Phillip Lim on what dreams are made of

Renata Black, EBY Co-Founder & CEO

A version of this article was first published on HuffPost.

Everything I have ever done has been focused on this underlying theme of shifting the paradigm because “what we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines what we do.” Hence why Seven Bar Foundation and Empowered by You takes lingerie, which has traditionally been seen merely as a tool of seduction, and makes it a tool of empowerment.

I hope after reading these stories you will look at your own situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens and, at the very least, be better equipped to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day, we are our own Alchemists turning the silver we were born with into the gold we are destined to become.

Phillip Lim – American Fashion Designer

With your 10 year anniversary coming up, what would you want your legacy to be?

I inherently am not so good with the word “legacy” because it’s too big of a word. It’s omnipotent — am all, be all. It’s the approach to that word. I don’t want to go with the definition that we all know of, because it’s been taught. The only thing I really want people to know is that I was a part of this evolution, instead of putting down the law. I played a part to change it. I came in, knocked it to the side, and changed the possibility.

You’re very true to self and you have unwavering self-belief because you’re authentic to what you do. How do you manage to maintain that authenticity?

It’s difficult because it’s super rewarding, but super challenging. As we go along in the fashion industry, you get knocked back and forth. Fortunately, I always come back to my love of the subject. I can’t let the environment change or interfere with my love of the subject. I always question, every time I get to that point, do I still love the subject? That is my core authentic self. I’m going to do my best at it, and, along the way, work with people that are in line — we don’t have to be simpatico, but we have to be aligned. It comes with addressing the most uncomfortable things — real emotions, relationships, things that you didn’t see. It’s recognizing a path of destruction or not destruction or enablement.

Wen has been an amazing partner for you, but like in any partnership, it’s like a marriage. Within that relationship, what have been your lessons you’ve learned in order to have this continued partnership?

Be honest with each other. You can’t live in the past. We’ve evolved as individuals and together too. Having that kind of courage to hold each other up to that self-reflection time and say, hey it’s amazing that you’ve evolved and it’s amazing that you’ve let me evolve. Where are we still aligned and where have we misaligned? We’re so similar and it’s scary, but that kind of power can also be the most dangerous. You don’t check yourself and no one’s checking you, because you start to see each other as the same. Listen. Understand that it’s better to over-communicate than assume anything. Take a moment to try to accept that you’re learning too and express that. Also, really understand your endgame, because endgames can be misaligned. Reality has to be adjusted to go forward.

I know your Chinese heritage is really important to you. I’d love to hear a bit more about how that has been transformative in your life.

I used to fight it because as a child you don’t understand it. I came here when I was 1. I lived in America, but I had very traditional Asian parents. I lived two lives and couldn’t understand it. I didn’t embrace it because I didn’t know any better. But, I was being taught what is, to me, the most beautiful thing about being Chinese: the humility and the integrity. I knew when I was growing up that I saw things in a different way than my friends because they didn’t have this enforcement on the other side. You can’t deny how you’re brought up. All the things you know, you put into everything you do. My mother was a seamstress, and she worked for a sweatshop. She is an incredible mother; she’s my hero. She would make sure you were clean, had stuff to eat, rush off to these factories, work all day, come back, make sure we have home-cooked meals, and then after that never sit down and take her work home. That’s how I grew up. She would go to fabric stores and go through all the rummage piles and pick out all beautiful little calicos and stuff like that, but it was just small castoff pieces and she would use all of it. Never discard.

Now, I can create from the most beautiful selection but my value is how to take seemingly nothing and turn it into the most beautiful thing. It goes back to the culture of what is Chinese about my work; it’s something that is present and not seen. I can’t escape my culture, but now I never want to, because it’s my biggest strength. When I told my mom I was going to work in fashion, she cried. All she knew about fashion was the sweatshop so she thought, “Why did I bring you to America to be nothing?” Because she thought she was nothing. Well I’m going show you that your nothing is everything.

Have you had breakdown to breakthrough moment?

Dropping out of business school. I went to business school because it was the right thing to do for my parents. So, it was that third year into accounting class and walking out of that and having that internal conflict of, “I broke my parents’ hopes and dreams.” It came at the highest cost because it caused conflict with my parents, conflict with myself, doubt. So my breakthrough was not knowing what was going to happen next, but not being able to fight my feeling inside. I had to relearn everything. I had to reassess and figure everything out. Now, to this day, I see potential in everything. Whatever subject matter you put in front of me, I can see the potential. I just want to find solutions.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Understanding that the power of creativity is not this obscure thing that popular culture makes it out to be; it’s how you use creativity to create what you want. I always thought being creative meant being different and artistic. But it’s how you take that third eye or whatever it is and incorporate it back into everything you do and design the life you want.

Few and far between in life you come across someone you are grateful simply for their existence. It was humbling yet inspiring to experience Phillip’s introspection into his life with such candor, yet amazingly all the dots connected to something so profound that leaves a lasting impact on those around him. One of my favorite interviews by far.

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