Sarina Ho
Ethical fashion and slow living advocate

Sarina Ho had left the healthcare industry to pursue ethical fashion, something she had grown to be deeply passionate about. Here, she shares about the similarities between the two, why there is no such thing as over communication, and an important mindset to keep when entering a new workplace.

Hi Sarina, tell us who you are and what you do.

Hi there! I’m Sarina and I grew up Chinese American in San Francisco, California. I currently live in Los Angeles and I’m studying fashion design and working as a technical design assistant.
Tell us more about your transition into a different industry.

Throughout high school, I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to pursue as a career. Having Asian parents, they suggested I go for nursing since it would guarantee a stable job after I graduated. I enjoyed my science classes in high school so I decided I would go for it. Throughout my four years of nursing school, I didn’t hate it but I also didn’t love it. I took many unrelated classes such as boxing, yoga, and golf to take my mind off of nursing.

After graduating and taking the nursing certification exam, I received a job offer in Los Angeles. I moved there and started working as an operating room nurse at a hospital. I absolutely dreaded going to work every day. It was a complete nightmare. I was earning a healthy income but what was the point if I wasn’t enjoying life? So six months later, I called it quits.

As you could guess, my parents weren’t exactly thrilled about this. They encouraged me to look for jobs in another area of nursing. I started applying to jobs in nursing but also to ones in fashion since I’ve been interested in fashion since I was young. I didn’t receive many responses from either so I decided I would go to the fashion companies directly. I happened to visit Father’s Daughter, we set up an interview within the week, and the following Monday I was starting my first fashion internship.
What are some similarities between nursing and fashion?

I am pursuing pattern making in fashion so I would say that a similarity to nursing would be that they are both very detail-oriented jobs. In pattern making, we deal with precise numbers to ensure that the garment fits exactly as it should. There are specific details that need to be on the pattern to ensure the cutter will know what to cut. As for nursing, there are many instruments and supplies that are needed for an operation. Not only would I need to make sure I had all of them, I would have to set them up specific to each physician. In both pattern making and nursing, details are important for the rest of the team to function correctly.

Speaking of teams, I feel that fashion and nursing require thorough communication. In fashion, there are many steps to creating a garment and each step has a different team. If there is a failure in communication, the product may not come out as expected. This is the same in an operating room. When the communication is not clear, something may be missed and a patient can be harmed. There is no such thing as over communication because mistakes can happen when everyone on a team is not on the same page.
How did you get interested in advocating about sustainable fashion, and why is it so important to you?

As many others, I became interested in sustainable fashion after I watched the documentary “The True Cost.” I learned that the working conditions of those in the fast fashion garment industry are inhumane and unsafe. After working as a nurse and coming close to experiencing a human’s death, I can’t see why fashion should do the same simply for clothing. Because of this, I wanted to take part in the change not only by supporting sustainable brands but actually working in an ethical fashion company.

Tell us about a day in your life.

Typically during the year, I’ll wake up early for school which starts at 7AM. My fashion classes are around four hours long and it’ll start with the teacher going through a lesson and after, we’ll work on our projects. After class, I’ll have lunch before I head to work. At work, everyday looks different depending on where in the process of garment making we are with clients. Things I could possibly do are digitizing and plotting patterns, sourcing fabrics and trims, and communicating with the cutters and sewers.
Besides schooling and working, you also share content about your journey with fashion through your blog. What do you learn from it?

I share content on a weekly basis because it creates a deadline which causes me to constantly create. If I weren't posting routinely, I would be creating at a much slower pace.
In one of your posts, you talk about leaving an internship before securing another job because it felt wrong. You shared that “it’s easy to stay somewhere where we’re unhappy and not leave due to fear and the unknown.” What is the biggest lesson you have learnt having to change jobs?

If you don’t enjoy your job, you have the ability to change it. It definitely will take courage to leave especially before you’ve found another position but honestly life is too short. There isn’t time to dread another day of work. I’ve been through it and sometimes I wonder why I tortured myself for so long. On another note, I also want to share that no matter where you work, immediately or over time you can always find something that you don’t like about your job. It’s really about how you decide to change what you don’t like about it.
On that note, what is a challenge you face, and how do you cope with it?

I feel that there isn’t a “perfect” workplace in the fashion industry. Having a sustainable mindset, I can see that manufacturing new clothes requires a lot of materials and often isn’t environmentally friendly. A lot of waste is created such as fabric and paper. In my current workplace, they have been throwing all the waste into one bin. I talked to my co-worker about this and we decided to create a separate bin for paper waste to recycle. What I learned from this is that even though a workplace isn’t “perfect” as I would like, I can make a change.
That is such a great initiative. Can you tell us about an unexpected lesson you have learnt?

In a busy and fast paced environment, there are tasks that just need to get done by a certain deadline. When I first started my job, I was trained to do certain things but after a few weeks I was on my own. I had a list of tasks I had to accomplish whether I was trained to or not. For some time, I just pushed back doing these tasks until it was almost the deadline. That’s when I realized that even when I don’t know how to do something, I just have to try and see what happens. After I did that and it turned out fine, I’ve been trying different things on my task list and I’ve actually been completing them within the day. The unexpected lesson I learned was to take a risk and just go and do.
Looking ahead, where do you see yourself in three months, one year, and five years?

In 3 months, I want to be continuing school and working where I am. I want to eventually become a pattern maker in 1 year, and in 5 years I want to have gained a wealth of experience as a pattern maker and perhaps be starting on my own brand.
Instagram: @sarinaho

Images courtesy of Sarina Ho
(Interviewed in 2018)