If you are familiar with the Singapore fashion scene in the heyday of the ‘2010s, the name Jasmine Tuan would ring a bell. As the co-founder of local fashion boutique Blackmarket and one third of local label FrüFrü & Tigerlily (both now defunct), Jasmine was a woman-about-town, and a constant fixture amongst Singaporean fashion publications.
The creative was most notably always decked out in some sort of cool, independent designer piece and was just the sort of person where each time you bumped into her at an event, all you wanted to do was grill her on her latest fashion acquisition.
Trapped In The Fashion Cycle
Yet, Jasmine herself couldn’t find herself breaking out of the dreaded “I have nothing to wear” syndrome. “I used to have this weird mindset that I cannot be caught wearing the same piece twice,” she confessed. “Especially within the fashion industry, you would think once you were seen wearing something, you cannot wear it again.”
So she would continuously add on to her collection, picking up cool things from her travels and shopping from Blackmarket, a hip, underground boutique that championed independent designers within Southeast Asia handpicked by Jasmine herself. And having the organisational skills of Marie Kondo didn’t help either. Jasmine even had a system to keep everything in place. Her entire wardrobe was colour-coordinated and merchandised perfectly, and amassing her entire collection and seeing it all in one place used to make her really happy.
The Wake-up Call
But all this changed in August 2013 when the shop closed abruptly and she lost everything. Jasmine and her business partner had been struggling with cash flow and making payments for some time. And when Orchard Central (their building landlord at the time) decided to double their rent, they made the difficult decision to give everything up.
In the aftermath of losing her business, Jasmine had a wake up call when she was looking at her wardrobe while getting ready to head out. “I used to think all these clothes and possessions were my pride and glory. I accumulated all these nice, expensive things from all around the world and now I felt like a loser looking at them,” she shared.
While she was still decked out in designer clothes and still portraying the look of someone successful, little did people know that Jasmine only had seven dollars in her bank account. A sum which she couldn’t even withdraw as she had to leave a minimum requirement inside. “So what if I was wearing Margiela? I couldn’t even pay for my own meal. How I felt on the inside didn’t match what I was showing on the surface,” she continued.
Starting Over From Scratch
For the first time in her life, she had literally nothing else to do. She had no money, no business, no brands or events to even think about and this gave her the ample time to start assessing what she wanted to do in life. She started selling her things on Carousell as a way to make money and to downsize her life. And when a job opportunity came up in Kuala Lumpur in 2015, she drastically sped up her process to free up her room for rent.
But old habits die hard. As soon as she moved to Malaysia and felt the freedom of having less, Jasmine quickly reverted to her shopaholic ways again, swiftly taking advantage of the great exchange rates and abundance of sales. But thanks to a chance meeting with environmental organization group Zero Waste Malaysia, she started to seriously take a hard look at her consumption habits. While she was already familiar with the 5 Rs (refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle) it was a sixth one that really helped her to overhaul her entire mindset—that was to rethink.
“I asked myself, do I want to die as a consumer? Or do I want to die as a person who actually contributes something to mankind or to the planet earth? Because I don’t want to be attached to things. I don’t want to be attached to clothes for example. It doesn’t define me. My results define me,” Jasmine shared.
“I read a quote that resonated with me so much. It went, ‘Most of us spend the money that we don’t have, buying the stuff that we don’t need, to impress the people that we don’t even like!’ I laughed so hard when I saw the post. Because it’s like, wow, you know half the time you dress up to impress people but most people are always on their phones. They don’t even care.”
The True Cost Of Fashion
Being aware of the unscrupulous efforts of the fast fashion industry was also the final nail in the coffin for Jasmine. After watching the documentary The True Cost, a film that explores the negative impacts of the fashion industry, she wanted to have no part in that. “Whatever I buy might be causing the suffering of others. I don’t want that. It’s not the fashion that I know. We love fast fashion because of how cheap it is, but when I buy something I’m actually contributing to child labor and unfair wages,” she says.
“Fashion is suppose to be a creative outlet. It’s suppose to be fun, but all these things don’t look very fun to me. Now fast fashion companies just copy from bigger designers, add some tweaks and then make it for much cheaper. And all these human rights are gone just to make us look fashionable. And then we only wear these things for a few times before throwing them away, contributing trash to the landfill. This whole industry is just going very haywire. And I don’t want to contribute. I don’t want to be a part of it.”
Doing Zero Waste Imperfectly
And while Jasmine’s goal as a zero waste advocate is to eventually fit her entire life into a 7kg duffel bag, she maintains that her journey to self-discovery has not been perfect or easy. Any shopping she does is now at thrift/vintage stores or through swap meets with friends. And if she has a surplus, it all goes to her recreated Blackmarket Preloved Store, a store she has in Malaysia where she curates and sells secondhand items. She also makes her own beauty products such as toothpaste and body scrubs with just a few simple ingredients that can be easily found in your everyday household items. She also freezes her organic waste and drops them off at local community farms to donate to their compost bins.
“I do my best to walk my talk but I’m not perfect. We can’t all be Jesus right?” Jasmine said. “There’s a saying that goes, “We don’t need a lot of people to do zero waste perfectly. We need a lot of people to do zero waste imperfectly.” I just do my own thing and I never pretend that I’m the expert. And then somehow, that creates a ripple effect that slowly influences others.”
Changing your consumption habits, isn’t as daunting as it looks. If you’re looking to start, here are some of Jasmine’s tips on trying to implement a zero waste lifestyle.
1. Just stop shopping
“You need to be aware that you have too much stuff and that you’re most probably not wearing most of it. It’s a vicious cycle—shopping is an addiction and a bad habit. And then ask yourself, how badly do you want to change? You don’t need any encouragement or motivation because if you want to do something, you will do it. If you’re alone and you’re trying to kill time, don’t even go into a shop. Grab a coffee instead.”
2. Start wearing what you already have
“Open your wardrobe and start to look at the clothes that you already have. Properly assess what you wear and don’t wear and be true to yourself during the downsizing process. Be honest. Would you wear that corporate jacket anymore now that you’re working as a freelancer? Is that boho dress you bought in 2012 still something you love? You have to be brutal when spring cleaning. But you don’t have to do it alone. Doing it alone requires a lot of motivation—in my case I had to relocate to another country and couldn’t bring everything along with me. Invite some of your friends over and have them give you honest feedback. Do a swap or donate your things to them if you feel they would have more use out of it than you.”
3. Educate yourself
“As a consumer, you need to question your favourite brands—who made my clothes? Do your research. We love fast fashion because it’s cheap but what is the true cost of it? Am I indirectly supporting child labor and unfair wages? Am I contributing to tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 in Bangladesh where the death toll was 1,134? One of the main clients of the garment factory there was H&M. Because all this isn’t fun or what fashion is suppose to be. This was something I learnt from following Fashion Revolution, a not-for-profit global movement that campaigns for systemic reform of the fashion industry.”
4. When in doubt, just don’t buy
“A lot of people think you need to buy more stuff (like metal straws or reusable shopping bags) to be zero waste. Actually zero waste means to not to buy any more stuff. It’s about looking around at what you already have and how you can make use of it. Instead of buying a reusable tote bag, use those you already own or use that plastic bag you already have until it breaks. Even organic waste like coffee grounds can be repurposed as a luscious body scrub. Be aware of greenwashing as well. Many brands are just trying to jump on the green wagon and get their own influencers to promote these things. But when in doubt, just don’t buy because even if you have good intentions, you are still contributing to more consumption.”
5. Consider how to manage the things you buy
“Before you buy or throw anything away, think, do I already have something like that? If you already have something similar, why do you need another one? What is the hole that you are trying to fill? And if you still want to purchase it, you have to consider how you are going to manage it. We always buy things without thinking about the management. You need to do launder it, dry it, fold it, iron it, create some sort of organizational system so that you can see and access them in order to use them. If you don’t use them and put them in a pouch, you forget about them. It’s like out of sight, out of mind. And then you end up buying more thinking you don’t have it—it becomes a vicious cycle!”
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