The founder of Make Good & Programme Director of Mindful Fashion NZ is making change by helping to bring sustainability to the fashion industry.
“We consume too much, too waste too much and throw too much away,” says Jacinta FitzGerald.
It’s the reason the Aucklander spends half her week at Mindful Fashion NZ, a collective of Kiwi designers, suppliers and manufacturers keen to reduce their social and environmental impact. The rest of the time she’s at Make Good, her sustainable fashion consultancy.
“I’ve spent most of my career as a fashion designer, so I feel responsible for contributing to our disposable fashion culture,” says the single mother of Zak, 24. “This is my way to make a change.”
Jacinta was born in Wellington, the fifth of nine children. It’s a background that informed much of her thinking around sustainability.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, but we did have a lot of hand-me-downs. That taught me to be resourceful, to make and mend and not to be wasteful.”
That extended to making clothes for her dolls when she was young, and then for herself from the age of 12. From there, it was a natural progression to a diploma in fashion design and years of working her way up the food chain at brands such as Stax and Moontide. But when clothing tariffs were removed in 1999 – making it cheaper to import clothes and produce offshore – the shine came off the industry. “Having things made offshore meant we’d lost that quality control. So I started my own label of locally made garments.”
Getting consumers to buy a more expensive NZ-made product over a cheaper import was an uphill battle and, after five years, Jacinta shuttered the company. But her passion for sustainability wasn’t dented and she spent a year completing a thesis about sustainability in the fashion industry at Otago University.
“It opened my eyes to how bad my industry was, things like one garbage truck of clothing being incinerated or dumped in a landfill somewhere around the world every second, or that 85% of clothes in landfills are repairable.”
That led to work with Project Just, a US-based organisation working to influence consumer behaviour, and eventually eight months in their New York office. Back home in 2018, Jacinta started Make Good, working with industry clients across the globe with issues such as reducing their carbon footprint, where to source low-impact materials and how to make garments that have a long lifespan.
A year later, fashion designer Kate Sylvester came knocking, asking Jacinta to join Mindful Fashion NZ, which currently has around 52 members.
One of their latest initiatives is the Full-Circle T-shirt Project, which features designs from leading fashion designers Twenty-Seven Names, Wynn Hamlyn and Kate Sylvester. The T-shirts, which went on sale last month, illustrate what sustainability means to each designer.
“At the end of the day, sustainability is about being mindful of how you spend your money, of looking after what you own and supporting those local businesses who do the right thing in terms of sustainability and paying staff a living wage. That’s how things will change.”