Average read time: 5 minutes.
In 2017, succeeding an illustrious two-decade-long career in mainstream media, writer and former editor at Marie Claire and The Times, Jackie May embarked on a journey towards understanding, embracing, and teaching sustainability.
Following the launch of Twyg, May obtained a postgraduate diploma from the Sustainability Institute in Stellenbosch in 2020. She doesn’t speak from a place of superiority, or with the intention of green-bashing, but rather welcomes you along on her ongoing journey of learning and betterment. The state of the planet begs the urgency of us adopting sustainability, but May speaks with patience as she sits down to answer my questions.
Where do we start, as a society, when trying to make the mental switch from a lifetime of excessive consumption to making better, but not as convenient choices?
JM: The starting point is having the knowledge (science-based facts, evidence, and data) that proves we’re in a crisis. Next, we need to explore, innovate, slow down, aspire for less stuff and do more good. Finally, we need to implement change. We’ve achieved the first two. We know we’re in a crisis. We know what we need to do. The last step is difficult and it’s a struggle. For change to happen, we need to see the beauty in nature, appreciate its abundance and respect that our existence is 100% dependent on nature.
The late environmental scientist Bob Scholes said, “You won’t persuade people to change their behaviour on the basis of facts; you will only persuade them on the basis of a profound emotional connection.” This is where my work lies. Twyg’s mission is to help people make this “profound emotional connection” between their actions and the consequences of their actions.
If you could include a chapter from your studies in the fashion curriculum, what would it be?
JM: “How to mend, restyle and take care of clothes.” We really need to learn to look after our clothes and keep them in use for much, much longer. We need to respect the hands (usually a woman’s) that made our clothes, expect to pay more for them, and to take care of them.
As a young designer, I imagine you’d want to come into the world of fashion guns blazing, and this usually translates to creating ostentatious, impractical, avant-garde attire. Is it possible for avant-garde and sustainability to sit at the same table?
JM: Good question! It’s this expressive, creative fashion that we love so much. We don’t have to buy new clothes to do this. The clothing and textile industry is about trends, marketing, manufacturing, and retail. Fashion is a personal and cultural identity. And yes, it’s very possible to be a sustainable and avant-garde fashion designer.
Locally I’m thinking of Alexandra van Heerden of VANKLAN who won the Student Award at the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards 2020. (Read ASA’s interview with Vanklan here) And take a look at what Bubu Ogisi is doing with her wonderful brand, IAMISIGO in Nigeria and Kenya, and Sel Kofiga with The Slum Studio in Ghana. Both are working with upcycled materials while commenting on global and local fashion systems. Kevin Germanier and Bethany Williams are European designers taking sustainability seriously while breaking into the fashion industry with great aplomb.
The Twyg Sustainable Awards turned three last year. Where have you seen the most significant, impactful, and exciting growth in the South African green movement?
JM: We have seen our movement grow. We have more followers, more page views, more nominees for our awards – there’s definitely much more interest in sustainability, climate change, regeneration, and a just transition. We can no longer ignore the impending climate crisis. We also can’t ignore that this is coupled with great inequality, unemployment, and social injustices which have to be addressed simultaneously. But while awareness has grown, global carbon emissions are still high, our government is not transitioning fast enough to renewable energy and unemployment remains high. Our electricity is coal-powered and we drive fossil fuel cars. Besides the slow fashion movement, there has been a groundswell of support for the campaigns against the seismic surveys along our coastlines. This has been incredible to experience.
Are there specific projects that you’re excited about being involved in this year that we ought to look out for?
JM: Yes! Along with two partners I co-founded Refashion Lab, it’s an experimental studio that is rethinking refashion and textiles. Last year we conducted two refashioning pilot projects, workshops, and analysed textile waste diverted from landfills. In collaboration with Imiloa Collective in Mauritius, Twyg launched Tomorrow, Together Festival last year, which is scheduled for June this year. It’s a wonderful platform for sharing ideas, knowledge, and inspiration. And finally, in partnership with The Beach Co-op, we run the annual Plastic Free Mzansi campaign in July to raise awareness about plastic pollution, this includes our wonderful Refashion Plastic design project in collaboration with Biru Experiments which uses plastic litter as a material resource for new designs.
Lastly, please provide a couple of recommendations for books or podcasts that make understanding sustainability, as well as conscious living, and adopting it into your life, a little easier?
1. Fashionopolis: the price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas
- We are what we Eat by Alice Waters
- Vintage or Violence is a six-part limited series podcast and an introductory dive into the world of second-hand clothing in Uganda. Hosted by Bobby Kolade and Nikissi Serumaga
- Wardrobe Crisis is a fashion podcast about sustainability, ethical fashion and making a difference in the world hosted by Clare Press
- Conscious Style is a mindful Instagram account for thoughtful living @consciousstyle
- Tread Lighter is an Instagram account that provokes thought and encourages conscious consumption and living choices @tread_lighter