Q&A: Former Vogue China editor Grace Lam spreads love with YouTube makeover series

Social media has quickly become an essential part of our lives in a mere decade, with platforms such as Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, TwitterSnapchat and many more benefitting our societies by allowing people to connect with and inspire each other despite of geographical differences — whether for social exchange, intellectual sharing, or in cases of emergencies. As we all know, however, there are two sides to every coin, and despite all the advantages social media has brought upon us, there are some negative side effects too.

In recent years, social media (especially Instagram) has become oversaturated with posts by individuals who have grown dangerously dependent on the attention that the channel brings. From expensive clothes to lavish dinners and exotic travels, these ‘self-obsessed monsters’, as former Vogue China senior fashion style editor Grace Lam calls them, are causing the shift of social values to an unhealthy norm.

To tip the balance back in favour towards the positive effects of social media, the Hong Kong-based fashion maven has recently launched a video series GRACE LAM STYLE on YouTube, in which she partners with local NGOs to help the less fortunate in our community, boosting people’s confidence through practical fashion advice. The goal is to create a positive self-worth, and encourage them to achieve their life goals. We recently asked Grace about this meaningful project, as well as her thoughts on how social media is affecting the fashion industry today, for better or worse.

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Grace Lam is the former senior fashion style editor of Vogue China.

You have a very successful career in fashion, what was it that initially drew you into the field?
During my second year of studying Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins in London, the founder and creative director of i-D magazine, Mr Terry Jones, gave us a lecture and told me afterwards that I should become a fashion stylist as I dress well. He then invited me to join i-D as an editorial/fashion assistant and later on, I became full-time fashion assistant to fashion director Edward Enninful, who is now the new editor-in-chief of British Vogue. That’s how I started my fashion career; originally I wanted to get a job in the Formula One world as F1 is my first love, but I guess I was meant to be working in fashion instead.

Do you think the fashion industry has changed much over the years, and what do you think of the industry in Hong Kong at the moment?
Yes I do. Social media has played a huge part in changing the fashion game. Nowadays, you can be ‘famous’ on social media as a fashion KOL or influencer, but you don’t necessarily need to have a lot of fashion knowledge. I think it is an unhealthy era as this trend has created many ‘self-obsessed monsters’.

The Hong Kong fashion industry is small and there are a few very creative people that really want to make a difference but it is not easy to branch outside of Hong Kong, especially if you are a fashion designer. There isn’t much support from the local fashion council/organisation. The Hong Kong scene is being overtaken by some very local KOLs, who might not have the credentials as one might expect.

The transparency social media offers has changed the way fashion brands operate, do you think this is a positive development? 
Social media is a great platform for everyone to reach out to each other and to self promote. The whole traditional advertising space has changed and it is all about the digital world. I have a love-hate relationship with social media, but I guess we need to move forward with the current affairs in order to survive in this super fast-paced world!

A well-established Instagrammer once confessed, “Social media is not real life.” Do you agree?
Well it depends on the person and what kind of image she or he would like to portray. Some people have a very ‘pretend life’ on social media. I don’t know why you would lie about your own life and try to turn it into a make-believe situation. I think people who paint an unrealistic life are probably having personal issues and want to dream to feel better about themselves. For me, I’m too direct to lie about what’s going on with my own life, ha!

Grace teams up with husband Jason Capobianco for her new YouTube series.

Tell us more about your GRACE LAM STYLE video series. What sparked the idea?
I guess I’m sick of the self-obsessive behaviour and I want to do the opposite and encourage people to help and look out for each other. The world is in a very difficult and unhealthy situation at the moment, with Trump being the president, and terrorist attacks increasing around the world. We need to be more positive and stick together.

GRACE LAM STYLE isn’t about the extreme makeover ‘before-and-after’ show. The people I help are underprivileged people, therefore I need to be practical. Also this show is about revisiting my guests at different stages of their lives, so I want to build a good relationship with them instead of using them for my show and then dumping them after. I like to get to know my guests and understand what they are going through.

In each episode of ‘GRACE LAM STYLE’, I will revamp someone’s image by showing them how to shop and put outfits together. They can gain more confidence and eventually be encouraged to achieve more life goals. Perhaps they have a job interview or a graduation ceremony, or even a special event to attend and have no idea what to wear or where to start. My husband Jason Capobianco and I produce many short videos together, so it was a natural decision for us to join forces to give back to the local community.

Through working with local NGOs to help the underprivileged, Grace hopes to encourage people to be positive and look out for one another.

For your first video, you chose to team up with Caritas’ Green Baby, a local organisation that helps teenage single mothers. Does that hold any personal significance, being a mother yourself? 
Being a mother is the hardest task on earth, Jason is a great husband/father so I am very lucky to have him share duties with me. I can’t imagine being a single mum and having to go through everything alone. It makes me sad when I think there are lots of single parents out there that are struggling daily. Therefore I wanted to treat ‘Mavis’ (the single mum on my 1st episode) to a fun day shopping together, but at the same time provide her with my practical fashion knowledge.

Did you come across any challenges putting this project together?
Hong Kong people are very camera shy, so it was difficult to convince people to be on camera. I’m not talking about your typical fashion person or blogger. I’m talking about normal people with normal lives. It took many months to find our first NGO, Caritas Green Baby, and after months of endless conversations and meetings they finally agreed to collaborate with me. We are living in such a twisted world that people actually don’t believe that I am a genuinely nice person that just wants to help others!

You have also collaborated with renowned New York hair stylist and humanitarian Mark Bustos, who famously offers free haircuts for the homeless once a week. How did that partnership come about?
Friends introduced me to Mark’s instagram so I private messaged him hoping to meet him in Hong Kong. We became friends and spoke about GRACE LAM STYLE. He gave me tips and encouragement to start the show. He is a true inspiration!

Grace Lam Style
Grace was joined by renowned New York hair stylist/humanitarian Mark Bustos for her first episode.

What does fashion mean to you and what do you think is the key to finding your own style?
Fashion is fun and creative. People can express themselves via fashion. The key is just be yourself and don’t copy others. Have your own vision and don’t be shy to try new things!

What’s next for GRACE LAM STYLE?
Jason and I just filmed our 2nd episode on 10 June with single mum ‘Mavis’ again. This time we visited her home where I edited her wardrobe and taught her my fashion tricks: how to wear one item four different ways, how to recycle, how to mix-and-match. We picked some outfits for her to attend a big family gathering too!

For upcoming episodes I would like to revamp different groups of deserving locals, such as the disabled, fresh grad students, elderly, deaf and blind, single dads, social workers. I have so many ideas I’d like to achieve and I can’t wait to share with everyone! Stay tuned and ‘Spread Love With Style’.

Watch the 1st episode of GRACE LAM STYLE below and show your support by subscribing to the channel.

All images courtesy of Jason Capobianco Photography