Today on the journal, we speak with Maggie, Nigel Borell of Toi Tū Toi Ora and Kate van Praagh, Westpac's Head of Sustainability, about environmental activism, the best place to start if you're feeling overwhelmed, and - as allies in the fight against climate change - what gives them hope.
Maggie Hewitt – Founder of Maggie Marilyn
Tell us a little about yourself and the work you do in the world.
I’m the founder of Maggie Marilyn, the brand I launched in September 2016 as a newly graduated and highly ambitious 21-year-old. Since its inception, I’ve been steadfast in my mission to use fashion to create a better world and help transition the fashion industry to one that is transparent, circular, regenerative and inclusive. We’re almost five years in, and in a lot of ways I feel like we’re just getting started.
Where did your passion for sustainability stem from? Were you exposed to much environmental activism growing up?
Having grown up in a small coastal town up North in New Zealand, on a farm surrounded by animals and wide open spaces, I’ve always had an affinity for Mother Earth, but it wasn’t until I spent four years studying fine arts at university, majoring in fashion, that I was exposed to just how much corruption and unethical practices were at play - there’s a reason fashion has always maintained a “smoke and mirrors” persona: They don’t want you to see what goes on behind the scenes. Unfortunately, fashion is inherently unsustainable with a notoriously linear life cycle that see’s brands selfishly drawing from the Earth’s resources and the majority of clothes ending up in landfill at the end of life.
In recent years, we’ve seen a surge in the number of individuals and organizations joining the fight against climate change and wanting to make systemic changes to protect the health of our people and our planet, but often what stops people in their tracks is the realization of how big some of these challenges are. When someone tells you they’re feeling overwhelmed, where do you suggest they start?
When it comes to changing the world, the advice I always give is: Start with what you know. For my team and I, that was fashion. Identify the thing you’re most passionate about, and then explore changes you can make within that space to live in a way that puts our people and our planet first. Essentially, start by improving the small piece of world around you. Maggie Marilyn sees our clothes as the vehicle for making the change we want to see in the world and that’s why we’ve made some massive decisions in recent years, like our decision to move away from producing seasonal collections and a wholesale business model. That way of doing business was just always at odds with my larger vision for MM and I was determined to find a way to not only produce environmentally friendly collections but also financially sustainable collections. Our direct-to-consumer model not only gives us time to produce mindfully on our own schedule, scale up our seasonless offering, but also have a deeper connection with our customers and community. I believe it is the only option for our business to ensure we’re still here 100 years from now.
And lastly, as an ally in the climate fight and a leader in your field, what gives you hope?
At Maggie Marilyn we aim to be a conduit for connection, and as the world starts to recover from the pandemic, I’m hopeful that we can continue to connect with more of our community around the world and open more MM brand homes that allows us to foster intimate relationships with our customer, offline. As a team, we remain deeply committed to challenging ourselves to be a more transparent, circular, inclusive and regenerative business which means that the best is yet to come. What gives me hope and strength is my team, I feel blessed to know and work alongside the most incredible humans. I am grateful to have a team who are kind, warm, loving and fiercely determined to change the world.
Kate van Praagh – Westpac NZ
Tell us a little about yourself and the work you do in the world. Kia ora koutou. Ko Kate toku ingoa, kei Westpac ahau e mahi ana. At Westpac, I connect the challenges Aotearoa NZ is facing such as climate change and financial wellbeing, with the work the bank does. For example, supporting Kiwis to be more financially capable through online or face to face workshops; or to have warmer, drier and more climate friendly homes by accessing interest-free Warm Up home loans to purchase insulation or heat pumps. Where did your passion for sustainability stem from? Were you exposed to much environmental activism growing up? I spent a lot of time at Lake Tarawera. Surrounded by native bush and in the shadow of the majestic maunga, we swam in the roto, hiked and searched for glow worms. I appreciated nature from an early age and the activism came from my whānau. Nightly debates covered issues of equality, environmental degradation and feminism to name a few. At university I worked at The Body Shop and was lucky enough to meet its founder, Dame Anita Roddick, the legendary human rights and environmental activist, and widely regarded as the founder of ethical consumerism. She inspired in me a purpose to drive big business to be better – for people and the planet. In recent years, we’ve seen a surge in the number of individuals and organizations joining the fight against climate change and wanting to make systemic changes to protect the health of our people and our planet, but often what stops people in their tracks is the realization of how big some of these challenges are. When someone tells you they’re feeling overwhelmed, where do you suggest they start? One of Dame Anita’s favourite sayings was ‘If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try spending the night with a mosquito.’ I’d say start with one thing – say, meat free Mondays’, or taking public transport to work one day a week, and build on it. Download the responsible spending app CoGo, so you can track your carbon impact and make a commitment. Talk to friends about what you’re doing. One of the single most important things you can do is talk to others about climate change. And lastly, as an ally in the climate fight and a leader in your field, what gives you hope?
People power! Seeing the momentum that School Strikes for Climate has generated around the world, the fact that climate and social issues are getting more media time than ever before, the knowledge that Aotearoa’s future is sustainable – whether we’re talking tourism, agriculture or fashion. The passion and dedication of people leading in this space. He rau ringa manaaki – many hands working together, we can do this.
Nigel Borell - Curator of Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art
What does the word sustainability mean to you, and how does Māori art relate to it? Māori ways of seeing the world are quite holistic; all these things are connected conversations. Our personal health and well-being is connected to the health and well-being of the city and the land. These narratives about different Atua or gods such as Papatūānuku, the earth mother, Tangaroa, god of the sea, Tāne, the god of the forest – they’re what we might call meta narratives about primordial family, and they relate to people. And I just think art does that beautiful thing of enriching our soul, and keeping us engaged with the world that we see around us, as well as offering an imaginative reprieve from the environment we are immersed in. How optimistic are you about holistic change being achieved? I’m more optimistic today than I was 10 years ago. I feel like there are a range of templates, ways of working that are starting to be formed. Given the way sustainability principles are embedded in Te Ao Māori, it would make sense for voices from Te Ao Māori to be leading sustainability conversations? I think we need to be brave, brave enough to embed Māori cultural ways of seeing the world in everything we do. I think we’ve become brave as a country to want to do that and to make it visible and to be proud of it. Te Ao Māori offers the generosity of allowing everybody to see themselves as part of it.