A frustration with the fashion industry – combined with an encounter in a Florida bar – led Melanie Maggio to leave behind a lucrative career in shoe design and create a sustainable, zero waste brand based on the skin, bones, and teeth left over from commercial fishing.
Born and raised rural Pennsylvania, Melanie moved to Manhattan when she was 17 to attend FIT. Jobs with Nine West, Guess Women, and Dolce Vita followed. But the rapid pace of fast fashion – racing to chase trends and meet demand from department stores and retailers – results in 92 million tons of waste every year (4% of the world’s total waste). “As a designer,” she says, “I really wanted to feel like I was contributing to something that was more impactful. I didn't want to be part of the problem.
“I was looking to find a material I could upcycle and design around. I wanted to start a new design process where we weren't just chasing, chasing, chasing, sketching, sketching, sketching, developing, developing.”
While in Florida with her partner, who was making a documentary about spear fishermen, she got talking to one of the men in the show. “I was in a bar and he just happened to be wearing a little cubera tooth that he’d caught on one of his travels, and he’d asked a jeweler to make it.
“I started asking him where all the other waste went. What about all the other bones? What about the skin? And he was like, ‘Well, mainly it just gets tossed in the trash.’”
The conversation led her to create Jacto, a range of stunning, statement necklaces, earrings, and bracelets made from the pieces of bone, skin, and teeth of fish, designed and crafted in New York City. She sources the raw material from sustainable fisheries, which is then transported to a taxidermist upstate, where flesh-eating beetles clean it naturally. The bones are cast on 45th Street, in the Jewelry District, and all the chains and bindings are sourced in Manhattan.
Some of the bones appear in their natural form; others are made into cast replicas and reproduced in brass or sterling silver. “In my current collections, I have the barracuda, the mangrove snapper, and the red snapper. I also work with salmon skin, mako shark skin, and I have the otolith from the tile fish, which is a small bone similar to an ear drum. It basically equalizes the sound waves.
“My customers are people who want to engage in the story of what they're purchasing,” she says. “They’re fascinated by the process. They like being able to know they're purchasing something that's part of change and making an impact – it’s for the greater good of our planet.
“I've found that we're in a time where people really want to listen and know that they're purchasing something that's sustainable, and not hurting our environment.”
Each piece could also lead to a chance encounter in a bar somewhere. “It's captivating because it's such a curious, organic object,” says Melanie. “That's what sparks conversation.”
Discover key pieces from the Jacto collection at MAISON 10