Jackie May

Saving the planet – one story at a time

“We must change our thinking as everything we do and use should be to heal the planet from cleaning and beauty products and clothing to farming methods and manufacturing processes,” said the founder of NPO Twyg that aims to create mainstream interest in conscious and sustainable living.

The focus is on creating knowledge through storytelling while encouraging and supporting hands-on action for ethical living and sustainable growth. Twyg builds its ethics on the notion that humans and nature are interrelated, an approach to sustainability that draws from South African traditional knowledge, skills and practices. The message is that when conservation meets innovation, localism can become self-sustaining for South Africans in more than just economic ways.

Save the weeping world in time to create a brighter future

Change is happening. Time is limited. We have to reduce inequality, poverty and carbon emissions fast. The time to do this is now. We’re cognisant of this urgency that’s why our work supports positive change. 

We are all interwoven into the fabric of the world. The majority gets on with their lives but there are those enlightened and proactive few who rise to see the bigger picture, the damage to the planet, and do something about it.

Meet Changemaker, Jackie May, a writer and former editor at Marie Claire and The Times is now a full-time sustainability advocate. She feels strongly about human rights and environmental causes and launched Twyg in 2018, a not-for-profit media organisation working at the intersection of fashion and sustainable development.

“There is an obvious need to create mainstream interest in conscious and sustainable living,” said Jackie who lives in Cape Town.

“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 this was not a good fit for me as 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. It is principally aligned with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12, responsible consumerism and production, however, it is committed to all the other SDGs.

“My work creates a platform that supports and connects designers to each other and to producers and retailers.”


The idea evolves


Jackie said the idea to establish Twyg came from publications, particularly from the USA and Australia, promoting work around ethical and sustainable living. “There was nothing like that in South Africa and I thought it really good opportunity to start something here.”

And so began a six-month research process to create a coherent idea, to refine it by brainstorming with people she knew in the industry. “I also consulted clever friends on brand identity, and set up the website and social media handles.”

She said 2017 was the ideation phase and 2018 was “pretty much me finding my feet. I decided to register the business as an NGO as Twyg would benefit the public good. “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.

The Hub, Jackie said, is very basic, and needs to be reworked. “It’s a place on our website where I add learning tools for designers to empower them to use more sustainable design practices. The Hub lists essential text and video resources for practitioners and hundreds of posts in the “Stories” section on brands and individuals working for positive change.

“The focus is on creating knowledge through storytelling while encouraging and supporting hands-on action for ethical living and sustainable growth.

“We are building a directory and are busy selecting brands and people we want to feature there who fit a set of criteria. It’s going to be happening soon, and I am about that,” Jackie said.




Overcoming problems


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,” said Jackie. “One area that has started to emerge in the work on the platform, is the idea of regeneration. In Twyg’s stories and our projects, we ask how does this repair what we’ve ruined?

“Regeneration is not only about sustaining life as we know it but recovering and healing what we have damaged. For instance, bad farming methods have depleted the soil so we have to introduce natural ways to enrich the soil again.

“We also need to use organic fabrics containing fibres that are not going to ruin the soil. I think everything we do not should be thought of as a way of healing the planet. Many people say they are confused about sustainability, but it’s common sense. We should only be using stuff we can put back into the soil to enrich it.”

Jackie grapples with the unique set of South African problems, “the nexus between human need and environmental risk. We have a very unequal society with high rates of poverty and at the same time, South Africa is one of the countries in the world which produces the most carbon emissions because of our dirty coal.

“In South Africa, we need to be very conscious of the need to create employment. How do we think about this and how do we articulate this? How do we reduce the production of goods and increase jobs? In the fashion industry, how do we reduce production without ruining peoples’ lives?
Jackie talks 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.

“The other major challenge is funding, an ongoing struggle. We are not doing the hard investigation reporting, but want to change values and get people to understand the value and importance of sustainable practices. We have received sponsorships, grants for story-telling and colabs from brands.”


Further study and projects

To improve her understanding, Jackie, who already is a graduate of Stellenbosch University, University of South Africa and the University of London, studied Sustainable Development at the Sustainability Institute in Stellenbosch.

Regarding projects, Jackie said: “I am thinking and working on a Twyg Sustainable Festival which will be a series of talks over two days.

“I have co-founded the ReFashion Lab with Dr Erica de Greef and Rina Strydom. The lab looks at textile waste. I am looking for an R2-million to do a feasibility study into sorting, collecting and re-directing post-production textile fashion waste. We have found a location in Phillipi village and employ women in the area to help understand what this waste is, how much there is and what can be done with it. 

“The study data will inform retailers and manufacturers of clothing and designers what they need to do to avoid their clothing ending up as a pile of post-production and consumer waste that has nowhere to go but the landfill.”


Accomplishments and passion

Jackie cites setting up Twyg as her greatest accomplishment and said Twyg’s greatest accomplishment is the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards, launched in 2019.


The awards recognise individuals and brands who use innovative design and materials influencing positive change, accessory design, trans-seasonal production, retail, study/research. “I am quite proud of this, it brought us revenue and put us on the map,” she said.

Save the world

Jackie, who was born in Namibia and grew up near the lagoon in Walvis Bay and on farms in the Koo Valley and Ceres, described herself as being energetic and curious always interested in new things, people, ideas and learning. Her passion is her work and her work is saving the world.

Her message is clear: “We need to change our thinking. Sustainable living should be taught at schools and we all need to take responsibility for healing our planet.” 

So, in a nutshell: refuse, reuse, recycle, upcycle, repair and redesign.