The Conscious Online Store: Q&A with Susannah Jaffer, Founder of ZERRIN

Singapore’s first online store for conscious fashion and beauty brands launches with 14 mindful labels, and a big mission to change the way we shop.

ZERRIN, a multi-label retail platform carrying conscious brands from around the world has launched in Singapore. Armed with a mission to enable, educate and empower women to #shopmeaningfully, the new online store is the first in Asia to enable women to shop their values — sustainable fabrics, fair trade, hand crafted, organic & natural, and vegan & cruelty free.

Meet Susannah Jaffer, a British native who has spent most of her adulthood in Singapore. Her exposure to the field of fashion, and the rampant pace of retail consumption in Asia made her question if more can be done in the market to educate consumers about the impact of their purchases, and to cultivate a more active approach in knowing where their dollar goes.

We spoke to Susannah of ZERRIN, the new e-tailer and platform for conscious fashion and beauty brands in town.

Q: What is the inspiration behind ZERRIN?

A: I wanted to create an online platform for conscious brands which offers women a positive alternative to the typical fast retail model prevalent right now in both the fashion and beauty industries.

Q: Tell us more about your background and how it led you to ZERRIN?

A: I used to be your typical fast fashion consumer. I haven’t always held the values I do now; it’s been a journey! I worked part time in a department store in London to help support my university studies, and was a regular shopper at typical British high street brands like Zara, Mango, Topshop and H&M. After moving to Singapore when I was 21, I began working in the media industry. My first job was in PR, and then at a magazine for nearly five years as a fashion and beauty editor, and later as a creative director.

Throughout this time, the rampant pace of retail consumption in Asia made me question my own buying habits. After learning about the impact of the fashion industry in particular on people and the planet (it’s one of the most polluting industries next to oil) I decided to take action and try to shop more consciously. I began to support independent and sustainable brands I found in Singapore or on my travels, and started to use natural beauty products, which really worked miracles for my skin.

Throughout this time, I would get compliments from other women about the products I wore and get asked where they were from. When I mentioned they were sustainable, fair trade or organic brands, they were always interested to find out more. This became a ‘trend’ and I came to realise that even though there was demand, it was often difficult to discover such labels if you weren’t in the right place at the right time. Being small businesses, many sold at fairs or markets, and had varying degrees of online or social presence.

With more research, I realised that there was clear gap in the market for a platform where you could shop like-minded conscious brands and discover their stories. Somewhere that educated shoppers about the impact of their purchases, while providing options to buy better. As a consumer, I wanted something like that to exist! In the end, I decided to create it, and so ZERRIN was born.

Handling every aspect of the business myself has also been a learning curve, from managing daily admin to shipping orders, marketing, social media, PR, content writing and business development.

Q: What are some of your products on ZERRIN?

A: We’ve launched with 14 brands from London, Singapore and Hong Kong, spanning fashion, jewellery and skincare. What sets our labels apart is that they produce responsibly and care about people and the planet. From choosing sustainable fabrics like bamboo fibres (Zhai) to ensuring fair trade guidelines are met (Eden+Elie), they do what they can to minimise their social and environmental impact.

We also encourage women to ‘Shop by Values’ and search our store by categories like sustainable fabrics, fair trade or cruelty free and vegan products. I appreciate that we’re all different and may be drawn to certain values more than others, and that’s fine. Actually, it’s quite empowering.

ZERRIN’s curated selection of products spanning fashion, jewellery and skincare.

Q: What’s the idea behind mindful consumption and what are the misconceptions?

A: Being a more mindful consumer simply starts with thinking before you buy. It means purchasing better quality and making more informed decisions, like what fabric a piece of clothing is made from, or reading the ingredients label in skin care.

Unlike countries like Australia and the United States where there is already a growing movement towards a more conscious way of shopping and living, the same is only in its infancy stage in Singapore and Asia, making it difficult to discover mindful brands easily. Shoppers also frequently have the misconception that being mindful and conscious equates to more expensive or less stylish products – something which definitely isn’t the case! ZERRIN is curated to show that conscious brands can be chic and desirable, as well as accessibly priced. 

My mission with ZERRIN is to enable, educate and empower women to #shopmeaningfully

Q: In terms of sales & marketing, how do you reach your users, and what works?    

A: We focus on facebook and instagram as our primary platforms. One of the main things we share and boost is the weekly content from our blog which we get a strong response to. This in turn directs shoppers to the products on our store. Features include interviews with designers and changemakers, as well as community content like tips on how to be a more mindful shopper.

Q: What were the challenges you faced when starting ZERRIN?

A: My biggest challenge was working full time while preparing everything needed to launch the business. I only had evenings and weekends to dedicate to it. All in, it took me ten months from conceptualisation to going live.

Handling every aspect of the business myself has also been a learning curve, from managing daily admin to shipping orders, marketing, social media, PR, content writing and business development. In retrospect though, I think having to bootstrap my way has been a blessing in disguise. It’s taught me to be more resourceful than before, and think outside of the box, perhaps in a way I wouldn’t have done if I’d had external investment backing or a team to delegate to.

Q: How would you like to change the way we shop?

A: My mission with ZERRIN is to enable, educate and empower women to #shopmeaningfully. I see this as a movement that goes beyond our online store. It means thinking and caring about the origins and the people behind the products we buy, instead of mindlessly over consuming. Our clothing and products carries stories of makers, inspirations, hopes and dreams. Buy products you love and appreciate provenance. As individuals, we have the power to create change, and vote with our wallets for the type of world we want to see. As cliché as it might sound to some, it really starts with us.

Q: Tell us some tips on sustainable consumption.

A:

– Research sustainable brands online in your area and see what’s out there. Now, there’s more and more stylish and eco-conscious labels popping up which suit different tastes and budgets.

– Choose organic cotton (look for the GOTS certification) over conventional cotton, which isn’t grown with toxic pesticides and chemicals which harm the environment and soil.

– Start thinking of quality over quantity when you’re shopping and cost per wear vs. buying into trends and fads.

– When in doubt, support local brands made in the country you’re living in. That way, you’re a) keeping money in the local economy and b) supporting independent makers and small business.

 Q: As an entrepreneur, what motivates you?   

A: Having interviewed entrepreneurs for the last few years for my job, I find it quite surreal to be called one myself. Right now, I have the freedom to make a choice to try and make a positive change in the world. If I have that option, I feel like it’s an obligation.

Written By

Shikin Hamid is Staff Writer for LadyBoss and a digital marketing executive for a fast-growing training company in Singapore. She studied Psychology and Human Resource and had stints in humanitarian, marine and automotive companies. In her spare time, you can find her whipping up delicious cuisines, swimming and travelling. She aspires to reach out to communities using social media platforms.

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