Emily Lam-Ho is many things: a mother of two, a champion of sustainability and a mentor to women everywhere. She opens up about why she feels so strongly about giving back, and her next venture to build an even better future for generations to come.
We’re interviewing Emily Lam-Ho in unusual times. If things had any semblance of normality, interviews with our cover personalities would typically take place in perhaps their favourite restaurant or hotel, or a private club over sips of coffee, or snuck in between takes during photoshoots, over the din of moving sets as their stylists touched up their hair and makeup. But as yet another wave of Covid-19 surged over our heads, we peered at Lam-Ho across our laptop screen as she peered back at us, quietly hunched over a child’s chair in what’s clearly her son’s bedroom.
She starts with an apology: “Can you hear me now? Sorry I’m in my son’s room because this is the only computer with Skype installed.”
At one point, her son barges in; gently and firmly she ushers him out. Moments later he charges back in, this time with an entourage in tow. “This is the norm now,” she says wryly after marching the children out and closing the door behind them. “They walked into my board meeting the other day and everyone laughed. But everyone’s very understanding and sympathetic, especially after Covid, where everyone has to work from home. It’s really changed the setting.”
Neither rowdy kids nor coronavirus were going to get in the way of Lam-Ho’s mission to make the world a better place, however. In fact, she credits her two children as the reason for all that she does: “Having kids has magnified everything, all my values, everything that’s important to me by a million times.”
Why Emily Gives Back
She can trace it all back to college when she started volunteering. From building a school in Gambia – “My mother was very, very against it. If you ask her, I think she’s still a bit scarred,” she says – to running an orphanage in Grenada and working with Teach for China in Yunnan, Lam-Ho has always felt responsible for extending her help to others outside of her own privileged circle.
“When it comes to seeing something that’s so out of your ordinary world, it really changes your perspective on life and everything else. I wouldn’t say it shattered my world, but it certainly broadened it,” she says. “The world’s big and there’s a lot of people out there who need help. And I think that was really my turning point in wanting to do something different and really make a difference.”
Lam-Ho now juggles her time between several ventures, all of which are aimed at empowering others and making the world a more sustainable place. Tycoon Peter Lam may be her father, but it’s the last thing Lam-Ho wants to talk about. She sounds almost exasperated as she says, “Sustainability doesn’t even have anything to do with my father’s businesses.”
“I have to work harder than everyone else – I want to prove that I’m there because of my own merits, not because of anything else. And it’s a challenge I sometimes still face, that the credit I’m due is sometimes given to my family or other people, when in fact it’s been my own hard work. It’s a misconception that many people have.” She pauses for a moment and adds, “It’s something that never leaves you – it’s a double-edged sword in some ways.”
Emily Lam-Ho on Empowering Women
In 2018, Lam-Ho launched Empact28, an investment company that provides funding for women entrepreneurs and corporations that are making a positive impact on social and environmental issues. Empact28 is a portmanteau word of “impact” and her name “Em”, and the 28 is a nod to the early-stage venture capital company S28, which her husband Kent Ho started.
Empowering women is a cause dear to Lam-Ho’s heart, who personally feels that it was the women around her who shaped her to become the strong leader she is today. “I’m lucky in the sense that every single boss that I’ve had since I graduated has been a really strong woman mentor,” she says.
Her first boss was Alice Mong, who’s currently executive director of the Asia Society Hong Kong. “She really showed me from the beginning what very strong female leadership looked like and she had a big impact on me,” says Lam-Ho. She first met Mong while she was a student at USC, and the latter in Committee 100, a non-profit organisation founded by architect IM Pei and cellist Yo-Yo Ma as a bridge between the US and China. Following her internship, Lam-Ho continued to work for Mong while she finished her Masters in Columbia. Back in Hong Kong, the pair remain good friends.
“It’s very important to have good women mentors”Emily Lam-Ho
Lam-Ho’s second boss was Helena Wai, who was head of corporate broking at CLSA and later vice-chairman. A woman of influence, Wai is now managing director at investment bank Jefferies. “She was very hard on me,” Lam-Ho recalls. “But she really taught me a lot of things that I needed to know about the market, about trading.”
“I think it’s very important to have good women mentors. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to support similar people with a similar mindset. I think a lot of people just really need a chance. Everyone needs a chance and everyone needs support, wherever they are in their business journey. Support is always nice, whatever direction it’s coming from,” says Lam-Ho.
Empact28 has invested in companies such as Thousand Fell, which has an end goal of producing zero-waste footwear; Yellow Leaf Hammocks trains women and mothers in impoverished communities in Thailand to weave hammocks from sustainable materials; and there’s also Dirty Labs, a cleaning-product company that uses cutting-edge bio enzymes and emerging green chemistry rather than harsh chemicals.
On Championing Sustainability
Lam-Ho has made commendable inroads in environmental protection in Hong Kong, too. She co-founded EcoDrive in 2018 alongside 11 women, self- starters, lawyers and entrepreneurs – but, most importantly, mothers – brought together by a shared concern over plastic pollution, and who all passionately want to make Hong Kong a better place for their children.
It had one simple mission: to promote an awareness and reduction of single-use plastics. Through community outreach, screenings, panel discussions and organised beach clean-ups, the 11 ladies encouraged people to start small for a great impact.
“I learned from EcoDrive that starting small is very important,” says Lam-Ho. “Every little bit counts. For example, if I’m completely zero-waste and vegan, but everyone else in my circle carries on as they are, that’s not going to make an impact. The collective impact is the most important. If everybody makes a little bit of change, a bit of adjustment in their life – I’m not asking you to completely change your lifestyle, just a slight change – you might then want to take another step.”
“Starting small is very important. Every little bit counts”Emily Lam-Ho
And that’s why EcoDrive focuses solely on reducing single-use plastics. The group has been so successful in the past two years of campaigning that this year it’s launching its biggest project to date. In time for the festive season, EcoDrive is partnering with PinkFong!, the Korean company that’s brought the infuriatingly catchy children’s rhyme, “Baby Shark”, into our collective lives. The collaboration will result in a new music video aimed at reducing single-use plastic to the tune of “Baby Shark”, a particularly meaningful and educational project that Lam-Ho is extremely happy about. She hums the song in case we didn’t know it (believe me, we do) and says, “It’s actually their first cross-promotion with an NGO, so we’re very excited because the reach is going to be in the millions.”
The original “Baby Shark” song has now been played more than 7 billion times, and was recently crowned the most-watched-video ever on YouTube, surpassing the previous record held by “Despacito”, the pop smash hit by Luis Fonsi and Justin Bieber. The “Baby Shark” collaboration is poised to make a huge impact on the generation it needed to impress the most – the young.
“Every single kid loves that song. And every parent … if I hear it another time I might need a drink of wine,” she says with a laugh.
Throughout our conversation with Lam-Ho, she’s most animated when talking about collaborations, be it the PinkFong! and EcoDrive music video that’s about to break the internet, or an event she did with Chloe and Yellow Leaf Hammocks two years ago.
Her eyes light up as she recalls the party.
“They weaved leaf hammocks basically in the same colour scheme as Chloé’s spring/summer collection. We did a promotion on top of H Queen’s and it was great,” she says. “It was supporting a fashion brand that I love and also working with a company I support as a social enterprise, which helps women in real time and gives them work.
“I love cross-promotions. I think it’s so important that everyone supports each other. And I love connecting people together. I love matchmaking, whether it’s with friends or whether it’s with companies,” she continues.
EcoDrive, for all its great causes, is somewhat limiting, its sole focus being on reducing single uses for plastic. But for Lam-Ho, there was so much more in the realm of sustainability where she wanted to do good. “Sustainability is like a rabbit hole, right? You learn more about it and you fall deeper and deeper into it,” she says.
“Sustainability is like a rabbit hole. You learn more about it and you fall deeper and deeper into it”Emily Lam-Ho
Building a Better Future
What she’s come to realise is that more people than we think are intimidated by the word sustainability, much in the way that people get thrown off by the word feminist. “You’re either zero or 100 percent. You’re either sustainable or you’re not sustainable. ‘Oh Emily is in sustainability and therefore she has to be vegan and zero-waste.’ I still eat meat, I’m not vegan,” she says. “I feel like there’s a lot of in-between. And for me, it’s all about starting small. For you, it might be that you want to start your sustainability journey because you care about animals and therefore you want to eat less meat. For others, it might be other reasons. Living sustainably should be easy, light-hearted and non-judgmental.”
Ever since Covid, Lam-Ho – like many of us – has become more conscious about health and wellbeing, taking time to step back and think about what really is important in our lives. Sustainability and empowerment clearly are her forte, and in this time of crisis it’s propelled her to think about her next venture.
8Shades is her next big idea, a venture she talks about in public for the first time during this interview. It’s set to launch very soon and is a project that naturally connects all the dots for Lam-Ho. “I wanted to create a platform that can ease people into sustainability, because even though I’m already into sustainability, there’s still so much that I need to learn.”
Lam-Ho came up with the name 8Shades to represent how everyone can adopt a different shade – from light to dark green – on their sustainability journey. “There’s no right or wrong way to be sustainable. Carpooling helps. Cutting down on meat consumption helps. Using a reusable water bottle helps. Sorting out your recycling helps. Every little thing helps. Each little change can make a huge difference if it’s multiplied by a million times,” she says.
When 8Shades launches, we can expect to follow Lam-Ho as she goes through her personal journey, as well as tune in to other contributors to watch their progress. “Sometimes it’s very hard to convey the concept of sustainability to the public, no matter how willing people are to learn. I personally have that problem too, and I understand people’s frustration sometimes, because they feel like they’re so unempowered that they can’t do anything,” says Lam-Ho.
“But there are such simple steps that you can follow, understand and grasp to become more sustainable. I’m here to share my lifestyle because that’s what I’m doing too. This is what I’m learning, this is what I’m doing. I’m going to talk about sustainability and beauty, about sustainability and lifestyle, sustainability and food.”
Lam-Ho doesn’t seem to realise this yet, but she’s born to become an educator, in a way fulfilling her childhood dreams of becoming a teacher. Due to the many hats she wears and the roles she juggles, it all comes back to two common themes: education and empowerment, be it through her work in sustainability and environmental protection, or equally in her work to empower women, the young and the underprivileged.
She already recognises her influence on her young children. “I was so proud when my son walked over to a friend of ours who was using a plastic bottle and told him, ‘Uncle, why are you using a plastic water bottle? It’s not good for you.’ And at a school interview, one of the projects my son had to do was talk about his passions. He’s only five, but he’s grasped all the environmental concepts I’ve told him before. He explained the entire recycling system we had at home. I just told him to speak from his heart, everything that mommy taught him. I almost cried, because that was when I felt as if I’ve impacted his life. At the end of the day, this was all for him.”
To lead by example sometimes really is the best way to spread the word.
COMMISSIONING ART DIRECTIOR SEPFRY NG
CREATIVE DIRECTION & STYLING ANSON LAU
MAKE-UP GARY CHUNG
HAIR LORRAINE LAM AT HAIR CULTURE
BACKSETTING R WORKSHOP
SET PAINTER YUK@R WORKSHOP
ALL OUTFITS GIORGIO ARMANI