From fashion and beauty editor to champion of conscious brands, Susannah Jaffer launched Zerrin to connect us with something much more important than the next #ootd...
Sustainable fashion? Singapore is having a moment. In case you haven’t noticed, local labels are making their mark in the ethical fashion scene, and as more of us are making an effort to live more consciously, what we choose to invite into our wardrobe is more important than ever. One local fashion lover who’s made a serious leap is Susannah Jaffer: from creative director to founder of the divine ethical fashion and beauty boutique Zerrin, she’s all about shopping small, supporting brands doing business sustainably, and telling some beautiful stories along the way…
We met up with Susannah in her studio for a chat to find out more about her mantra to shop meaningfully…
Tell us a little about your former life…
I moved from London to Singapore in 2012 with my boyfriend after finishing university: I’d been recruited for a teaching role at a language school, but due to visa issues, the position fell through and I had to scramble to find something new. So I started writing a fashion blog and got to know some girls at a local PR agency, and actually ended up doing an internship there. That was my first taste of the media industry in Singapore. After that ended, out of the blue I got a call from Expat Living magazine for a role. It was quite lucky really, as I’m definitely better at writing than I am public relations! I stayed there for nearly five years, working as their fashion and beauty editor and later as creative director until I left to launch Zerrin, a multi-label online store and platform for conscious brands.
What made you realise you needed to do this?
I don’t think I had a specific ‘aha’ moment; it was a culmination of experiences. A few years into my career, I found myself becoming jaded with the seasonal repetition of most international brands, as well as irritated with the poor quality of mass market fashion. (Because stuffy fabrics in the tropics and clothes falling apart in the wash is never cool!) Through work and my travels I also discovered independent local designers and upcoming sustainable businesses whose designs I found way more creative, exciting and thoughtfully made.
Then, in 2015, I attended a screening of Andrew Morgan’s The True Cost. That was a rude awakening. The documentary spotlights the social and environmental effects of the fashion industry supply chain, particularly in developing countries where most of our clothes are made. What I found most eye opening was its impact on people. The most shocking illustration of this was, of course, the horrendous Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013 which killed over 1,100 people. It goes without saying that no-one should have to suffer or die to make the clothes on our backs.
I decided to consciously cut my spending and only buy from brands that championed socially or environmentally responsible values. As it happened, increasingly I’d have friends or strangers asking me where they could find the products I had started to wear. That sparked the idea of Zerrin: a platform that made it easier for women to shop and discover sustainable brands in one place, but also a space that shared inspirational content and brought together a community around a set of conscious values.
Have you found it challenging to commit to sustainable, ethically produced fashion and beauty?
Fashion has always been a big part of my life, but for me it’s always been about more than just the surface experience of wearing a piece of clothing. It’s the way clothes make me feel that counts. I felt so inspired by the stories behind ethical brands and fell in love with their designs – many that we now carry – that I felt proud and empowered to support them. I’ve never felt that I had to sacrifice my sense of personal style. Also, my skin and hair really improved after using many of the natural or organic beauty brands we carry, so my interest grew from this authentic place of first-hand experience and wanting to share that with others.
What’s at the heart of the people and products you want to work with?
Connection. Through everything Zerrin puts out as a company, from our online store to content, workshops, events or partnerships, our goal is to reignite a sense of connection to the things we buy, to other people and to the world around us. I feel like a lot of issues we face in multiple industries right now, including the problems created by the pace and lack of regulations in the fashion industry, comes down to a sense of dissonance, a lack of empathy and understanding. By connecting women with conscious brands and their stories, educating people about the impact of the industry both online and offline and what it really means to know where your products come from, I hope Zerrin will inspire others to shop, live and connect more consciously.
Can you share a story a label at Zerrin that really resonates with you?
One label I love that’s exclusively available on our site in Asia is Talee, a jewellery collection from Canada. The name Talee means to ‘tie’ in Bahasa. Its founder, Lorraine Lee, is originally from Sabah in Malaysia, and developed the idea for her designs from the act of tying knots, which was used by her family as cognitive therapy for her father’s brain injury. I was really struck by the story behind her label and love who she is as a person, as well as how intentional the design was, and how much it meant to her. I found the craftsmanship and unique take on tassels and colour so eye-catching.
Tell us about the name Zerrin…
The word means ‘Golden’ or ‘The Golden One’ in Turkish. When I was choosing a name, I gravitated towards something that wasn’t obviously ‘eco’ sounding. We’re all at different stages of our journey as shoppers when it comes to fashion, and I didn’t want to put our customer in a box. Some women will come to us looking for sustainable design, others will stumble across us because a product has simply caught their eye. Also, when I came across the word Zerrin, it just gave me really positive vibes.
We love your motto “shop meaningfully” – tell us why this speaks to you…
#ShopMeaningfully stands for shopping in a more more curated and considered way. It means shopping more thoughtfully instead of mindlessly subscribing to fads and trends. It means appreciating the human effort behind the things we purchase, instead of hunting down cheap throwaway deals.
By consuming more consciously, with this renewed awareness, I’ve experienced first hand how what I wear and buy has become endowed with this new kind of emotion. I think that’s the real power of the sustainable fashion movement. It reconnects us to our clothing and in so doing, we approach choosing what we wear from a more meaningful place. I think my life has really been enriched by doing so.
It feels as if there’s real change here in Singapore when it comes to conscious living: what are you most excited about?
It’s been really cool to see people’s attitudes changing. Right now more and more people are adopting a zero waste lifestyle, recycling more and reducing their plastic usage. It helps that it’s quite an affordable part of your routine to switch out, too! When it comes to our wardrobes or skincare, however, there’s still a big trend of buying into brand names and not giving much thought to a product’s provenance or ingredient list. I’m really keen to see this movement grow and my goal is for Zerrin to be a part of that change.
Join the Zerrin community.
Like this story? Check these out:
Our guide to ethical and sustainable fashion in Singapore
Swap don’t shop: The Fashion Pulpit is Singapore’s first clothes swapping space!
Thinking of breaking up with plastic? Here’s how
Read our interview with Stephanie Dickson, founder of Green is the New Black
Plastic-free beauty swaps you might want to try…