Serai Spotlight (IWD edition) with Jessica Somers of 3.1 Phillip Lim

March 8, 2022

Jessica Somers is the Head of Brand, Communications and Sustainability of 3.1 Phillip Lim. With a flair for communications and a passionate commitment to the environment, Jessica steers the sustainability strategies at the New York-based luxury label, exploring green approaches to fashion.

We caught up with Jessica to learn how her unquenchable curiosity sets sail for evolutions in her fashion career, the young female leader who holds her spellbound, and the power of women coming together to drive changes.

What lessons have you learned from all your years of transitioning businesses to sustainable practices? Was it different at 3.1 Phillip Lim?

Sustainability is a journey, and it takes a village to turn the direction of the ship. This is especially so in fashion which traditionally is a complex system - where you’re navigating artistry, archaic and fragmented supply chains, unpredictable consumer demand and increasing difficulties in international trade. 

Two things that I’ve absolutely learnt is firstly, you need unequivocal commitment from leadership to build a sustainable business. With every step, you reach a pathway that requires shifts in priorities, resources, investment and top-level down urgency. 

The second thing is to create real impact within a business. You need inter-department collaboration where an idea is supported all the way through. You need an army to mobilise the movement, an army who is truly committed to the cause.

At 3.1 Phillip Lim, I lead a small and nimble sustainability task force of 15 people globally across six departments and this team structure is a big factor in our success. 

How do you translate those ideas from top to the bottom?

I think the key is using the the leadership's commitment to sustainability as an inspiration to mobilise that task force. Communicate and visualise that commitment by identifying what success looks like. If you know those two things together, through collaboration, you can figure out everything that happens in between.

Do you think working for a brand with founders who care about sustainability makes it easier?

Definitely, it makes it so much easier. Both of our co-founders, Phillip and Wen, have a huge commitment to this since the beginning. And I think bringing in someone like me to prioritise all the progress that we're making drives momentums. In a way, sustainability brings out the exploratory side of your job, like finding new innovative materials or building an efficient supply chain. Anything is possible when you find a few other people to share this conversation with and explore this together.

Was your personal life influencing your career? Or how did that happen?

I would describe it as an evolution rather than like an industry shift. I'd always gravitated towards corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and always had a big personal commitment and interest in the environment. But I got to a point in my career in fashion where I knew I needed either a change or an evolution.

So I went back to school and studied part time while I was still working full time to get a certification in sustainability. I was instantly able to apply what I was learning at school in my role. And it all just evolved from there.

This year’s theme for IWD is “#BreakTheBias”. Have you faced any bias in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?

I have certainly faced bias in my career and whilst this is hard to say, the times that have really stuck with me have been bias from other women. I have experienced this many times in professional environments throughout my career. I can only describe it as a competitiveness that comes from a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. As if there is only enough room for one successful woman in a team or on a project. I think this comes from our joint belief that our space is limited and there are only so many seats at the table. More seats are opening up. 

They key to dismantling this bias is empowering each other in ways that uplift and bring us together. If we root for each other more, our impact will be greater, our voice louder and that will actually change things. 

Which woman/female entrepreneur do you admire the most, and why?

This was a hard question to choose just one. And I wanted to highlight someone that may be new to some of the audience watching - an incredible woman, Noor Tagouri, the most established 27-year old I’ve ever come across. Noor is an award-winning journalist, activist, content-creator and producer. Through her many streams of content and podcast series, she exhibits so much bravery, self-confidence and a powerful sense of agency. 

She creates space for conversations that typically only swirl around in our own head. She’s a journalist at heart, but has a unique talent of tapping into a depth of truth that the world really needs right now. 

What message would you like to send out to young women?

My advice is to view your career as a series of pathways, rather than a linear journey of progress. The traditional career is usually a ‘ladder’, jumping from one thing to the other, higher and higher.

Some of the best opportunities in my career have come through following my intuition about opportunities - and people, and choosing curiosity over conquests. Trust the process. The path least taken is usually the most interesting one. 

What do you hope to see change or progress for women in the next five years?

Well, rather than us having just one day (where women mostly just support other women), I hope we reach a time when our contribution and value is normalised. With this will come more women leaders, pay parity and proper infrastructure for women taking time to start a family. 

I hope to see more female leaders harness the traits that have been pitted against us in our work. We should exhibit emotional intelligence; we should practice empathy; we should be outspoken. 


About the series

To celebrate International Women's Day 2022, we sat down with seven female trailblazers in the fashion and sustainability industry to talk about their struggles and challenges, career learnings and advice to young women.