Aarika Lee, 38, made a conscious decision to slow down and smell the roses eight years ago when she had children – swopping her action-packed life as a musician to join her friends in their branding and marketing start-up, Elementary Co. For the past four years, the company has been focusing its campaigns and events on social issues and a zero waste lifestyle. When Covid-19 struck, as events dwindled, it set up “Be The Good”, a mental-health-focused platform that people in crisis could reach out to.
Aarika’s personal eco-awareness started almost 15 years ago, after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. She started becoming more conscious of her food choices. “As more people started to talk about the impact that consumerism has on our planet, I started looking around to see what else I could reduce in my lifestyle as well,” she says.
She also believes it’s important to start the dialogue young (she tries to inculcate awareness in her two young kids, who are seven and five, so that they learn to treasure the things they have, and realise that they don’t really need a lot) and make mindful life choices. But making accessible changes is key – little things in life can go a long way, she says.
“The idea of sustainability turns a lot of people off because they imagine they will have to make a 180-degree change in their lifestyles and go completely zero waste. Being in an urban sprawl like Singapore doesn’t make it easy for us to do that, but I think there are things we can do to change our habits up a little bit and make better choices.
“I liken sustainability to a ladder. If a particular choice doesn’t work for you, it is okay to be where you are until you find something else that can help you climb another rung. I hope that people who are embarking on this journey realise that if they try to get to the top of the sustainability chain immediately, it’s going to seem very arduous and hard to keep at.”
Aarika herself has been buying vegetable bundles from Uglyfood, a social start-up that salvages not so aesthetically pleasing, yet edible, vegetables and food from supermarkets and other sources – the contents in these bundles are often a surprise, depending on what is salvaged. It has inspired her to look up recipes and become more creative in the kitchen.
“I remember, when I was a child, my grandmother would carry her own bag to the wet market, and decide on the menu for the day based on what was fresh and what looked good. Our grandparents used to make conscious choices. But our lifestyles have changed so quickly. Singaporeans lead very busy lives and just want everything to be convenient.”
As someone who loves fashion, Aarika admits to being conflicted sometimes. But with the wisdom of age and growing awareness, she has managed to curb her consumption of fast fashion by actively swopping, renting and donating as much as possible. That said, she believes that fast fashion brands that are rooted in innovation have the power to make sustainability more accessible. “I believe innovation is a real thing and could lead the way forward,” she says.
PHOTOGRAPHY Vee Chin
CREATIVE DIRECTION Debby Kwong
STYLING Lena Kamarudin
HAIR & MAKEUP Aung Apichai, using Kevin. Murphy & Estee Lauder
MAKEUP ASSISTANTS Nicole Wui & Toh Yi Shien
In partnership with LEVI'S