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A journey from the runway to the library

Sunday 19 March 2023 12:01pm

Mark Baigent image 1
Mark Baigent, photographed by Tash Serena Meltsner.

A multi-award-winning non-binary fashion designer is taking a moment away from their avant-garde clothing line to try something new at Otago.

Mark Baigent says being accepted into the University’s undergraduate degree in Gender Studies has given them a second chance they are overwhelmed to receive.

“Where I grew up (Austria), it wouldn’t be possible for me to return to academia as a mature student, even after such a successful fifteen-year career, all because I didn’t graduate from high school,” they explain.

Mark found the education system they came from was prescriptive, and they struggled to find their place.

“I am walking the halls of this University emotional every day. I feel privileged that Otago has welcomed me with open arms, despite my unconventional academic background.”

They decided instead to pursue what has become a globally successful career in the fashion industry, spanning over a decade and including both modelling and designing gender-fluid collections under their label ‘Mark Baigent’.

They run their brand with their business partner who is “very supportive” of their venture into academic life.

They also own and manage a factory in Indonesia where they have worked and lived for the last seven years.

Despite their success, however, their desire to contribute to research on social issues about gender never dissipated.

“When I finally felt ready to try and come back into education, I looked at Gender Studies programmes all over Australasia, and people kept pointing me to Otago.”

The Gender Studies Department at Otago prides itself in teaching students to “think broadly critically and creatively” and “appreciate diverse points of view” outlines the department’s website.

“You really have an opportunity to dive deeply into important issues that matter to you,” says Mark.

Graduates from Otago’s Gender Studies programme have found careers across a broad range of fields, including human rights, trade union and EEO work, and policy development.

Mark says they are thrilled to have been selected for the programme.

“Being recognised by an institution like Otago, who looked at my accomplishments, not my grades, is something I could never have imagined.

“I am walking the halls of this University emotional every day. I feel privileged that Otago has welcomed me with open arms, despite my unconventional academic background.”

They also feel thankful there is an institution that allows people from unconventional academic backgrounds to study.

“An institution that gives us a second chance in a way.”

Since arriving, Mark, who was also awarded an Achievement Scholarship, says they have been overwhelmed by the approach of professors and the respect staff give to students at Otago.

“It’s what a person like me needed.

"I left school and said ‘I will never step into academia again’, it was too traumatic, but now I am here.”

Mark has especially appreciated all the help available to students for mental health and emotional well-being alongside academic support.

They intend to apply for a PhD after graduation, as they particularly want to contribute academically to the endeavour of giving a voice to the “minority within a minority”, whom they perceive to be trans and intersex folks.

The way they run their eponymous fashion brand demonstrates that they “practice what they preach” regarding equality and intersectionality, they say.

“We mostly employ single mothers in our factories, and we put in the mahi to go above and beyond to help them to support themselves and their families. We think it’s crucial.”

Mark Baigent the brand is also in the process of becoming Fair Trade certified.

To read more about Mark’s clothing line and story head to their Blog or follow them on Instagram.

Mark Baigent image 2
Mark Baigent's collection photographed by Tash Serena Meltsner.

Kōrero by Internal Communications Advisor Alice Billington