We at The R Collective want to share our renewed optimism and hope for a brighter future. That’s why, through our ‘Celebrate Life’ campaign, we’re bringing to life the stories of our diverse and inspiring community as they emerge from a challenging period with passion and joy.
Meet two of our eight ambassadors- Social Investor Helen Chang and COO Louisa Zane - as we discover how they are driving positive change within their own lives.
Meet Helen Chang,
Global Co-Head of Structured Financing UBS
Helen Chang is a woman on a mission - to use money to create a level playing field and to drive financial independence to improve inequality. At 5 foot 3 inches, she’s a true pocket rocket with a towering presence. It’s no surprise that her big title - Global Co-Head of Structured Financing at UBS - lives up to her big personality.
What does ‘celebrating life’ mean to you?
To me, ‘Celebrating Life’ is about understanding who we are and our life’s purpose and appreciating what we have, including our health, the people around us and the environment. We need to take time to reflect on how to make the world a better place, what legacy we would like to leave behind us, and strive for a world with a more level playing field.
How does your ethos around ‘celebrating life’ translate into your clothing choices?
My clothing choices have always centred on what suits my personality best and what makes me feel comfortable. Since this is less about being ‘on trend’, most of my clothes are quite timeless, for me anyway! This means that I can wear them for many years and they don’t need to go to waste. I do have a large closet and I take good care of my clothes to make sure that they last for a long time.
Helen Chang wearing the Brooks Top from our Start From Zero collection.
As a leading finance professional, why does angel investing in women-led businesses make good sense?
Around half of my angel Investments are in female-led or equally-led businesses. According to a Boston Consulting Group article, businesses founded by women ultimately deliver higher revenue – “For every dollar of funding, these startups generated 78 cents, while male-founded startups generated less than half that—just 31 cents”, making women-owned companies better investments for financial backers. That said, women-led businesses tend to find it much harder to raise capital - as only a very small percentage of venture capital funds go to women-led ventures - and so I see it as a part of my responsibility to help address this gender investment imbalance.
Why is sustainable impact investing important?
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) in investment considerations has shifted from thematic to being the core considerations in my views. There is more focus on “Investment with Purpose”, and in the long run I do think that companies with strong sustainability principles will likely outperform. As an investor, I strongly believe in transforming financial wealth into social wealth, connecting our wealth to humanity and deploying it to where it is most needed. I believe in this thesis and think there is a win-win situation here.
Your angel investing spirit was inspired by your mother. What role do we all have in influencing the next generation about finances and increasing equality?
I think our investment approach is a collection of our knowledge and experience. If I reflect on my personal investment journey, I learnt a lot from my mum, who has a strong conviction of a specific investment thesis and who has managed to grow her investments through many years. I’ve also learned from my peers, especially through my trading career, my education at the business school and my angel investment networks.
It is therefore our responsibility to provide the right exposure and education to our next generation to improve their financial abilities. This education is not just about investing. It’s also about educating to improve financial independence. I am a trustee of a UK charity that provides business trainings to the survivors of human trafficking. Through the works of the charity, I've recognized that a lot of trafficked people’s vulnerabilities come from financial dependency. So one of the key pillars to drive equality is to create a platform for financial independence.
Meet Louisa Ziane,
Co-founder & Chief Operating Officer of Toast Ale
Louisa is not the type of woman you’d expect to be at the forefront of a sustainable beer revolution. But that’s where you’ll find this circularity expert, who is Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Toast Ale, the planet-saving business using surplus fresh bread to magic up craft beer. We’re raising a glass to that! Here’s Louisa, who’d rather spend time walking in the forest than shopping for clothes...
What does 'Celebrating Life' mean to you?
‘Celebrating Life’ is both a human and a nature-based meaning. On the human level, I've learnt a lot from my kids about living in the present moment - something that I struggle with as a mum of two whilst running a small business.
There's a real joy from the simplest things when you slow down and make time to be with others, like enjoying a meal and conversation with old friends or volunteering with neighbours in my local community.
This human interaction balances with a love and respect for the natural world. I try to make time to go leave the city and walk through fields and forests. It can be beautiful and humbling, and always leaves me feeling re-energised.
How does your ethos around 'Celebrating Life' translate in your clothing choices?
Comfort is my guiding principle, both in physical comfort (I welcomed the loungewear lockdown trend with wide open arms!) and in how clothes make me feel emotionally. The supply chain story and the sustainability of the materials is also really important to me and I fell out of love with fashion because of the terrible human rights abuses and fashion’s wasteful practices.
So, my approach became to buy as little as possible and to wear clothes for as long as possible, focussing on timeless and quality pieces, with a love of secondhand. It has been great to see the emergence of more conscious fashion brands over the past few years, but I would still rather spend time walking in the forest than shopping for clothes.
How can we empower women and ourselves through fashion?
Empowerment starts in the supply chain, respecting the land and the farmers growing materials, like cotton, and the fair treatment of garment workers. Ask questions of fashion houses, make conscious purchasing decisions, and share stories. We have a lot of power in the everyday purchases we make and the influence we have with friends, family and others around us.
What can the fashion industry learn from the food industry in terms of influencing consumer behaviour/changes?
People have lost the connection with the provenance of our food, and where waste ends up. As a result, food has been devalued from the highest level - for example with government policy focussed on making food cheaper rather than alleviating poverty - but cheap food is bad for the planet, the people who produce it and for our health.
Education can help to rebuild that relationship by using positive, human-centred storytelling that focuses on the beautiful benefits of better choices. For example, we know that one-third of ocean microplastics, which get into our food chain, originate from our clothes and that microplastics are even in the air we breathe.
By addressing that, we will have healthier oceans, safer food options and cleaner air to breathe. It's the responsibility of brands to make better choices simple for people.
With the challenges of the business we are in - which both require us to explore how to put waste back to work either in clothes or beer - what advice would you give to change-makers and activists to encourage people to take that first step?
It's a very exciting time to be part of the circular economy - it's becoming increasingly mainstream as challenger brands like ours prove the business case and the customer demand. Even institutional investors, such as pension funds, are divesting from old models and investing in a more sustainable future, so it's not a viable option to start a business that isn't sustainable.
As a result of this movement, there's lots of support available to new start-ups in the form of grants and advice, so get going and seek these out. And for activists, continue to challenge businesses rooted in polluting industries and hold us all to account for the commitments we're making to people and the planet.
Helen Chang, Global Co-Head of Structured Financing UBS