Livia Firth – Talks Sustainable Fashion
In conversation with fashion journalist Avril Groom (pictured left), Livia is described as the “go-to name for campaigning for sustainability.” Working as an Oxfam Ambassador and a UN Leader of Change, Livia is also the founder and creative director of Eco-Age, a brand consultancy that advises on bespoke sustainability solutions. To say she is passionate about sustainable values is somewhat of an understatement.
Speaking to a packed audience at the annual Bath in Fashion event her words resonate with such truth they are hard to ignore. “The world isn’t run by naked people, so whoever says fashion is trivial don’t believe it,” she boldly states. “There are two things we do every day, we get dressed and we eat. Now start a journey backwards – to where your food and your clothes come from. What we wear every single day, has huge relevance and huge consequences on human, social and environmental capital.”
Livia’s introduction to sustainability within the fashion sector came courtesy of a visit to a factory in Bangladesh with journalist Lucy Siegle, her eyes were opened to the realities of the clothes created for insatiable consumers in the West. “There was only one way in, there was an armed guard on the door, bars on the windows, it was incredibly hot, the factory was packed with women working, they had to produce 100 garments an hour and had two toilets breaks a day. If they were sick, or their child was sick and they didn’t come in they wouldn’t have a job the next day. After that when I got home I couldn’t ignore what I had just seen.”
She then introduces ‘The True Cost’ to the audience, a documentary film by Andrew Morgan.
The filmpulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing? Livia consulted with Andrew throughout the making of this film and came on board as executive producer. “Just look at this movie,” she states, “when it’s shown at talks – I really don’t need to talk anymore!”
(The True Cost by Andrew Morgan is available to view on NetFlix)
So what to do, how to be proactive in this growing retail environment which is clearly wrong on so many levels? While brands can change, take a look at Unilever for example, they became the first large-scale company to commit to sourcing all their tea in a sustainable manner employing the Rainforest Alliance. And M&S, leading the way with their Plan A initiative to create a long-term sustainable business value. Yes, brands could do so much more but ultimately the responsibility lies with us – the consumer. “We need to stop buying all this crap,” Livia says bluntly, a statement that receives a round of applause. “Fast fashion retailers are taking us for a ride, we have the consumer power to buy differently. When you go shopping think what is the lifespan of this garment? Will you wear it more than 30 times?”
And what about the notion that as bad as the job is, the current model provides work – that would be otherwise unavailable in some of the poorest corners of the world. As Avril states, “it’s that rather horrible term used in the industry – ‘chasing the cheap needle.’” Livia responds that many women leave their villages to work in crowded and exploitative conditions and yet women’s cooperatives can and have been successfully set up, supporting clothing and artisanal crafts that supports the livelihoods of an entire community and empowering the women involved.
Livia is also highly skeptical of fast fashion brands that make too much noise about their ‘sustainable’ credentials. H&M raised her eyebrows in particular, launching their ‘World Recycle Week’ at the same time as Fashion Revolution’s #whomadeyourclothes campaign and the global chains ‘Conscious’ range sitting amongst weekly drops of churned out cheap fashion obviously lacks credibility when given thought. “Be alert,” she says, “take a step back and look at what you are buying. When you buy cheap food your health suffers but when you wear slave labour you don’t see the blood.”
It really does come down to consumer power if we don’t respond to what is offered then things will inevitably have to change. Livia adds, “Nothing will change until we start buying less,” and really it is up to us to change what is an impossible business model – ethically and environmentally.
Livia Firth was talking to Avril Groom at Bath in Fashion 2016
By JoJo Iles