Cover Photo: Susannah Jaffer

The eco-minded entrepreneur shares how she avoids impulse buys, what clothes she would never wear, and how she scored a vintage Sex and the City dress

For those of us who are still figuring out the sustainable fashion thing, Susannah Jaffer is a leading light.

The Britain-born, Singapore-based entrepreneur is the mind behind Zerrin, a retail and media platform that is devoted to ethical and eco-conscious fashion. Zerrin doesn’t merely offer beautiful clothes, jewellery and beauty products that you can feel good about, but it opens you up to a whole new way of shopping that comes at little to no cost to the planet.

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Unsurprisingly, Jaffer possesses the discipline that you would expect of someone who could singlehandedly helm such a business, and that translates into her shopping choices as well; no trends or fast fashion brands for her, thank you very much. Instead, she lives by Vivienne Westwood’s wise words: “Choose well, buy less, make it last.”

Below, Jaffer tells us exactly how she does all of the three and lets us in on some of her favourite pieces from her wardrobe.

Please introduce yourself.

I’m a former fashion editor turned e-commerce and media entrepreneur. I’m passionate about helping both sides of the industry—citizens and brands—create and consume more consciously. I’m also a photographer, pianist and massive dog lover. I call both Singapore and London home.

What was the fashion landscape like when you started Zerrin? What did you want to change?

Four years ago when we launched, I’d say the Singapore fashion landscape was quite fragmented. There always has been a local designer scene, and there have been varied initiatives that have tried (and failed) to support and incubate their growth. There was also very little discourse around sustainability in fashion and what that constituted. From my view, I aspired to create more connections between different stakeholders within the industry—brands, consumers, suppliers—as I felt that was what was missing and an inhibitor to sustainability and social impact.

While Zerrin is known as a retail marketplace curating independent, sustainable designers, it’s actually just one part of what we do. At its heart, Zerrin is a growth engine for brands and SMEs to help them scale in various ways.

Read more: Asia’s Most Influential 2021: 3 Women Pushing For Sustainability in Singapore

What are some misconceptions about sustainable fashion that you want to dispel?

There’s quite a few! At Zerrin, we strongly believe a more sustainable way of consuming fashion is accessible to anyone, because at its heart the movement is not about buying more expensive clothes, which is what a lot of people think.

Sustainable fashion is about shifting your mindset and approach to acquiring clothes altogether, and when you’re more mindful about what you’re buying, naturally that means consuming less. To you, sustainable fashion consumption could look like thrifting or choosing secondhand, or it could look like renting for a one-off event rather than buying a dress you know you’ll rarely wear again. It could look like investing in a quality piece from a sustainable brand rather than a Shein haul. Despite our marketplace supporting independent brands, we regularly share information on all the other alternatives to consuming fashion on our platform, and even host events and workshops in our space, like secondhand pop-up shops.

How would you describe your personal style with three hashtags?

#eclectic #creative #conscious

How has your style changed over the years?

My style has always been quite changeable to be honest! Some days I style myself quite minimally, in just jeans or trousers and a T-shirt as I’m on the go and am focusing any creativity into my work rather than what to wear in the morning. Other days, I could be in the loudest printed dress and big earrings. One thing that hasn’t changed much is the silhouettes I like and gravitate towards, like A-line dresses, high-waisted pants, A-line denim skirts and great T-shirts.

How have your shopping habits changed since you began to commit to sustainability? What habits have you cultivated, or dropped?

It’s taken me time to figure out my personal style rather than moving from trend to trend like I did when I was younger. I’ve unsubscribed from fast fashion platforms (unless it’s to look at market news) as well as influencers who just promote unnecessary consumption. To reduce impulse purchases, I’ve made it a habit to not buy something at first sight, unless I’m absolutely certain, and to consider how often I’ll really wear something.

What is one style quote that you live by?

“Choose well, buy less, make it last.”

What is your go-to look when you want to impress or feel confident?

I actually feel most confident when I’m comfortable. I like to wear boots, a midi or wrap dress, a blazer or denim jacket (I have a big thing for denim jackets and own four different styles from casual to more formal) and some lipstick.

What is your preferred footwear?

Trainers or ankle boots! I’m not much of a sandals girl; if I do opt for sandals, I prefer them having a bit of an edge to them, like gladiator sandals.

What are some brands that have joined Zerrin that you’re particularly excited about?

I love the designs by Dorsu, who make excellent quality, ethically-produced basics in Cambodia—we’re going to be launching their menswear designs soon. We also have a Danish sustainable brand that is all about tailored silhouettes and work-appropriate styles which I’m excited for.

What are some eco-friendly textiles that you’ve discovered lately and you wish more people knew about? 

I recently discovered pineapple leaf blended textiles, a new initiative by a local brand that will be launched in collaboration with Design Singapore in July. It’s exciting as rather than pineapple leather, this is one of the first times a fibre has been created from pineapples specifically for use in clothing. I can’t wait to share more about it. Watch this space!

What is your style pet peeve?

Crocs (shudders).

What is something you would never wear?

Mini skirts and the colour brown!

What’s always in your bag?

My phone and a notebook. I’m old school and still like to write things down and make mind maps of my ideas on the go.

What is the last purchase you made?

An organic cotton trench coat by UK-based sustainable brand Aligne that I’d been eyeing for a few months. Perfect for the transitional weather in spring in London. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll get a lot of wear out of it in Singapore, but it’s a classic and something I’ll wear for life.

What is your most prized possession in your closet?

I couldn’t choose just one. I do have the Halston Heritage ‘Carrie Bradshaw’ dress that my partner found on eBay for a steal, that’s quite a special number and holds fond memories.

How do you feel about companies like Shein growing at such a fast pace, and being so popular in Singapore?

Companies like Shein are growing at such a fast pace because of the money being pumped into them by not just consumer dollars, but investment companies looking to cash out. I think it’s inevitable that brands selling at that price point will grow quickly, but I don’t think given the increased focus on climate change and the values of Gen Z shifting (who are the customers of the future, only just coming into buying power), that they’ll have longevity in the market. 

Zerrin turns five this year. What are your proudest accomplishments so far?

Surviving through a pandemic, building a team, being asked to write for Vogue, helping our customers find pieces they truly love, opening a boutique, and figuring it all out as the sole founder are all parts of our journey that make me proud.

What’s next for Zerrin? What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?

Whatever direction we take, I hope for Zerrin to become a globally-recognised brand known for our work championing sustainability, creativity, and a community of brands and citizens striving to choose better.

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