Tired of fashion’s unsettling pace of production and consumption in Asia, Susannah Jaffer left her job as an editor and creative director to kickstart an online boutique for discerning shoppers to get their ethical fashion fix.
Whilst some struggle in their search for a career that defines them, Susannah Jaffer has done the opposite with Zerrin, her multi-label fashion platform that promotes sustainable brands from around the world. For this Londoner and champion of the conscious movement, her true calling came during a stint in one of Singapore’s leading lifestyle magazines, when she stumbled across brands and individuals who were making both a social and environmental impact on the industry.
Watching The True Cost, a documentary by director Andrew Morgan, also gave Susannah a reality check as it uncovered the ugly side to today’s fashion industry. “I couldn’t unlearn what I’d learnt, and I knew that I needed to make a personal change,” she says. It was a turning point that made her adjust her shopping habits. “I felt empowered knowing where, how and when my products were made, and I realised I didn’t have to sacrifice my sense of style.” As she went further down the rabbit hole, she discovered a wave of independent brands and entrepreneurs who cared about their brand’s impact on people and the planet. The only problem? These labels, limited in their reach and market presence but strong in their values and ethos, were difficult to discover if consumers weren’t at the right place at the right time.
These experiences and insights eventually led to the inception of Zerrin, a platform where women can shop socially and environmentally responsible products from countries like Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong, Canada and London. Items include ethically-sourced apparel, handmade jewellery and organic skincare, all with a strong backstory. Customers have close to 20 fashion and beauty brands to choose from. What’s more, they can shop by the values that resonate with them most, be it vegan and cruelty-free product processes, fair trade practises or handcrafted goods. Beyond retail, the online store aims to foster an authentic community of individuals who feel more connected to each other, themselves and the world around them.
As a one-man team, Susannah confesses that running her own online store can be a struggle. Inexperience and a lack of investment backing meant that she had to be resourceful and creative with solutions to stay afloat. Convinced by the social and economic viability of her proposition, she finds it easy to argue its corner. “I found that by shopping more consciously, I’ve actually saved more money,” she explains. “Now, I buy less because I’m not spending money on things I don’t truly want or need, and as a result my wardrobe contains pieces I love to wear.”
Zerrin may occupy a tiny slice of the market share for now, but Susannah has no complaints about that. “Being small means I can take a personal approach to everything I put out there. I love connecting with our customers, finding out their perspectives on what we’re doing, and working on building Zerrin’s community from the ground up.” When she isn’t sourcing more brands, she’s telling the stories behind them and spotlighting inspirational figures who define the conscious movement, alongside coming up with workshops, events and partnerships to educate people about the impact of the industry in a down to earth, accessible manner.
The finishing line is for sustainable fashion to evolve past its niche role, and Susannah sees raising awareness of the value of sustainable clothing and the industry’s true waste as the first step. Finding a way to produce wearable designs sustainably and affordably is the next key to breaking the current barriers to entry and introducing more fashion labels with sustainable principles. The smart money is on the fact that fashion’s paradigm shift might come sooner rather than later. As Susannah sums it up, “The goal is to move towards a future where we no longer need to differentiate something as sustainable or not, for it will be the norm.”