The majority of my career on this side of the world was as style and beauty editor at a magazine in Singapore. A few years went by, and although I loved my job, I found myself becoming jaded with the seasonal repetition of many international brands, and increasingly irritated with the poor quality of mass market fast fashion (because stuffy fabrics in the tropics and clothes falling apart in the wash after just a few wears are never cool!) On the flip side, through my work and travels I also discovered creative local designers and upcoming indie businesses whose designs I found way more exciting and consciously 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 this fascinating documentary, it 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 took a while (and lots of willpower) to curb my shopping urges and quit buying fast fashion altogether. It’s harder if your friends or family 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 share some 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, it gives you a completely new appreciation of provenance – the origin and story behind a product. It becomes habitual to check labels, read about fabric content and research before purchasing. Especially easier 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. 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. Instead of feeling as 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.
2. I save a lot of money from NOT shopping-cheap fast fashion
One big stereotype stamped onto sustainable brands is that they tend to be more expensive than fast fashion. 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. As a result, my wardrobe contains pieces I love to wear. Another bonus is that I have more cash for more important things like travelling and saving for a rainy day.
Saying that I do agree that sustainable brands do tend to cost a bit more. However, I think there’s valid reasoning to support that. There’s so much to say on that topic it would need its own blog post. But, in short, 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 when I can. It’s pretty simple!
I also think that in our minds, fast fashion and blogshop brands have already set the price and quality benchmark. By producing trend-led pieces at cheap prices, it might seem hard to go another way. 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. Secondhand is sweet
From buying pre-loved to swapping or renting, multiple brands 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 secondhand designer goods at discounted prices. Personally, I like my accessories to have more of a ‘worn in’ look. I 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!
With all the buzz going on in the green space, I try to remain positive. I think it’s going to be an incredible year for sustainability in all industries. What’s certain is that individually, we should be voting with our wallets to achieve the future we want.
People are starting to realise that we have the power to influence companies to improve their practices. Since there’s been a growing trend across the world of brands being scrutinised for their actions. Remember how Zara stores were boycotted globally? This was after the messages from unpaid workers were found in the lining of clothes in Istanbul. There’s power in a collective fight towards what we believe in.
A fun fact: The word ‘ZERRIN’ actually means ‘golden’ in Turkish. When I chose the name for the company, I felt it represented my optimistic vision for the retail future. We want to showcase the good, the exciting and the positive steps designers take to make the industry more sustainable. Above all, we’re committed to doing our part to source and raise awareness of transparent, sustainable brands around the world. Hopefully, this empowers you to #shopmeaningfully, and with peace of mind.