Susannah, founder of ZERRIN, wearing ethical brands at Looksee Looksee cafe, Singapore

Op-Ed | Things I've Learnt From Quitting Fast Fashion

by Susannah Jaffer January 26, 2018

Susannah Jaffer talks about what she has learnt from giving up fast fashionHey tribe! 

Through ZERRIN, I wanted to create a platform that made it easier for women to discover conscious brands online, but I also wanted to help others feel more connected to their purchases and start asking questions. Despite having now made it a habit to shop more responsibly and really advocate slow style, my journey to founding this company has definitely been a winding one. I haven’t always held the values I do now; it’s been a journey!  

You see, ever since I can remember, I’ve lived and breathed the fashion industry, either in retail back in the UK or in the media. Most recently, I was a style and beauty editor at a magazine in Singapore. A few years went by, and I found myself becoming jaded with the seasonal repetition of many international brands, and increasingly irritated with the poor quality of mass market fashion (because stuffy fabrics in the tropics and clothes falling apart in the wash after just a few wears is never cool!) On the flip side, through my job and travels I also discovered the work of creative local designers and upcoming indie businesses whose designs I found way more exciting and thoughtfully made.  

Then, in 2015, by chance I attended a screening of Andrew Morgan’s The True Cost. Gosh, it was a rude awakening. If you’re yet to watch it, it's a fascinating documentary that spotlights the social and environmental effects of the fashion industry supply chain, particularly in developing countries where most of our clothes are made.

I remember what I found most eye opening was the impact on people, from toxic dyes polluting waterways and affecting the health of local communities to clear human rights infringements. Of the latter, 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.

Thanks to the film and the culmination of my experiences throughout my career, I decided to consciously cut my spending and only support brands that championed socially or environmentally responsible values. 

Well, to be honest it proved challenging at the start. It really took a while (and a good dose of willpower) to curb my urge for shopping and quit buying fast-fashion altogether. It's made especially difficult if friends or family around you don't get why you're on such a 'mission,' or why you give a damn at all. But here I am, two years into this journey, to tell you some of the key things I’ve learnt from my experience:

1. Knowing where your clothes come from feels empowering

When you’re being more mindful about how you shop, I've found it gives you a completely new appreciation of provenance - the origin and story behind a product. It becomes more of a habit to check labels, read about fabric content and do a little research before making a purchase (easy to do on the go now thanks to modern technology!)

Now, when someone asks me where something I’m wearing or using is from, I’m proud that I can give an informed answer beyond just saying a brand name, or umm-ing and ahh-ing. I feel more ‘connected’ to my purchases, and as a result I've definitely developed a greater appreciation for the things I own. 

Life has also proved a lot simpler with a more edited wardrobe. Far from feeling like I have less choice or get bored wearing the same outfits, I get up in the morning and can actually see or visualise my wardrobe and what I want to wear that day. 

Susannah Jaffer wearing ethical fashion brands available to shop on ZERRINDress by Aanya Life, ethically made in India and vegan leather watch by VOTCH

2. I save a lot of money

One big stereotype of sustainable brands is that they tend to be more expensive, however, I’ve found that by shopping consciously I've actually saved money. A huge plus for my bank account!

Now, I buy less because I’m not shelling out precious dinero on things I don’t truly want or need, and as a result my wardrobe contains pieces I love to wear. Another bonus is that I now have more cash for other important things in life, like travelling and saving for a rainy day.

Saying that, I do agree that sustainable brands do tend to cost a bit more, but I think there’s valid reasoning to support that. There's so much to say on that topic it would need it's own blog post, but in a nutshell, in my view these labels can cost more because the company has respected the people involved with their brand and their planetary impact in the process, leading to higher material and production costs. As an individual, I value those things, and I’d rather support brands that match my values. It’s pretty simple!

I also think that in our minds, the price benchmark has already been set by mass fast fashion and blogshop brands who produce trend led pieces at cheap prices. Once you start looking into things a bit more, you soon realise that if workers are paid fairly, and the brand has used non-toxic chemical dyes and/or has produced with quality or sustainable materials, it would be impossible for a dress to cost $20.

3. Second hand is sweet

From buying pre-loved to swapping or renting, there are multiple brands that have cropped up over the past few years that are encouraging us to take part in a more circular economy and recycle our clothes. 

In Singapore, for example, pre-loved designer marketplaces like StyleTribute or The Fifth Collection offer second hand designer goods at discounted prices. Personally, I like my accessories to have more of a ‘worn in’ look, and have found a few gorgeous pieces from them over the last few years!

There’s also great initiatives like Swapaholic, which holds swapping events where you can trade in your old clothes and swap them for something new, as well as Covetella, a company that rents gorgeous dresses out at a fraction of the retail price. All of these options are way easier on your pocket, and better for the planet!

4. The future is bright!

I'm honestly SO excited for 2018, and really think it's going to be an incredible year for sustainability in all industries. What's certain is that on an individual level, we should be voting with our wallets for the type of future we want to see.

People are starting to realise that we have the power to influence companies to improve their practices, and there’s been a growing trend across the world of brands being scrutinised for their actions (remember how Zara stores were boycotted globally after the messages from unpaid workers were found in the lining of clothes in Istanbul?)

A fun fact: The word 'ZERRIN' actually means 'golden' in Turkish, and when I chose the name for the company it's because I felt it represented my optimistic vision for the future of retail. We want to showcase the good, the exciting and the positive steps designers are taking to make the industry more sustainable. Above all, we’re committed to doing our part to source and raise awareness of only transparent, sustainable brands from around the world and to empower you to #shopmeaningfully, and with peace of mind. You can read more about our story here.

Photography by Kimberly Leong

Susannah Jaffer
Susannah Jaffer


Founder of ZERRIN, Susannah is an avid lover of dogs and slowly made fashion. She is passionate about raising awareness of conscious brands who are doing their part to make the retail industry a better place.

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