Where do your clothes come from? The desire to find the answer to this pressing question led Susannah on the path to becoming a sustainability advocate. Having previously been a fashion writer and editor, her turn towards sustainability was spurred further by the discovery of local home-grown and ethical labels, whose beliefs resonated with her. Learn more about her journey in the feature below and shop the collection here.
You’ve always voiced out your passion for sustainability—could you share with us more about how your own turn towards sustainability started?
Having written for and about fashion for a while, I started getting jaded and frustrated with the cyclical nature of the industry, especially in a tropical place like Singapore where the idea of seasonal collections doesn’t really make sense. There was also a lack of substance from the PR from brands because it was all fixated on nebulous concepts like inspiration and theme, but not about the products and where they come from.
As an individual, I started to crave for something more meaningful and inspiring. At the time, I also thought my options were either high street fast fashion, which I grew out of in my mid-20s, or big brand names which I was never really into. It felt like I didn’t really fit in and there was not much in the fashion industry that appealed to me, so I started to do more research about the impact of fashion.
At the same time, I discovered more underground grassroots labels that were deeply connected to the sources and creators. This was more meaningful to me as a writer and consumer, and that process sparked my journey towards sustainability. For me, sustainable fashion was a vehicle for mindfulness and consciousness in different areas of my life.
Personally, what’s sustainability to you?
I believe sustainability is a movement that places emphasis on creating an industry that safeguards our environment. The reason sustainable fashion exists is due to fast fashion itself. I hope that we reach a point in the future where we won’t need to carve out a specific label for sustainability, because all fashion would have become sustainable by that point.
All of us have had our run-ins with fast fashion. What was the easiest and hardest thing to let go of after you decided to make an effort to be fashionably sustainable?
The easiest thing for me was to spend less money (laughs). Once you become more mindful of how and how much you shop, you automatically learn to cut down on unnecessary purchases. I’d say the hardest thing would be to stop browsing fast fashion websites. As part of my work for ZERRIN, I still browse through such sites for market research, but if you’re not careful, you end up spending a large amount of time just scrolling without notice. What makes the habit harder to cut are the well-targeted ads on social media, which makes it easy to go down the rabbit hole.
You’ve selected very beautiful and personal pieces to be sold as part of Shentonista Restyled—of these items, is there one product you have an attachment to or have a story to share about?
I originally bought my wrap dress from Hong Kong, a place that’s like a second home for me because my husband was from there. When we could travel, we loved to wander around and tour the city because Hong Kong’s full of unexpectedly obscure malls with curated labels. I loved this dress the moment I laid my eyes on it, but I’ve grown out of the pattern since then. When you shop less, you become more careful with the pattens you pick out and buy.
What’s something you’d go back in time to tell your younger self?
If I could give myself one piece of advice, it’d be to educate myself about the fabrics we put on our body. Once you learn this information, it’s easier to decide how to become more sustainable. Of course, it’s a privilege for people to have the time to learn about fabrics, since this is knowledge that’s only explicitly taught in fashion school.
There’s been a lot of talk about greenwashing in fashion—what are some tips you would share with consumers to avoid falling into this trap?
The most important part about identifying greenwashing is learning the different signs. An alarm bell should go off if you see a brand making sweeping marketing statements without any concrete information. Transparency is also important—their social media and website should have easily accessible information about their sustainability efforts. The last tip is to always check the garment labels—on social media, the garments might claim to be 100% recycled polyester, but the label might tell you the truth, like it’s only 49% recycled polyester while the rest is virgin polyester or nylon.
As a consumer, if you’re ever in doubt about a brand’s claims, you should reach out to them directly. Any progressive brand with sustainable products will try their best to be transparent and engage actively. If the information cannot be easily found or if the brand isn’t willing to be forthcoming, it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t personally buy from the brand.
Where do you see yourself and ZERRIN in the future?
I hope ZERRIN can change people’s mindsets about how and why they shop. This is our long-term goal of course, but it’s hard to determine an indicator of what this might look like. I hope to amplify this aim on an international level and become a recognised platform, bringing sustainability into people’s lives.
Lastly, what’s a collective hope you have for our society?
I’d like all of us to think a little more carefully and in a curated way about the things that we bring into our life. Consumerism and fast fashion made it easy for us to buy without much thought. We’re less likely to throw things away if we carefully consider each item, and this is one way we can accumulate less clutter and waste. It’s all about people valuing themselves, their money, and their time.