mae tan
Tan wears metal earrings, Gucci. All other clothes and accessories, her own

“I’ve come to realise that it doesn’t give me joy to be that rebel without a cause anymore. I want to stand for something.” This, coming from this fashion entrepreneur/influencer/girl-about-town whose family owns the cult multi-label boutique Surrender, might seem a bit of a revelation. But followers on her Instagram (@marxmae) would have noticed that over the past year or so, she’s been increasingly voicing out on issues such as climate crisis and mental wellness.

This wasn’t always the case. Previously she’d opined on topics such as the consumption of dog meat – only to get burnt by commenters, inevitably causing her to shrink back and be wary of speaking up. What changed? For the 24-year-old, it was a trip to a leaders’ retreat in Bhutan earlier this year, where she underwent business coaching and mindfulness workshops that helped crystallise her resolve.

At the retreat, she met Dr Daniel Cordaro, co-founder of The Contentment Foundation that believes in fostering emotional and psychological well-being from a young age through a special school curriculum. Hooked by his vision, she now volunteers at the organisation and helps to find donors.

It hasn’t been an easy task embracing her twin passions of social work and fashion. “I had a hard time speaking about it when I was younger because I felt like if I want to talk about the environment, then I could never own anything that’s plastic or that I had to be a certain person before I could talk about it,” she says. “But after a lot of talking to my peers and mentors, I realised that I should see the light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.”

Her change in perspective has already made an impact. Surrender opts out of sending physical invites to their events and its carrier bags are 100 per cent paper (nope, no plastic coating that makes them harder to recycle). As for tips for those struggling with mental wellness – something Tan has experienced herself – she lets on that she’s found penning her thoughts down on paper to be the most self-therapeutic outlet.

As she puts it plainly: “We’ve always been told by society to be strong and to look successful, but why can’t we talk about things that make us feel weak?”

Photography Vee Chin Styling Imran Jalal Hair Erina/1TT0+Lim Makeup Benedict Choo, using Urban Decay

This story first appeared in the December 2019 issue of FEMALE.