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How this Singaporean went from shopaholic hoarder to zero-waste champion

The ultimate detox? Fashionista Jasmine Tuan started Cloop Fashion Swap to reduce fashion overconsumption and waste in Singapore. "If a reformed shopaholic can do it, then so can you!" she shared.

Jasmine Tuan wasn’t taking very good care of herself. The former multi-media designer for Zouk, co-founder of Singapore fashion label FruFru & Tigerlily, and founder of design agency and Asian fashion boutique Blackmarket was partying from Tuesday to Sunday and generally “wasting (her) life away”.

“Along with a series of failed relationships, missed business opportunities, cash flow problems and trying to make ends meet for my retail business back then, I woke up one day and just couldn't stop crying,” the now 43-year-old recalled, adding that she couldn't sleep for days.

“I used to boldly say there's no such thing as depression. It is made-up, imaginary and the word should be removed from the dictionary. How arrogant and ignorant was I?” she told CNA Lifestyle.

She managed to overcome that period but shortly after, was hit by more emotional trauma – she nearly drowned on a "cheer-myself-up" trip to Krabi with her party friends. That was the moment she felt a “spiritual awakening”.

“I literally woke up from my folly, and started cleaning up – my life, my spirit, my purpose.”

(Photo: Jasmine Tuan's LinkedIn)

Around the same time, Tuan’s grandmother passed away. On the same day as the wake, Tuan got news that Blackmarket was going to be forcibly closed because she couldn't keep up with the rent, which had doubled.

“The fighter in me then decided to stop fighting. Though I lost everything, I somehow felt a sense of peace and relief,” she shared. “I was so broke I only had seven dollars in my POSB bank account and I couldn't even withdraw it.”

Thankfully, her family and friends rallied around and served as her support. 

“Suddenly, I had a lot of time, and a lot of clothes. I remember squatting down at the lowest point of my life, staring at the wardrobe I've amassed up till my mid-thirties.

“Is this life? Why am I spending so much time, energy and money on stuff? Why do I put so much meaning to things that are temporary?”

That was the start of a new beginning for Tuan. “It was then that I started detaching my identity from the things I bought, the stuff I owned or accumulated.” She started selling her possessions I wanted change,” she said.

When she had the opportunity to live and work in Malaysia, the shopaholic, whose entire life previously revolved around fashion and new clothes, knew she had to “downsize” her life. She moved to Kuala Lumpur with a wardrobe on a single rack feeling light and free.

But the competitive Malaysian currency rate got her excited about shopping all over again. “Suddenly everything seemed so cheap and I was sucked right back into that vicious cycle I just got out of! I wanted change, location change, but I was the same old me,” she admitted.

(Photo: Jasmine Tuan Instagram)

For Tuan, the real and actual change truly happened when she started getting involved with non-governmental organisation (NGO), Zero Waste Malaysia.

“It opened up my eyes to the world of ‘Rs’, to sustainable living other than recycling,” she said. “Inspired by the community, I took up the challenge to apply the 5R principal sequence: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot or compost the rest – to my lifestyle, and also committed to zero shopping on new fashion items, especially fast fashion.”

It was exactly the kind of change Tuan had been looking for and, in her words, “there was no turning back”. But it wasn’t easy to make a switch. She admitted that in the beginning, she was “overwhelmed”.

“What should I do now that I don't wish to waste anything or throw anything away? What can I really do without, and what are my true needs and wants?” she shared.

“Hiking and packing light for hiking trips also helped me to assess what's essential and what's not. I was surprised at how little I actually needed."

According to Tuan, when she committed to zero shopping (as in not purchasing any new fashion items) in 2018, she was prepared to wear the same few clothes she had for the rest of her life.

“I'm serious!” she said, with a laugh. “Then I got introduced to the concept of swapping in Malaysia. In my opinion, swapping is the best way to enjoy fashion, in the most sustainable way. Friendly to the planet, people and pockets. I was converted. Swapping became my new shopping."

Tuan confessed that she’s not sure if she would have seen a change in herself if she had stayed in Singapore. Life, she admitted, is very comfortable here. “There was no sense of urgency to change”.

After four years in KL, she returned home to Singapore in early April, determined to downsize her life even more. She still had a lot of stuff – 20 years' worth – at her mum’s home.

(Photo: Jasmine Tuan Instagram)

That was when (short for “closing the fashion loop”) was born.

“When I moved back to Singapore, I thought to myself why wait for someone to start a swapping event? I might as well do it,” she recalled.

She didn’t want to do it herself, so she aligned with two other like-minded fashion lovers who were on a similar mission to reduce fashion overconsumption and waste in Singapore.

They joined forces and started Cloop Fashion Swap.

“Timing was great because a lot of charity organisations ceased collection of donations. And during the pandemic, a lot of people had time to 'Marie Kondo' their wardrobe and had no place to drop them off.

"These are good, fashionable clothes we stopped wearing since most of us now work from home, changed career paths, stopped partying, and going to events. At the same time, we want to make swapping so affordable and fun (that) there's no reason to buy new.”

To say Tuan’s journey from partying shopaholic fashionista to zero-waste activist has impacted her life would be an understatement. And she is determined to keep walking the talk.

She recently came on board charity NGO Zero Waste SG as a marketing assistant director and also continues to share her zero-waste journey on the Smiles Like Green Spirit website.

So where’s a good place to start for someone who is – pardon the expression – green to the cause?

“Start by looking at your trash bin. Do a waste audit – see what you have been throwing away. Then find ways to avoid the waste production in the first place,” she advised.

“'Saving the planet' is really as easy as bringing your own everything, from bag, bottle, cup, container, cutlery. Switching all things disposable to reusable. I find the 5R principles especially helpful in my journey. I added one more ‘R’ in front, which is ‘Rethink’. By changing your mindset and rethinking your consumption habits half the battle is won already.”

(Photo: Jasmine Tuan Instagram)

According to Tuan, Singaporeans are “a little behind" in the world of sustainability. 

“But we are definitely stepping up,” she added. “The Green Plan 2030, and moving Singapore towards a Zero Waste Nation vision is definitely a possible future, since we are so small, it is easy to implement. If Singapore is successful in doing so, we can be an example for all other nations to follow. We can also learn what works in other countries.”

She added: “We need to quit that disposable and 'throw away' mindset. Singapore is known as a 'throw away' nation. We throw away not just disposables, but things that are perfectly in good condition. Because when we throw something away, it doesn't go away. It goes somewhere. Either dumped in a landfill, dumped in the ocean, or in the environment as litter if it is not incinerated.”

Thinking before buying and thinking before throwing anything away is a good habit, said Tuan. “Down to the finest thread, I’ll find a way to put something to good use,” she said.

That said, it's sometimes easy to feel overwhelmed by the issue of waste. So what advice does she have?

“Yes, eco-anxiety is real and I have come to experience it firsthand. Here I am saving one plastic bag and the person next to me just took 10! It can feel like whatever I do is futile sometimes. What's the whole point of me trying when the world doesn't even seem to care?” she said.

But it's all about focusing on what you can do within your means, she pointed out. “Although it's impossible to achieve the zero in zero waste, that doesn't mean we take zero action. Start by saying no to another disposable. Start small. The keyword is start and keep doing it till it becomes a habit, and start another one.”

The next Cloop event, called #secondhandseptember – Cloop Fashion Swap!, will be held on Sep 25 and 26 at Sprout Hub, 102 Henderson Road. More details here.

Source: CNA/gl