Welcome to the Earth Month series, where we highlight environmentally-focused food as well as inspiring stories by people in Southeast Asia, to help you celebrate our planet.
Susannah Jaffer is the founder of Singapore-based sustainable fashion online platform Zerrin, and she knows how important it is for everyone to think more ethically and sustainably about what we buy to put on our bodies and our faces.
Why sustainable fashion is important
Launched in 2018, Ms Jaffer explains that Zerrin is focused on making “sustainable fashion uncomplicated” and helping people better understand the somewhat confusing world of ‘eco’, ‘green’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ terms used in the fashion and beauty industries. To that end, the brand has created an online magazine that features content designed to guide you towards making more sustainable choices.
“We share regular updates on the ever-expanding world of sustainable fashion and green beauty. Consider us your go-to spot for anything from useful guides and inspiring interviews to musings on the industry happenings,” says Ms Jaffer.
“We want to break down the ‘s’ word and make the conversation around it more accessible and inclusive. From understanding fashion’s impact to the plastic crisis, we’re all in different phases of waking up to the issues affecting our world. We all get to a stage in our lives that we realise we want to make better choices. We’re here to help you on that path.”
Keeping on top of the always-changing world of sustainable fashion means that Ms Jaffer stays informed about the latest and greatest developments in the industry; she believes that research is an important part of why Zerrin has become so successful.
“I’m excited by the increasing adoption of technology to make the industry more sustainable, like the use of AI and digital sampling, to innovative, alternative materials that are being developed, like algae, mushroom leather etc... The adoption of more circular fashion alternatives in general,” Ms Jaffer explains.
“Also, I am excited to see how the landscape of the industry is changing, [for example] luxury brands or conglomerates that would usually maintain exclusivity, [are now] partnering with resale platforms - see the recent investment of Kering into Vestiaire as an example.”
This move towards larger, more traditional fashion brands becoming more invested in sustainable and ethical fashion production is echoed by the increased interest in these areas by markets that previously were not concerned about these topics. The Asian market, for example, is becoming more open to the idea of supporting sustainable fashion brands.
“On the one hand, I like to think that more and more people are genuinely learning about the impact of what they wear and are doing research for alternatives. Others may just be seeing a lot of marketing around sustainability from brands which have spurred them to find out more - it’s now a ‘trending’ topic after all,” says Ms Jaffer.
“Either way, the fact that there is more interest than, say, five years ago, is heartening and important as we are all wearers of clothes, so fashion sustainability is an issue that involves us all.”
Should we really be buying more clothes?
One of the issues that often crop up when discussing sustainability in the fashion industry is the fact that there are already too many clothes in the world. Between 80 billion and 150 billion garments globally are produced for sale every year. That’s a lot of clothes. Of those items, only about 2 million tons or 15.3 per cent are recycled in any way; the rest ends up in landfill.
Want some more terrible statistics? The fashion industry produces almost 20% of global wastewater; you need 20,000 litres of water to grow enough cotton for a single t-shirt and a pair of jeans; about 15% of the fabric used to make clothing items is wasted for each garment cut - it ends up on the floor and in landfills.
So, what does an owner of a sustainable fashion outlet think about these issues?
“It’s true, there’s already a lot of clothes out there,” admits Ms Jaffer, “But I think one of the key ways to approach ethical consumerism is to slow down our collective consumption.
“It’s not just about quitting fast fashion, or supporting progressive, sustainable brands like those we carry on Zerrin, or even thrifting or shopping secondhand, it’s about developing a more meaningful relationship with stuff in general.
“That will naturally mean slowing down what we buy because we’re engaging our brains more before doing so. Do I really need this? Do I know how to care for it? Will it pair with other items in my wardrobe? Do I love it enough to repair or mend it? Could I pass it down when I don’t love it anymore?”
Ms Jaffer also believes that new technologies like FibreTrace, which can track a particular fibre’s entire lifetime as it’s used in creating fabric, clothes, and its eventual final destination, are definitely helping the fashion industry to be more responsible.
“Any technology that is helping the fashion industry become more accountable and transparent - like FibreTrace - is hugely important, although I think at the moment there is still more business interest in this rather than [from] the consumer.
“Online-only clothing is a cool, interesting concept, but I wonder how wide-spread the adoption will be for the average consumer who still wants to wear clothes in real life.
“But I think the technology that platforms like Republique represent is really important in terms of digitising the fashion supply chain experience. I’d love to see how this evolves and grows,” says Ms Jaffer.
“I’m [also] excited to see more luxury brands like Chloé adopting sustainable practices in innovative ways; I love the way they bought back some of their secondhand bags circulating on eBay and upcycled them for the catwalk; definitely creating some limited edition pieces there!
“I also love ethical fashion label Tonle for its upcycled collections and the way they address issues such as politics, gender-inclusivity and diversity.”
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