Sophia Li is a multimedia journalist and true storyteller who interviews, writes, and directs campaigns and short documentaries. She is deeply passionate about communicating climate news in a clear and concise manner that cuts through "content pollution," as she calls it. Sophia also knows a thing or two about clean beauty; her picks just happen to be some of our favorites, too.
To begin, the number one question we like to ask our Insiders is: what does clean beauty mean to you?
Clean beauty to me is a mindset more than just products. A mindset and lifestyle where there’s a symbiotic relationship with my beauty routine and nature-- similarly to sustainability. However, I do think this term, which stemmed from the ‘clean eating’ movement, has been co-opted by marketing. Clean beauty does not mean chemical-free, science-free or that ‘natural’ is the best option. Perhaps it’s easier to start with what it is not than what it is.
For example, palm oil which is commonly found in makeup and shampoo is a ‘natural’ ingredient from the fruit on tropical palm trees. Yet palm oil plantations are one of the biggest contributors to deforestation and loss of animal habitats.There are toxins I do try to avoid when broken down to ingredients in products: parabens, phthalates, aluminum compounds, ethoxylated agents, refined petroleum, talc, silica to name top of my list to stay away from.
You seem to have a real pulse on what's happening in the clean beauty space; is there any product and/or ingredient that is particularly exciting or groundbreaking to you right now?
I appreciate how Circumference is embracing “waste-sourcing” in their products by upcycling discarded grape leaves, partnering with wineries in their moisturizer that feels hydrating and luxe. True circularity in essence.
Also changing the narrative that ‘clean’ and ‘sustainable’ can’t be high-end, chic and luxury makeup. La Bouche Rouge, this Parisian based makeup line, is changing the notion. They are the first luxury makeup product without microplastics or plastics anywhere in production and packaging. The lipsticks are vegan and last forever and the hue is just so pretty. Also each item is like a family heirloom that can be personalized with your initials. When high standards of french beauty meet even higher standards of sustainable practice.
You're quite the multi-hyphenate! Tell us a bit about what you do, and what projects you're working on currently.
I’m a storyteller at heart! And that storytelling reaches all different types of mediums which is why I say I’m a ‘multimedia journalist.’ I interview, write, direct campaigns and short docs. I’ve interviewed Nobel Peace Laureates for their work in the climate space to Celine Dion and Olivia Rodrigo-- it spans across many sectors. My directing work ranges from APAHM campaigns for Facebook to a Fendi campaign with Naomi Watts which is how we first connected.
My passion really lies in communicating information that helps connect the dots on the influx of information we receive everyday: stories and ideas that cut through the content pollution we currently live in. This is where All of the Above comes in: a show that was born with my partner, Celine Semaan, out of the necessity to communicate climate news in a way that was empowering, accessible, and connected all the dots.
In the first episode of AOTA you and your co-host ask, "I'm just one person, what difference can I make?" What difference can we each make individually?
Well, that’s the interesting thing about this question-- history and data prove that one person can make a difference. It’s the mindset of that person believing they can or cannot that makes the ultimate change.
Let me ask you this, compared to our president now and before this election: did one person make a difference? This question can go both ways: for the better or for the worse.
If you’re still asking this question in regards to the climate space, I implore you all to watch this episode where we dissect this on All of the Above.
You talk about fear and scarcity mode as opposed to abundance and love mode. Can you expound on that a bit? It's easier to be caught up in the former mentality at the rate that we're using up our planet's resources!
Our pilot episode of All of the Above answers this question: If Climate Change is Real, Why Bother? We started doing research and found this study from Cameron Brick, a professor of social psychology at the University of Amsterdam, who says this “doom and gloom” climate perspective is actually dangerous. He says: “If you paint it as a terrible tragedy, people either turn away from it or internalize it and feel despair and then disengage.”
Then we started interviewing those on the frontlines of communities who are already experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis or who are working with climate communities and found that they all have more optimism than pessimism or apathy as they have no time to waste. When you are fighting for your future in real time, not something that is seen as off in the distance in 10 or so years… there is no room or time for apathy.
Indigenous communities are the ones who have taught us that humans have lived in equilibrium and harmony with nature for centuries. Humans are not the virus-- capitalism and colonialism and those systemic issues are the virus. Nature is the most abundant thing we know, this is why we need to change our perspective and approach it with love, not fear. It’s like the difference between children obeying their parents out of fear vs. love. Which one is more sustainable?
It's unlikely we'll be able to get rid of packaging altogether, at least anytime soon. If we want to be more environmentally conscious, what are some things we should look for?
Well first we should consider the Life Cycle Assessment of a product and packaging. For example, plastic is stigmatized as this villain material in the general public whereas it’s not binary: plastic takes the longest to decompose but has one of the lowest carbon footprints during production whereas glass has one of the highest carbon footprints during production. It’s all things to take into consideration, that sustainability is ultimately a spectrum, not a binary.
Things to look out for are how the brand is giving back to the climate movement larger than themselves, where are their ingredients sourced from, how ethical are these practices, how are they keeping their packaging circular (refillable, etc)? In my opinion, planting a tree or having 'recycled packaging' does not mean you're a sustainable brand-- so what else is the brand doing for the climate movement besides the bare minimum?
Switching gears a bit: what are you most looking forward to this summer now that we're out of lockdown?
So many things! First off, reminding myself of all the lessons we learned during the pandemic that I will take with me into this next chapter. Remembering the boundaries and connections that are most important and remembering we are all different people coming out of this and to respect this new person.
And then truly just living my best life: taking time for myself, to be curious, to reunite with loved ones on holiday and weddings and not give an F if I capture anything for social media-- living in the moment to the utmost.
Can you talk a bit about being an Asian American woman in the current environment?
Sure! I want to note that the #StopAsianHate movement is directly tied to our fight against the systems of oppression that hurt the environment because they are the same systems-- vulnerable communities are all oppressed by the institutions that hurt nature the most as well.
When the most vulnerable Asians are being attacked: elders and those least assimilated, the institution of white supremacy wins. The same institution that has gerrymandered white and black neighborhoods for generations, the same institution that continues to finance and fund fossil fuels, the same institution that values profit over people and planet. So our fight is everyone's fight is the climate fight.
And lastly, given how busy you are, what rituals or practices do you have in place to maintain balance?
Coming back to breath
Meditation (check out Ziva meditation, Joe Dispenza, Bob Proctor, Insight Timer app)
Morning Pages (a la The Artist's Way)
Wim Hof breathwork
Being kind to myself
Laughing or crying or dancing hysterically if I feel myself needing a stress release
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