UCRF is running a ‘Member of the Month’ feature on this blog, where a member, selected at random from the membership database, is sent five questions to give us all an overview of our members. Our second participant is Jackie May.
- How would you sum up your research / practice?
I launched Twyg in 2018 – a not-for-profit media organisation working at the intersection of fashion and sustainable development. The platform idea developed in reaction to my last corporate job, working on a publication whose business model promoted fast fashion and excessive consumption. I realised I was more passionate about doing the opposite: persuading consumers to slow down and make better choices. Twyg publishes stories and promotes experiences that aim to inform and inspire positive consumer changes. Twyg is principally aligned with the Sustainable Development goal 12, responsible consumerism and production, however, it is committed to all the other SDGs.
Two years ago, when Twyg was launched, South African mainstream middle-class media was not addressing the serious fast-fashion challenges of climate change or fair labour practice, and concepts like slow fashion, sustainability and eco-consciousness did not feature. Although we’ve seen amazing growth in media and consumer interest in sustainable fashion, there is still much work to be done. One area that has started to emerge in the work on the platform, is the idea of regeneration. In Twyg’s stories and in our projects, we ask how does this repair what we’ve ruined?
- How do you address fashion and sustainability in your work?
In South Africa we need to be very conscious of the need to create employment. We cannot think of fashion without thinking of how we can expand the clothing and textile industry, which has shrunk considerably from where it was two decades ago. How do we think about this and how do we articulate this? My work creates a platform that supports and connects designers to each other, and to producers and retailers.
To achieve this I spend time talking to industry players to understand the role of various national stakeholders – organised labour, in particular – and to understand where the power lies and at what points we can influence the most to drive positive change.
I started out writing stories aimed at a popular audience about sustainability, but soon decided I needed to do more. Together with the Cape Town-based African Fashion Research Institute, we are creating an evolving learning hub, with plans to develop a directory and a toolkit. In 2019, the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards were launched, which is on this year’s 100 Beautiful Things list. I am quite proud of this!
- What are the conflicts you have encountered around fashion and sustainability in your work?
The key question I grapple with is: How can a fashion industry play a developmental role? This relates to the context within which I work: a developing country with a very high unemployment rate (roughly 40%). Is there not a conflict of interest between the indisputable social need for job creation and the environmental imperative to reduce the volumes of clothing produced?
On an business level, I have to think carefully about how I motivate for funding to promote slow fashion when many people are hungry. Is mine an ethical pursuit?
- What do you consider the key sources and cases when it comes to fashion and sustainability?
The work of labour unions is key. The Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union and Asia Floor Wage Alliance have strong research departments. Their work makes me conscious of the moral question we face in the wake of globalisation and Covid-19: “Whose livelihood is more important, a garment worker in South Africa or one in Asia?”
I’m influenced by the thinking of Dr Erica de Greef, whose work is mostly focussed on decolonising fashion in Africa. We have to dismantle centuries of oppressive and racist thinking. My work as a white woman in this space, includes being conscious of and understanding my role in oppressive systems.
Second-hand clothes in Africa is an important issue too. The OR Foundation does critical work on this. As does Hadeel Osman who founded the Davu Studio, a Sudanese multi-disciplinary creative studio. Osman launched the #AfricaIsNotALandfill hashtag on Instagram. Through my work on the British Council project, Design Futures Africa, I am gaining an understanding of African perspectives on circularity in six countries.
Besides these, there is the work of African creatives who are upcycling, recycling, reusing, and repairing…. showing rather than telling.
- Could you recommend some less known sources or cases you think should be more widely shared?
The Rewoven Co is a textile recycling company in Cape Town, owned and managed by three young dynamic entrepreneurs. They are building a business and the technology to reduce textile waste.https://twyg.co.za/meet-the-trio-who-weaves-fashion-waste-into-fashion-fabric/
Fashion Designer Katekani Moreku, inspired by his SePulana culture combined scraps of fabric and plastic material to create his Twyg Awards winning collection. https://twyg.co.za/upcycling-suits-katekani-morekus-design-style/
Durban-based designer Fezokuhle Dimba’s practice is similar to Katekani’s but her motivation and inspiration are different. https://twyg.co.za/qa-designer-fezokuhle-dimba-wants-to-make-the-world-a-better-place/
These are just the tip of the iceberg there are so many. We need to get these stories out. My work is to add value to their voices by spreading the stories.