The prospect of shining in the fashion world has long intrigued the young and hip. But designer outfits won’t get you far if you’re not ready to roll up your sleeves and work hard, Kathy Lam, can tell you that. The revered figure is known for her time-honed experience leading Malaysia’s luxury retail industry, namely Louis Vuitton for 16 years.
Beyond her trademark sunglasses and immaculate designer outfits, it’s her steely and no-nonsense charisma that leaves the deepest impression. Those attributes make her one of the best mentors in the industry, and we couldn’t be more honoured to have her as part of our Tatler Tribe, the judging panel of this year's Generation T.
Whether you aspire for a career in fashion or simply in need of push in the right direction, Kathy’s invaluable wisdom will show you how to pair your power suit with guts of steel.
You’ve been known to go out of your way as mentor to those under your wing. Tell us about this role in your life.
We have all heard the saying: “It is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish everyday". The message I want to convey is to be bold. Trust your instincts. If you quit, you'll never find out what could have happened. Don't sell yourself short by being afraid of failure that you don't dare to make any mistakes.
What’s your mentoring style?
A developmental process. I encourage the team or an individual to share their experience, knowledge and skills with one another to benefit personal or professional development. I like to ‘walk the talk’, give timely help, insights into problems, and to share. My function is as a catalyst—an agent that provokes a reaction that might not otherwise have taken place.
Read also: 4 ways to practice mindfulness for success
How can one excel in the demanding pace of luxury fashion?
Retail workers may earn a low wage, but most of them are only doing the job temporarily until they move up to higher-level jobs or other careers. The fashion industry is a business—career options span buying, marketing, Public Relations to editorial, styling or tech.
Based on your expertise and experience in the luxury retail industry, what do you want to impart as a panel of our Tatler Tribe?
When it comes to going for a job, a promotion or just about anything in life, I'm convinced that the meek will not inherit the earth. Whatever you plan to do, don't just listen to your head—listen to your heart. Do what you really love to do. Beware of fear: it can stop you from doing stupid things but it can also stop you from the creative, exciting or experimental.
What are some myths you can dispel about people who work in fashion?
There is no substitute for hard work. Be more creative, adventurous and open-minded. Notice opportunities in disguise. There will be times you feel you aren't getting the credit or promotion you deserve. One of the most empowering lessons of all is that life isn't fair. But hard work and good timing will intersect at one point and when they do, you’ll be ready.
You are very much involved in charity now. How does mentorship come into the picture?
I volunteer at the United learning Centre for Burmese refugee children. At first I felt I had to dress down but I rationalised that if I was well put-together and owned nice things, I could be an inspiration. I would talk about my humble beginnings, climbing the corporate ladder, how I take care of my possessions as well as the importance of family. I also tell them that they should be grateful for a second chance in life. In turn, the children are visibly inspired and they begin taking care of their belongings, looking presentable and exhibit improved self-esteem.
More from Generation T: Ruben Gnanalingam talks family business and football.