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Sam Yang: “Why I’d Like To Inspire A Smile Movement”

In the years of organizing environmental campaigns, philanthropy campaigns, I constantly hear people tell me “It’s great, and I’d love to participate, but I don’t have the time.” Or they’d say “when I have more money I’ll help.” The way I see it is that making an impact on the environment or making an impact […]

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In the years of organizing environmental campaigns, philanthropy campaigns, I constantly hear people tell me “It’s great, and I’d love to participate, but I don’t have the time.” Or they’d say “when I have more money I’ll help.” The way I see it is that making an impact on the environment or making an impact on society is not about making a huge difference in a single day. It’s changing one little habit, one at a time, and it could be the tiniest one. Take one less plastic bag. Re-use that piece of trash. Share a portion of your lunch with the homeless guy. Smile and say good morning at 3 people every morning. Making a positive impact on our environment and society is not as time-consuming or requiring deep pockets as most people imagine.

The planet sustains our livelihood. Mother nature takes care of us, and we need to take care of her. The way to do that, is for society to be more aware of how we are impacting our environment. I was taught a Chinese proverb that I’ll be poorly translating: “While eating a fruit, pay respect to the tree the fruit came from.” I’ll add to the proverb and make it more complete to relate to this question: “and don’t cut down that tree or no one else can enjoy fruits.”


I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Yang of VAST.life. As a lifestyle brand founded in Los Angeles, California with global connections to Hawaii and Asia, Vast is committed to spreading good vibes, finding empty peaks, and celebrating the bounty of life in its many forms. We’re surfers, first and foremost, but we’re also much more. In our hearts, we’re explorers. We can be found in distant locales hunting the remnants of an off-season swell and we’re equally comfortable in the streets of Los Angeles as we are a back alley in Taipei. We’ve built our aesthetic on the people, places, and cultures we’ve come to love. We thrive on new ideas and collaboration. Because if there’s one thing we’ve found to be true, it’s that the best moments in life — whether it be a perfect sunrise session with one of your best friends or sharing a beer with a stranger at a far-flung pub — happen with other peoples.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your background- how and where you grew up?

I was born in Taiwan, moved to Australia when I was 8, then moved to LA and have lived here ever since. My family has been in apparel manufacturing since 1981. We’ve been making apparel for brands and retailers around the for almost 40 years, and for the past 15 years or so I’ve been using these resources with a passion for surf and street fashion, in creating surf lifestyle apparel.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The Little Engine That Could That’s a joke, but I enjoy reading books about people’s journeys to personal growth, specifically through travel and nature. Nature, particularly the ocean speaks to me, and a lot of my life lessons are learned from interacting with the ocean and being humble by her vastness. I enjoy reading books by authors who have their own philosophies on how experiences in nature have shaped their values and beliefs.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“The journey is the destination.” Factory life far is from glamorous, but it is what I grew up with. While classmates took karate lessons, I learned how to differentiate fabric by touch. I used to despise anything that had to do with apparel manufacturing, thinking that one day I want to be a musician or a teacher, or I just want to surf. Eventually, I was lucky enough to figure out how to combine passion with work, but that took literally the majority of my adult life to do. In the early years, there were a lot of internal conflicts choosing between what “I loved to do” and what “I had to do”. Looking back, there were some very unhappy years. Then one day somehow it clicked! The journey is the destination. The goal is always the goal, but I needed to also enjoy the steps it took to reach the goal. Hard work is still needed (it’s always needed), but if I don’t enjoy the journey, and I’m also never able to reach the goal, then what has been the purpose or all that hard work. Finally, I was able to accept that my life is making clothes. That’s never going to change. Now, let’s have some fun with it and make it as meaningful as I can!

You are currently leading an organization with a social impact initiative that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

We are a surf brand. Our souls are connected by the ocean, enjoy the travels, and love spending time with people, surfing and traveling. For years, we have built our brand on these things we love, while making some solid surf fashion. It only made sense for us to use the resources we have to do something helpful during the pandemic and hope soon one day we can all get back to doing these things we love: traveling around the world, surfing, eating, laughing, dreaming up the next tee shirt of board short design.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

To me, a hero is someone who puts the needs of others before their own. Using resources that are available to them, in bettering the overall well being of those around them. Not necessarily doing something extraordinary — although extraordinary is definitely heroic. For us, it is doing the right thing everyday, even when times and situations make it difficult to keep doing what’s right.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

Compassion, selflessness, kindness, resilience, and being inspirational.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

I think it’s when we see the livelihood of something that’s important to us encountering danger, we naturally do what we can to protect it. For instance, a life in danger, trash on the beach, plastic in the ocean, etc. When something meaningful to you needs protecting, I think it’s human nature to step up and do something about it. I think we all have it within us, to be everyday heroes.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

It’s in our company’s DNA.We just want things to be better, sharing the stroke, spreading the positive vibes. Specific to COVID19 there really wasn’t a point that we decided to take action. It just naturally happened

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

My parents.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

What frightens me the most, personally, is seeing the people divided. #TogetherAlwaysWins, we truly believe that. I hope we can set differences aside, for a second, and help each other to deal with one problem at a time. Seeing a handful of problems, all melting together, overlapping and making confusion of what’s actually the most important problem at hand is not just frightening, but very disheartening.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

Seeing my daughter smile and hearing her laugh gives me the most hope. That’s what we should be protecting, right, the smiles and laughters of the next generations with what we do. They are the future, and we are just here to pass the baton. Being reminded that life can be so simple, and true happiness is always within you, amongst all the other emotions as well. Problems are problems, and you just do what you can to make things better. Hopefully, your immediate environment is a little better, and you just keep doing what’s right until the baton is passed. Remembering this, then I feel recharged, ready to do more, ready to keep doing the right things.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

Seeing stories of people helping is always inspiring and even more so during these times. When one’s own life is already so difficult, they find the love to sacrifice even more and help another life, whether it be a human life or some other animal life. What I’m finding most disappointing is people taking the pandemic and making it political, or confusing it to be political, using it to cause division, when now more than ever we need more togetherness.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

I think the crisis has exposed and/or heightened the problems that have always existed. We all knew the problems were there, but most of the time we were busy living our lives, chasing our dream, or sometimes just turning a blind eye. I don’t feel the crisis has caused me to reassess my view of the world. I wholeheartedly believe that inherently we are all good. The crisis was more of a wake-up call to the world, to thinking and behave differently. I think people are trying to figure things out, coping, learning how to change, while also fighting not to change. With most things though, it always gets worse before it gets better right? It’s a process, but we’ll get there.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

I think this single question can be an entire thesis paper! It’s a difficult one to answer in short. Keeping the environment healthy so future generations can also live on a healthy planet is very important to me. I feel that because our priorities have shifted to “survival mode” during the pandemic, taking care of our environment becomes a lesser need. It is understandable, but I hope that if when we come out of this crisis, the planet is not littered with millions of tons of disposable face masks, gloves, face shields, etc..Or maybe that’s the next crisis — how to deal with pandemic trash or how to deal with new diseases or eco-changes stemming from pandemic trash, and then we can remember that we all share this planet that provides for our existence. (I don’t hope for another crisis…but I do worry about all the trash that’s being created and thrown away without giving it another proper thought)

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

In the years of organizing environmental campaigns, philanthropy campaigns, I constantly hear people tell me “It’s great, and I’d love to participate, but I don’t have the time.” Or they’d say “when I have more money I’ll help.” The way I see it is that making an impact on the environment or making an impact on society is not about making a huge difference in a single day. It’s changing one little habit, one at a time, and it could be the tiniest one. Take one less plastic bag. Re-use that piece of trash. Share a portion of your lunch with the homeless guy. Smile and say good morning at 3 people every morning. Making a positive impact on our environment and society is not as time-consuming or requiring deep pockets as most people imagine.

The planet sustains our livelihood. Mother nature takes care of us, and we need to take care of her. The way to do that, is for society to be more aware of how we are impacting our environment. I was taught a Chinese proverb that I’ll be poorly translating: “While eating a fruit, pay respect to the tree the fruit came from.” I’ll add to the proverb and make it more complete to relate to this question: “and don’t cut down that tree or no one else can enjoy fruits.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My brain is always full of new ideas, sporadic. For today, and since I’m influenced by my last response, I would say I would like to start a “Smile Movement”. Just smile and say hi, to promote “togetherness” and spread good vibes.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Our President. I’m quite intrigued at how his brain operates.

How can our readers follow you online?

I haven’t been big on social media recently, just really tied down trying to navigate our company, our teams, and my family. Follow our brands’ instagrams:

@vast.life

@vast_cali_eatery

@wetswimwear

@minnywet

@brothers_marshall

@in4mation

And if you really want to follow me, I’m @mistersammo

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