As you may know, we've been trying to find ways to make all aspects of our life more sustainable, not just what we put on our plate. Fashion is one of the subjects that often get forgotten about and, dammit, we love to shop! So we were so happy when we met Susannah Jaffer at a sustainable fashion event hosted by The Wedge last year (if you don't know who The Wedge are, look them up on Facebook - they host monthly events in Singapore on sustainability and you learn a lot!). Susannah is the founder of e-commerce fashion site ZERRIN, a curated online boutique and lifestyle guide promoting sustainable living and consumption. They source the most unique, responsibly made fashion and beauty brands from around the world for you to browse conveniently in once place, while bringing you thought-provoking interviews and useful articles to inspire your conscious journey.
We loved so many pieces on ZERRIN but for both of us, one thing really stood out, so we YOLO'd it and both bought it... Don't @ us. Get ready for some epic pictures of us in this bad boi of a jumpsuit (which is one-size FYI) in front of the iconic Singapore shophouses on Koon Seng Road. Plus keep scrolling for an interview with Susannah Jaffer (who is a total babe by the way).
Go grab yourself a cuppa and get comfy, as we get to know Susannah and find out more about her company, how it all started, and her own, personal, sustainable journey.
What was your lightbulb moment that made you start Zerrin? And what was your job before when you decided to go full time with it?
Before launching ZERRIN I was fashion, beauty editor and later creative director at Expat Living magazine in Singapore. I got to write about the latest fashion launches, makeup and skincare, attend fun events, direct and style shoots, manage the company Instagram, meet and interview inspiring individuals from various industries and work with an incredibly talented team.
I didn’t really have a specific ‘aha’ moment, the idea for the business developed after a number of different experiences and eventually, I got to a pivotal point in my career where I knew that if I wanted to continue working in the fashion industry, I knew I’d need to make my contribution a positive one.
First up, I grew up in the UK with the infamous great British ‘high-street’ brands like Topshop, Zara, River Island and H&M, and reading glossies like Grazia, Look and Reveal. After I moved to Singapore and started working within the fashion and media industry, I was quite shocked at the rate of retail consumption here. It’s even faster and more fickle than in London! By this point, I was also becoming quite tired of products from fast-fashion brands falling apart in the wash or using fabric that wasn’t suited to Singapore’s climate, and I wasn’t getting results from drugstore skincare. Working in a media cycle where PR companies were promoting seasonal trends in season-less Singapore also, after a while, felt a bit meaningless.
At the same time, through my job, research and travels I was also discovering a number of independent local and sustainable brands whose designs I found way more creative, unique and exciting. I grew into wearing and supporting labels like these and consciously cut my spending. I felt more empowered and connected to my purchases. It’s a very different kind of experience knowing how products are made and being able to share those experiences with other people.
As I was researching more about sustainable brands, I realised that in Asia there wasn’t an online space for women to shop and discover sustainable brands in one place, while simultaneously learning about how to live a more conscious lifestyle. That’s where the spark for ZERRIN came from!
What ambitions do you have for ZERRIN?
Our long term mission is to inspire others to think and consume more consciously in a world where the way we approach consumption is harming the planet. I think everyone is at a different stage of ‘waking up’ to this fact, and we want want to be a helpful, savvy and stylish guide along the way.
For 2019, we’re building on everything we started in 2018. We’ll be adding new brands to our store, putting out more content and hosting more events. Our first event in March will kick off a series of ZERRIN talks on sustainability, mindful living and entrepreneurship. We’ll also be participating in Boutiques Fair again this year, and lots more!
How did you come up with the name?
The name ZERRIN actually means ‘golden’ in Turkish. When I was thinking up a name for the company, my instinct was to choose a word that had a positive meaning which reflected the output of the company and that had a nice ring to it. Finally, it had to look good in a logo. ZERRIN was the one!
Now that there seems to be more education and documentaries on fast fashion, what do you think this will mean for the fashion industry as a whole? In 5 years? 10?
More and more of us are waking up to the global impact of the fashion industry, but I think it will still take time for the majority of consumers to change their personal habits, like how often they buy, where they shop and what brands they purchase from.
Right now, for the majority of consumers, price and convenience still trumps ethical design and quality. At the same time, sustainable products right now cost more for a multitude of reasons - some of them decreased margins and increased production costs. Consumers need to demand more sustainable fashion in order for more brands to make changes and for it to become mainstream at more affordable prices. Bit of a chicken and egg situation there.
As many will have read in the news, there’s big changes happening on the brand front, with luxury conglomerates like Kering really taking sustainability seriously. I heard Michael Beutler, their Sustainability Operations Director, speak at Pure London last year and the steps they are taking are really interesting.
What do you think the future is for sustainable fashion in Singapore?
I think that Singapore with its size and spending power is a great testing ground for all sorts of sustainable brands and initiatives. In the coming years I hope that more local labels will choose to implement transparent supply chain strategies and that more start-ups incorporate sustainability into their business plans from the get go. At ZERRIN we want to keep that conversation happening in the forefront and to be a one-stop destination for women who are looking for these types of products. At the same time, I think one inhibiting factor for many sustainable fashion brands and businesses is how to grow and scale, because there’s a whole host of different factors to consider. There’s a lack of investment in this sector too. Hopefully that will change too!
Apart from fashion, which is clearly a huge passion of yours, have you made any other elements of your lifestyle more sustainable? What have been your biggest challenges?
I’ve been vegetarian for nearly two years now. I’ve never really liked the taste of meat, so it wasn’t hard for me to give up (although it can be tough eating with my other half as he is Chinese and eats everything!) I would struggle to go vegan though, as I do eat eggs quite regularly.
Plastic is a big challenge for most people in Singapore, especially from a waste disposal perspective. Even though we’ve cut down on how many we use in our household, I still have to bag up trash in a plastic bag to dispose of it correctly and hygienically. I need to find a solution for this in 2019!
What advice would you give to any women who are on the cusp of launching their own business or side-hustle?
Be very clear on your goals and your “why”, because keeping that in your mind’s eye will be very helpful during challenging times and key decision making. Also, I would say if you can, keep your side-hustle a side-hustle until you really need to invest all your time into it!
Head to ZERRIN now to check out the brands they work with and the range of clothing and beauty products that they stock so you can kick-start your 2019 ethically and fashionable AF.
L & S x