate yourself about things that affect you, then you can make a change, you can vote with your wallet.
You also need to really look at animal agriculture and how you can reduce your intake of meat and dairy. One really easy thing is to eat less beef. ‘Skip the burgers’ is what I say all the time. I think the best way to make change in your circle, is to actually do it, without preaching to anyone. If you give up beef your friends ask why you’re not eating beef, then you can tell them why you’re not eating beef in an interesting way. Maybe you can inspire them to do it without telling them to do it.
Recycling is another big thing. There’s so many ways you can reduce your carbon footprint of clothing. I went to a clothes swapping event recently and had that same feeling when you go shopping and you get new things, but they weren’t new, they were someone else’s and now I had new things in my wardrobe without any harm to the wallet, planet or to the people. There is amazing stuff you can do that is fun and you can do with your friends. You just need to make the choice.
Do you think it’s possible for a women to have it all? Given you have many things to manage etc family, work. What’s your definition of it?
That’s a great question. I don’t know if we can have it all, I think there’s always going to be a sacrifice, and there’s probably 3 things you can do really well, whether it’s family, your marriage, your job, your friendships and your health. There’s a few key things that make up having it all. I don’t know if we can have it all, because I don’t think I have it all.
Right now, doing what I’m doing, I don’t think I can have a family right now. It’s just something I can’t prioritize. There’s always some kind of compromises happening and I think it’s figuring out what are the three main things that are super important to you and then figuring out how you can make those three things happen in your life. And then anything else is a bonus.
But I do think you need to be real and realistic to yourself, otherwise you burn out. Burning out sucks, it’s not a fun thing to do and it takes a really long time to recover, so I don’t know if you can have it all. If someone does have it all, I wanna know how they do it (laughs).