In this week’s Lockdown Life I catch up with Jackie May, founder of NPO Twyg. I started writing for The Times when Jackie was regional editor of the Cape and I’ve been in awe of Twyg‘s growth
By Jackie May, Twyg
I grew up near the lagoon in Walvis Bay, and on farms in the Koo Valley and Ceres. My birth was long enough ago that Charlotte Bauer’s soon-to-be published book How to Get Over Being Young will be required reading. I really don’t want to give up being young… especially since I am a late bloomer when it comes to sustainable fashion and advocacy.
I like to be on the move. But since I met my husband, I have stayed put in one place for long periods. I moved to Johannesburg intending to stay for one year. Instead I fell in love and made three babies. Fifteen years later I moved them to Cape Town’s City Bowl for a job. That was five years ago, and I think we’ve acclimatised: dog walks in the mountains, swims in the Camps Bay tidal pool… we’ve even made some Cape Town friends!
When and why did you start Twyg?
In many ways it started in reaction to my last corporate job working on a publication whose business model promoted fast fashion and excessive consumption. I am now passionate about doing the opposite: persuading consumers to slow down and make better choices.
Although Twyg is intentionally aligned with the Sustainable Development goal 12, responsible consumerism and production, we’re committed to all 17 of the SDGs. When I launched Twyg two years ago, there was an obvious need to create mainstream interest in conscious and sustainable living.
It really hasn’t taken long for people to catch up, which is amazing and completely necessary. Now we’re interested in regeneration. How can we mend what we’ve ruined? We’re on a deadline: we have 10 years to reduce our carbon footprint to ensure we don’t heat the planet beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius above its pre-industrial revolution norm.
What has been the effect of lockdown on Twyg?
We’ve been working very hard to create content that remains relevant to our brand while responding to what is a very turbulent and difficult time in our history.
The pandemic has killed people, turned many lives upside down and brought South Africa’s inequality into sharp focus. At the same time, an incredibly powerful social movement to dismantle systemic racism has burst into public consciousness across the world. Ironically what started off as a mechanism to reduce social contact, has strengthened the understanding of social interconnectedness.
Our work/life balance took a bit of a knock, and we’ve had to recalibrate and be kinder to ourselves too. My small team is very passionate and I’m very grateful to Catherine Del Monte and our new intern Nobanzi Sokhuthu.
This lockdown has reinforced our commitment to working towards a just transition, connecting the need for an inclusive economy and sustainability. Intersectional environmentalism, protecting people and planet, is a very useful way of thinking about this too [Follow the work of Leah Thomas @intersectionenvironmentalism and @greengirlleah].
What role do you see Twyg playing in the new world?
This is a big question! We want to save the world and ensure everyone has fair and well-paid labour. Don’t you?
Twyg is a not-for-profit organisation working at the intersection of fashion and sustainability, both social and environmental. I’m interested in storytelling and experiences that inform and inspire positive change rather than being didactic. I’m cautious, too, of the excesses of social media. It’s easy to criticise, but we’re dealing with difficult and complex problems.
I started out writing stories about sustainability, but decided that Twyg needed to do much more. Besides stories, we have created an evolving learning hub, and we’re developing a directory and a toolkit. We launched the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards last year which is on this year’s 100 Beautiful Things list. We’re quite proud of this.
Please tell me about your involvement with the Cape Town Together group that you’re part of: CBD CAN
CBD CAN, part of the Cape Town Together movement, is a network of people who live in the city bowl and who respond rapidly to the needs of its community and those in our sister CAN in Khayelitsha. The CAN has supplied clothing, blankets, masks, food and even shelter space for people who have been rendered homeless by the pandemic. Again, Covid-19 has also brought into sharp focus all the systemic and long-term issues that need to be solved like inequality, racism and poverty.
My portfolio at the CAN is mask-making. Through my connections in the fashion industry we have received more than 1000 mask donations from Ballo and AnTG Ekasi Bags, and fabrics from House of Lucent and The Clothing Bank. We’ve raised about R30 000 for masks mostly through on-line pub quizzes organised by Joel Bronkowski and hosted by quiz master Jon Keevy. I have commissioned independent tailors and designers in town to make masks, which Thane Bernardo delivers to Buhle Booi in Khayelitsha.
Mine is a small contribution but like the Dalai Lama says, “if you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”.
Lockdown Life: Five Favourites
My husband set himself a lockdown challenge to improve his cooking skills. I have made two meals since day one of lockdown. The children far prefer their father’s meals…
But they love my bread. Thanks to my CBD CAN colleague, Miki Redelinghuys, I’ve learnt to make bread using her super easy recipe.
I’m a social being and since I can’t go out, I’ve made it my business to engage with my neighbours, many for the first time. Can you believe this? For five years we’ve lived in a neighbourhood where people hardly know each other. I now know most of them and have even exchanged cups of sugar, bottles of wine and pizza dough…
Our garden is loving my attention. I’ve also spent time in the street planting up the pavement where I hope the soil will improve enough for edible plants.
Watching the seasons change in slow motion.
Jackie’s Green Route in lockdown
For some reason, De Waal Park was open during the early lockdown levels. We normally walk the dogs along Table Mountain paths, but because we couldn’t access the reserve, the park became our regular hood. What a great community space – we bumped into friends, musicians, artists, cartoonists. The dogs love it too. Now that we can walk on the mountain again, we change up our route. Both routes include a steep walk – either on the way there or on the way back – up Molteno Avenue.
I’ve been a regular at Happy by Nature which is the most wonderful organic and indigenous nursery and lifestyle store on Kloof Nek. If you haven’t visited it yet, treat yourself.
Like so many others, I did the Deepak Chopra 21-day meditation course lying on our outside verandah table and looking up at the sky and watched the clouds and changing light. It’s become my special spot. The neighbours in the block of flats across the road must think I’m loopy. The verandah is where I plant seeds and grow my favourite plants and it has bloomed with all my recent attention.
As the lockdown regulations loosen, we started swimming at the Camps Bay Tidal Pool which is my favourite place in Cape Town, irrespective of the cold water. It’s a phenomenal way to start your day. The fish are incredible and people claim to have seen octopi, though I haven’t.
Typical Lockdown Day
What gets you through a lockdown day? A glass of wine?
What do you appreciate most about lockdown? That I get on with my family.
What makes you happy? Yoga and watching my seeds germinate.
It’s going to be hard for a while, possibly very long while we recover from its effects. People have lost loved ones, many have lost their livelihoods, the economy is looking terrible…
But, maybe (and this is the hope) if we take the causes and effects of COVID-19 seriously, we will create a brighter future: a kinder and regenerative one. There is a chance too that by end of the year we’ll see the end of the Trump presidency, which is also emblematic of white supremacy. There will be lots of work still be done, but at least we can live in a world where the world’s most offensive person is not at America’s helm.
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