What does it really look like to consume more sustainably? And how do you ‘get there’ in terms of transforming your mindset? As with most things worth working for in life, it’s about the journey, not the final destination. Learning to practice green habits is never an overnight success. From reducing single-use plastic to fast fashion consumption, it’s about putting one foot in front of the other.
This definitely rings true for Jasmine Tuan, founder of clothes swap organisation Cloop and Associate Marketing Director at Zero Waste Singapore. A self-confessed fashion addict, today she’s a secondhand advocate that’s learnt to love living with less, and has found inner peace through decluttering her life (and closet!) of all things non-essential.
Tell us about your ‘green’ journey.
While I’m known for being an eco-advocate now, I haven’t always acted this way. In the past, I was a real shopaholic. I had a room full of clothes, bags, shoes and accessories but still felt like I had nothing to wear. I’d sell off fashion I’d grown tired of at flea markets, but then used the money to buy other things. While it might have been keeping the economy running, my overconsumption was not eco-friendly at all. Even after I was offered an opportunity to live and work in Malaysia, my transition from a walk-in wardrobe to a single rack didn’t change my shopping habits.
It was only after a series of unfortunate events that I confronted my behaviour. From suffering from depression, to surviving a near death experience and the closure of my retail store (my first ever business) on the day I was attending my grandmother’s wake, I started to wonder: had my life only become about accumulating stuff I didn’t even use?
How did you pivot your life from that point on?
I knew I wanted to change. By the end of 2017 I’d figured out what I’d been doing wrong. I met a zero waste advocacy group in Malaysia and was introduced to the ‘Rs’ of sustainable living: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycling, Rot (or compost the rest!) This flipped my entire mindset, since I’ve only ever thought of recycling as ‘closing the loop.’
From that point I challenged myself to apply the 5 R’s to my lifestyle and added ‘rethink’ since I figured everything starts from the mind. For me, that also meant zero shopping on new fashion items, especially fast fashion. It hasn’t been an easy ride, but it has been exciting for me to exercise my creativity to a whole new level. It’s been like getting to know myself all over again. I discovered less is indeed more. It helps me feel lighter, more free and alive.
I imagine it’s this journey that introduced you to clothes swapping?
Yes. In the process of going through this radical lifestyle change in 2018, I was given the opportunity to share more about my story at an Earth Weekend event on overconsumption and fast fashion pollution in Malaysia. It was at this event that I watched The True Cost documentary in its entirety. I love fashion, it’s always been a way to express myself as a creative outlet. But from that point, I couldn’t ‘unlearn’ the fact that our demand for clothing is fuelling serious environmental and human rights issues.
My world really changed when I was invited to two swap events in Malaysia, and Swapaholic events in Singapore when they first started out. Swapping is amazing! It’s the perfect solution for someone who wants to reduce consumption of new things, while still enjoying fashion sustainably. When I moved back to Singapore, I decided to put my emptied out walk-in wardrobe to good use. I started something called ‘My Zero Waste Wardrobe,’ which essentially involved me selling preloved clothes from my own closet and donations from friends to sell through instagram, all with the goal of reducing fashion waste.
Soon after this one-off event, I met two other fashion lovers (the original members of Cloop) who shared the same sentiments about fashion. They started off building a digital fashion library, documenting countless items, their material and wash care. But, after documenting up to 300 pieces, they realised they’d need over at least 1000 pieces to make it successful, plus during the circuit breaker period they were disheartened at the fact that they couldn’t access their clothing storage space. When we met, I shared with them about my clothes swapping experience, and we decided to join forces and organised our first collaborative swap event. The rest is history!
Tell us more about the Cloop events you’ve run so far.
We’ve organised nine fashion pop-up swaps to date. We’ve also rehomed 3,644 items, welcomed 725 participants swapping or buying preloved pieces, and have raised $3,130.97 for charity. Appropriate items that we receive are donated to Minds, or distributed to domestic helpers and migrant workers at Sprout Hub. Any clothes with minor stains or damage are restored and repurposed if possible. Any garments with significant damage are donated as materials for art and upcycling workshops.
It takes a lot of work to sort through every piece of clothing item donated, but we’re happy to do it. We want to create a fun and affordable shopping alternative for the community in Singapore; to still enjoy fashion, but in the most sustainable way we know of to date.
As individuals, how can we reduce our fashion waste?
My biggest recommendation would be to wear what you already have. The most sustainable item of clothing is what’s already in your wardrobe. There’s no denying that fashion is one of the most polluting, wasteful industries. It’s still churning out 80 to 100 billion fashion items annually. Before buying, ask yourself: do you really need another t-shirt? Jeans? Dress?
If you need a fashion fix, choose second hand first. If you’re tired of something, take it out and swap it at places like Cloop. Rent or borrow if you need something specific for an occasion, or repeat a favourite outfit. I have a timeless, backless black dress I always count on for events.
If you absolutely must buy new, buy less, buy better, wear longer and make it last. Buy from brands that produce ethically, are kind to people and the planet, or that use natural or recycled materials. Wear your values, because clothes made from the suffering of garment workers and young children from developing countries isn’t fashionable at all; it’s modern day slavery. There’s a saying that ‘change begins with you’. I believe you can change the world one step at a time, starting from your wardrobe.
Wear your values, because clothes made from the suffering of garment workers and young children from developing countries isn’t fashionable at all; it’s modern day slavery.
Singapore’s zero waste movement is growing, but far from mainstream. How can it gain more popularity?
I believe in the power of a ripple effect. We need more people practicing zero waste with love, to create a positive chain reaction. I’m hopeful that Singapore’s Green Plan 2030 will propel us toward a more zero waste nation vision. Since we’re such a tiny dot on the world map, it’s easier to adopt green habits collectively. We need more good role models to encourage others to do the same.
How do you feel other individuals and brands can be #Down4Earth?
Choose second hand first, or browse free-cycle groups to get new items. Make what zero waste switches you can. Shop at wet markets to avoid too much plastic packaging. Bring your own bottle, container and cutlery. Try out period cups. Refill products or make your own beauty products where you can. I make my own toner, toothpaste and body scrub from used coffee grounds. If you have beauty products with packaging to recycle, drop off your empties with beauty brands or stores that collect and partner with Terracycle or Environmental Solutions (Asia). I’m excited that some beauty brands are working towards making refilling in store an option. You can buy one time and refill forever. Plus, imagine all the packaging (whether its plastic, biodegradable or not!) that you can save!
Also, try to reuse and repurpose anything before recycling it. E.g. You can use the plastic from a bread bag to dispose of trash instead of using extra plastic bags. Personally, I’ve started composting using two unused bins at home. Food waste such as used coffee grounds, citrus peels, veggies scraps can also be diverted to make eco enzymes, multipurpose cleaning solution, veggie stocks, body scrub.
We only have one planet we call home. I like the quote by Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” While we need to change our habits—and I’ve learnt to—I have to stress: I didn’t make all of these changes overnight. I did so one step at a time, now they are second nature.
#Down4Earth is a social awareness campaign launched by ZERRIN on World Environment Day 2021. The campaign features Singapore-based sustainability advocates with a passion for urban farming, circular fashion, composting and more. They prove that there’s more to sustainability than the quintessential 3 R’s and there’s something everyone can do. Discover more about the campaign. Photography, styling and production by ZERRIN STUDIO.
Susannah believes better design can help create a brighter future. A former magazine editor, she now runs ZERRIN and works at the intersection of consumers, brands and sustainability advocacy.