“We must destroy fast fashion”
Livia Firth is unwavering in her mission. “The vision has always been that we have to destroy fast fashion,” she says. “We won’t stop while fast fashion is around. “
The “destroy” throws me, momentarily. I realize that I’m used to famous people sweetening their message, spinning it and coating it with sugar to make it more palatable. Not so Firth, an avowed “professional agitator”.
She is unabashedly straightforward and not afraid to point fingers. She equates our collective shopping addiction to our sugar addiction; and says we’ve “been put to sleep by the powers that be,” with fast fashion, fast food and social media acting like pacifiers that ensure we never think of questioning the status quo. She believes the dystopian Hunger games is not too far removed from our current reality; and unequivocally insists that fast fashion can never be sustainable, despite the greenwashing efforts of its biggest players.
“I have always been an activist and an agitator, even at school,” she explains. “So I think part of it is the personality. If there was an injustice, I would always be the first to say that it is not fair.
Firth is the co-founder and creative director of Eco-Age, a consulting and creative agency specializing in sustainable business strategies. The company works with brands to help them reduce their impact on people and the planet, but is also involved in campaigns and advocacy work, and is committed to highlighting the destructive effects of fast fashion, through projects such as the Fashion landscapes documentary series.
Firth also brought conversations about sustainability to the upper echelons of the fashion world when she launched the Green Carpet Challenge in 2010 and began walking the red carpet, alongside her husband, actor Colin Firth. , wearing only sustainably produced dresses.
“The Green Carpet Challenge was a vehicle. It was incredible luck that Colin was nominated [for awards] and we could use the red carpet as an instrument to start asking questions. “Do you know it’s made from recycled plastic, or discarded underwear, or whatever?” It was a way to re-engage the women in the story behind what they were watching. “
Firth was in Dubai this week to shine the spotlight on Eco-Age’s latest project, the Renaissance Awards, which recognize young leaders in the field of sustainability. The winners’ work was featured in a film that Firth screened at the Italian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.
“The idea behind the Renaissance Awards was: how to redefine sustainability? Because after two years of Covid, we have to really think carefully about what this word means. Already, it meant everything and nothing and today, it’s even more like that.
Knowing, before Cop 26, that it was unlikely that real solutions would emerge from the conference, Eco-Age also wished to highlight the work carried out by our young people to respond to the most urgent problems of our time.
“We wanted to highlight these young leaders, who don’t even talk about it anymore, they just play, they do it. For us, it was very important to give this feeling of hope and confidence, because the future, which is them, decided to take care of it. It’s interesting because if you then look at what happened at Cop, the people whose futures are going to be affected … the countries of the South, the indigenous people, the young leaders, they weren’t at the table. negotiations. So it was important to put that attention back on them, in an appropriate way. “
Firth’s sustainability journey is filled with a full spectrum of emotions – from hope to frustration to sometimes rage. “There are a lot of times when you think, ‘Nobody cares.’ How is it possible?’ You are therefore frustrated and the temptation would be to give up. But luckily, I never did and I never will, ”she says.
So maybe the Renaissance Awards were something she needed, personally, to remind herself that there is still hope to be had. “I think the most reassuring and beautifully reaffirming thing was to see that these young leaders exist. We read a lot of articles on anxiety and depression in young people, almost victimization of young people, and instead we see here that these people had a problem and they decided to solve it. They identified a problem and found a solution.
Adopting the “Fit for the Future” framework, the awards were divided into four categories, with three young leaders recognized in each category: socially just, environmentally restorative, economically inclusive and technologically balanced.
“At Eco-Age, we never separate environmental justice from social justice. Often times, the social is much more important because if you take care of people, you automatically take care of the environment. If you think about the fast fashion business model, it is founded and made possible only by using modern slavery. Because if you paid every garment worker a living wage, if you took care of them, you couldn’t produce these volumes, at that time, at such a low price. And so, the emphasis on social is super important.
Firth’s commitment to the cause was reinforced during a trip to Bangladesh in 2008. “It was the first time I had walked into a factory and the first time I saw what was happening with my own eyes. was happening. And, really, when you see that, you can’t go home and pretend you didn’t.
“I went to Bangladesh as an Oxfam ambassador, for a campaign against domestic violence. In Dhaka, we asked to be smuggled into a factory because we really wanted to see what was going on. We got to this factory and they had barbed wire and a guard with a rifle outside. Immediately we thought, is this a factory or a prison? And it was an A rated factory, so something they were proud to show off.
“Inside there were three floors filled with women. All the windows had bars, there was no fire escape, and the women were so scared they didn’t even want to look us in the eye. Finally, slowly slowly, they started talking to us a bit. They said they worked 12 hours a day, had two bathroom breaks a day, and some of them had children at home – but if their child got sick and couldn’t come to work , they would lose their jobs.
“And you think, ‘Wearing these clothes, am I doing that to these women?'”
The solution is both incredibly complex and incredibly simple. A simple answer is that consumers “slow down,” says Firth. A few years ago, Eco-Age launched the # 30days challenge, urging all of us to only buy clothes that we knew how to wear 30 or more times.
The more complex part of the solution led Firth to partner with The Lawyers Circle to launch The Living Wage Report, calling for the $ 3 trillion fashion industry to pay garment workers around the world a living wage.
“The second time I went to Bangladesh was in 2015, after the collapse of Rana Plaza. I went back to see what had changed, if anything. On this trip, I met this garment worker, Nazma Aker, a union leader, and she said: “Things will never change as long as brands keep moving from country to country to country. looking for the cheapest production line possible And the only way to stop that is to have a transnational wage agreement.
The team have spent the past six years trying to make this a reality and this year submitted a proposal for legislation to the Commission of the European Union that would require all companies operating in the EU to pay a living wage. throughout their supply chain. If it were adopted, it would be truly monumental.
For Firth, it’s pretty basic. “For me, ultimately, if you ask me what the closest word to sustainability is, it’s respect. And it pisses me off when I see people who have no respect, at all levels.
Updated: November 30, 2021, 12:54 PM