Susannah Jaffer moved to Singapore in August 2012 when she was 21 years-old, straight after finishing university. Since then, she has has delved into public relations, emcee-ing and finally writing with Expat Living. She built her career at the magazine starting out as a junior editor before leading the fashion and beauty sections and later becoming creative director. The highlight of her career in the media industry was when she launched a women’s supplement magazine, LIV. Her tenacity to constantly chase her dreams contributed to her career success, but she was hungry for more. Following her passion for fashion and sustainability, the young entrepreneur took the leap of faith to start her own e-commerce platform – she called it ZERRIN. We caught up with the efficacious Brit as she parts the curtains to her new business venture.
What’s the story behind ZERRIN?
There were a few experiences that made me realise the impact of the fashion industry. One was watching documentaries like The Trust Cost. That was a big turning point. I also interviewed a few people for the magazine who had spoken to me about naturally and mindfully made, independent designs. That encouraged me to do my research and see what more was out there. At the same time, I was also naturally gravitating towards sustainable fashion through my aesthetic interest. Now, I can’t just buy from a fast-fashion brand off the rack because I know there’s a lack of transparency. It doesn’t feel morally right.
I didn’t just stop buying fast fashion altogether at the beginning, because it felt impossible. My job was to show women where to buy or how to wear their clothes. Gradually, I decided to make a change in my buying habits, and it took me about a year to really stop buying any fast fashion. Now, I wouldn’t buy from Zara, Mango or H&M becaus
“I would love people to be more compassionate and socially responsible.”
How do you manage the mindset of starting your own business?
To avoid as much stress as possible, you need to be prepared with a business plan and a level of confidence. I had come up with the idea for ZERRIN quite a while before I started reaching out to retailer partners, but at the time I talked myself out of it. I felt like I was too young and I didn’t know enough to run a business in a different country. Above all, I knew it was going to be challenging. So at first, I put the idea off, but when I decided to take the plunge I had the support of the people around me, like my retailers, boyfriend, friends and family, which was extremely important.
There were also people from the fashion industry who gave me advice. My partner works in retail too, so he would give me good pointers. I managed to learn a lot from different people, and their encouragement meant I didn’t feel alone as a sole founder. It can be an isolating journey at times. You need to find that support network.
When it comes to starting your own business, I think you just have to go for it. If you don’t try then you will never know. If you’ve done the work and research and have an idea that is ready to go, it’s worth a try. I had to be really resourceful when I started ZERRIN. At first I felt discouraged, as I didn’t have a lot of capital or any investors. In the end, I just spoke to the people I needed to and did what I could to make things work.
Does your mindset towards shopping consciously translate into other parts of your life?
I’d say that starting this conscious journey, I’ve taken better care of my health. In my last career, I didn’t look after myself. One thing which has gotten me through feelings of stress and isolation is exercise. I go to the gym everyday except Sunday. It has really helped me balance my mood, my fitness level and overall health. I don’t think I would have been able to juggle everything without a clearer head. In that sense, my life has changed a lot. I also naturally switched up my eating. I’m vegetarian now, but I never really liked meat that much. I would never choose steak or pork ribs in the past, so it was pretty easy for me to give up!
Five years down the road, what do you want to achieve with ZERRIN?
I would love ZERRIN to become a globally recognised company. I want to be able to help women around the world discover brands that are sustainably sourced and responsibly curated, and to help raise awareness of the issues in the fashion industry.
I want the company to have a measurable impact as well, and give back to charitable causes. We’ve just launched international shipping too, because we started getting a lot off views from overseas. Countries like the US, UK, Hong Kong and Australia are markets where consumption of green products and eco-friendly lifestyle is already more mainstream. I hesitate to say it but, I could envision ZERRIN being the ASOS of the sustainable fashion world. It would be incredible to become that international, but at the same time, we are also working with designers and brands who don’t produce in volume. So, that is something we have to manage as we grow.
Down the line, I would like to design an in-house line for ZERRIN, but as with everything I do now with life, I want it to have a purpose and meaning. I don’t want to just put something out there for the sake of it. If we do create something, I would want to find a social cause I can work with or a community that can benefit from its production.
From your perspective, what is the biggest change that needs to happen in the fashion industry?
It needs to become more socially responsible. We need to think about the people who are making our clothes, and the conditions they are under. A lot of brands justify their work now by saying they are paying living wages, but I don’t think it shouldn’t be about just earning enough to live. Brands should be paying above living wage. Workers should be thriving, not just surviving. These are poorer, developing countries they are outsourcing to because it’s cheaper. Overall, I wish that brands would care more about that. To me, people matter the most in the fashion supply chain, as well as the environmental impact it’s having on the world. Overall, both brands and consumers need to work together to create a more compassionate and responsible industry. I think, with time, we can achieve that!