Discovering Sustainable Fashion with Susannah Jaffer of ZERRIN

Susannah Jaffer is a former fashion editor turned entrepreneur who has made it her mission to redefine the way we shop. Through ZERRIN, her online platform, she curates sustainable and ethical brands from the region and offers plenty of resources for folks who want to dive deep into sustainable fashion — just check out ZERRIN’s resource-packed Instagram!

Earlier this year, we caught up with Susannah at home to chat about her journey, the trap of greenwashing, and the importance of transparency in the industry.

Susannah, you’re a veteran in the fashion industry. Can you share some of the challenges you’ve faced in your journey from fashion editor to fashion entrepreneur?

There’s nothing that really prepares you for launching your own business until you’re in it. Launching ZERRIN as a sole founder, I soon found I missed working closely with a team on a day-to-day basis. Thankfully I work closely (although more remotely) with many incredible designers and others in the industry. We’ve been able to support each other, bounce ideas off each other, and help each other grow ─ which has been invaluable. It has taught me that community can really get you through tough times, and asking for help or advice isn’t something that you should shy away from.

What was your lightbulb moment that made you switch from supporting fast fashion to slower, conscious production?

There wasn’t one specific lightbulb moment, more like a cumulation of experiences. While working in my previous job as a fashion and beauty editor, I learnt about the colossal global impact of the retail industry and there are things you just can’t unlearn. While choosing to become more thoughtful about what I purchased, cutting fast-fashion purchases, and learning to heal my toxic relationship with my wardrobe, I also became inspired by the spectrum of under-the-radar sustainable alternatives that I’d discovered, such as supporting conscious brands, renting, buying vintage, and swapping. I also realised I was able to find more quality, unique items this way and felt much more in tune with my style and connected to my purchases.

Susannah in a second-hand red dress she swapped from Fashion Pulpit, showing the Sunday Bedding team some of her favourite pieces in her wardrobe.

In short, I didn’t feel like shopping smaller, slower, and more consciously was restrictive; in fact, it was a big positive. Shopping more sustainably became a vehicle for mindfulness which positively affected other areas in my life. It became linked in some ways to (my) overall ‘wellness’. Some people may start down that journey through other areas of their lifestyle, like diet or health. For me, it was fashion.

Greenwashing is a rising concern among consumers. What is your take on fast fashion brands having a subsidiary conscious label? What do you look out for to determine whether a brand truly cares for communities and the environment?

I think it’s a good thing that fast fashion brands are trying, but the fast fashion model inherently doesn’t gel with what sustainability truly means. The fast retail model is built on the expectation of year-on-year profit growth at a massive scale and creating thousands of garments per SKU. Having a “conscious” arm is not going to mitigate their impact on the planet. Also, it doesn’t matter how “sustainable” your label is; if it’s not ethical ─ workers being paid a living or above a living wage with safe working conditions and opportunities ─ then it’s obsolete. The fast fashion model itself has been built on a model of oppression and exploitation of people and the planet. I personally feel like that for these companies to truly become more sustainable, they need to reassess their growth and measures for success.

At ZERRIN, we look for brands that do both: they work with more considered materials and pay a fair wage for their production. To me, these things go hand in hand. Any brand that we promote and advocate through our platform cares about these things in equal measure. We have a specific onboarding process to get to know each brand and their supply chain first. We also sample and wear the products ourselves to test for quality, durability, and we always ask for evidence to back up the brands’ sustainability claims. Transparency is key.

Pillow Talk is an interview series done in collaboration with Public Culture, an editorial experience studio that believes in connection over communication. This feature was photographed by Christopher Wong for Sunday Bedding and Public Culture.