From broke undergraduate to sustainable superstar, this is how Susannah Jaffer created a sustainable brand with intention.
If you haven’t heard of Susannah Jaffer, let us give you a breakdown. Before transforming herself into an entrepreneur, Susannah was a magazine editor focused on the intersection of sustainable fashion, retail, and media. Through her five years in the industry, Susannah found an internal shift in her perceptions of fashion. No longer wanting to perpetuate a hollow cycle, she began to weave intentional shopping into her work as an editor. This included spotlighting emerging brands that are deeply connected to their supply chain and carry social impact.
Naturally, her next big step was to start Zerrin. Singapore’s first marketplace champions independent designers and sustainable fashion labels around Southeast Asia. It’s home to brands like Indosole, The Verdant Lab, and Wray Crafted. Besides managing Zerrin, Susannah is also the voice behind the Made Better podcast where she sits with inspiring individuals to explore questions on sustainability. It covers the impact of what we create and consume, and how to choose better for a healthier planet. And of course, this made her the perfect contributor for our first-ever Sustainability Awards.
Read on to find out more about this absolute powerhouse of a woman.
5 things we learnt about Susannah Jaffer, founder of Zerrin
#1 She actually came to Singapore to be a teacher!
That’s right. A fresh grad in 2012, Susannah arrived on our sunny shores to be an English teacher. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), the visa for the teaching role fell through. This led to her explore other options which landed her in a PR agency doing an internship on a work holiday visa. From PR, she eventually moved into magazines where she worked her way up from junior editor to managing both the fashion and beauty sections.
#2 She’s an incredibly passionate storyteller.
With her media background, Susannah is a big fan of crafting narratives. When she first started Zerrin, she managed almost everything by herself. This included creating content, writing, and directing photoshoots. All of these skills were especially useful as she began to create content for the brands she works with, and that evolved into Zerrin Studio. This arm of her business is where Susannah deep dives into the essence of the brands she collaborates with in order to communicate their story.
#3 She was recognised as one of the top Singapore voices for sustainability on LinkedIn in 2022.
Despite considering herself an “unintentional thought leader”, it’s not a surprise that Susannah’s leading the eco-charge on LinkedIn. She initially started using the platform to keep up with news on sustainable fashion and social impact. Before she knew it, she was resharing and posting her opinions. There was never any intention to have people sharing her posts, but that didn’t stop some of Susannah’s articles from going viral.
#4 Her key to success? Be obsessed with value-adding.
From her days in editorial to her entrepreneurial journey, Susannah focuses on adding value wherever she can. Every action she takes is intentional and always serves a purpose. This ranges from organising offline events to give people the opportunity to shop for products in person, and curating a directory of sustainable lists anyone can turn to.
#5 Her biggest business mantra: Just do it.
For any entrepreneur out there who’s looking for a sign: this is it. It’s definitely not the easiest journey. There’ll be several challenges that come up while you’re building your business. This will also involve wearing many hats as you get your brand established. But Susannah reminds us that there’s a solution for everything. You just need to take the time to find it.
Let’s chat sustainability with Susannah Jaffer
What does sustainability mean to you?
On an individual level, sustainability means being more thoughtful and connected to how, why and what we consume. On a business level, it means being more thoughtful and connected to how, why and what we create.
What are some ways to live sustainably, especially in Singapore?
The simplest way anyone can start, regardless of socio-economic status, is to consume less and eliminate unnecessary purchases. From food to fashion to household goods, it’s important to be more thoughtful about what you’re spending your hard-earned money on. It’s okay to want things – buying new is not a dirty term. But what you can do is look for secondhand goods first. I always do this with furniture; 80% of my household is secondhand from Carousell and you wouldn’t have thought so!
What are your sustainable goals in 2023?
To produce less clutter, cook more at home and acquire ingredients from my local wet market to reduce food packaging. I stopped going to the wet market during Covid and haven’t gotten into the habit of going back yet.
Who is your favourite eco-warrior and why?
I admire Aja Barber, who is a London-based author, content creator and important voice in sustainable fashion and activism. She’s been instrumental in educating and empowering communities to think more deeply about the nuances of sustainable fashion. She has a really powerful, authentic and honest voice which comes from her lived experience as a minority, person of colour living and working in the UK.
I also admire the fact that she has never taken a dollar of advertising from a fast fashion company, despite her (deservedly) growing platform. She just keeps it real and isn’t afraid to highlight the hypocrisy within the fashion industry and the way we create and consume clothing.
For more insights on Susannah’s sustainability journey, listen to Launchpad’s podcast episode with her.
And don’t forget to vote for your favourite brands in our Sustainability Awards for a chance to win a stay at an eco-resort worth $950! (Voting ends on 21 May 2023)