When you hear the words sustainable and fashion together most will think of hippies in layers of browns and forest greens with a dusting of organic matter floating around sun bleached dreadlocks. However, things have changed and for the better.
There have been some super champions of ethical and sustainable fashion over recent years. Stella McCartney with her vegan principles, Vivienne Westwood and her political polemics and Ali Hewson and Bono’s label Edun that promotes production in Africa – all of who have made substantial inroads into bringing the ethics of fashion into the limelight. But the reigning queen of ethical and sustainable fashion has to be Livia Frith (yes, Colin’s wife).
Livia Firth lives by the motto “Stop bitching and start a revolution”. She is, of course, referring to those in society prefer to be armchair critics instead of agents for change. Of which she is definitely the latter. Born in Rome in 1969 Livia Giuggioli started her professional life as a filmmaker. It was after university that she found herself working as a production co-ordinator on the set of Nostromo in Columbia. When she shook hands with the TV movie’s star, Colin Firth, her life changed forever. Livia quickly ditched her fiancé and Firth started the long courtship required of an Italian girl of good provenance. When Darcy Mania hit the UK on the premiere of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice they escaped to Livia’s family home in Umbria, where the Italians didn’t really understand the attraction to what they considered to be a constipated Englishman.
She is erudite, articulate, extremely passionate and absolutely gorgeous. Her determination is so plainly printed in her forceful gaze and she’s not afraid of using her status as Mrs Darcy to get what she wants. And what she wants is for the fashion industry to be accountable for the people it employs. Simply put, she wants to eradicate supply chain slavery.
These days it’s so easy to wander the globe and do a spot of shopping. We think nothing of buying cotton shirt here or a wrap there, a pair of earrings that take our fancy in a little boutique down a cobbled lane. Even those of us who eschew the fast fashion of the high street and opt instead for the so-called slow fashion of luxury labels are still contributing to a system that hurts people and the environment. While your name brand handbag may have been crafted in Italy do you know where the leather was sourced? It’s a hard pill to swallow. As Livia points out time and time again we have become so concerned with organic and fair trade food, we relish knowing our caprese salad is made with organic tomatoes and our burrata is churned from the milk of cows on a sustainable small holding but what about the people who made our clothes?
For a few years now the high street brands have been clobbered with damning reports and tragic accidents while the luxury brands have seemingly got away scot free in terms of accountability. LIvia has no interest in being the police dog of high fashion, there are plenty of organisations to do that job, she is interested in change and finding ways to support companies in making those changes.
Livia is fond of quoting American thinker Howard Zinn who said, “Democracy is not a spectator sport”. At some point she decided she was no longer going to be a spectator and set up Eco-Age with her brother Nicola Giuggioli. Eco-Age is a fashion consultancy and so much more. It is the platform from where Livia realises her ideas and projects. They consult high-end brands on sustainable practices, helping them create the infrastructure to efficiently and ethically follow their supply chain while also boosting their bottom line. Eco-Age utilises one of the best marketing venues for any fashion label, the red carpet.
Having been thrust into the public eye via the career of her husband Livia realised what was missing from the ethical fashion debate was the clout of celebrity. She started the Green Carpet Challenge (GCC) to commission designers to create sustainable dresses for her to wear on the red carpet while she accompanied her husband. Most notably when he received his BAFTA for Best Actor for Tom Ford’s Single Man and then later when he won an Oscar for The King’s Speech after which she started to recruit in earnest. Cameron Diaz in Stella McCartney at the Met Ball, Meryl Streep in Lavin while collecting an Oscar, Nicole Kidman in L’Wren Scott, Michael Fassbender in eco Armani, Javier Bardem in Gucci and so on. The list reads like a who’s who of Hollywood and fashion – all wearing labels, all sustainable.
From this Eco-Age launched the Green Carpet Challenge Brandmark which has quickly become a sought after addition to many a label’s label. The GCC Brandmark is a validation system that guarantees sustainable excellence. The criteria to achieve the GCC Brandmark are based on social and ethical issues and are dependent on the nature of the project. Eco-Age finds the best practice, solutions and certification standards to guide a project through from design to completion. The first Brandmark was awarded to Gucci for a handbag collection made from certified zero-deforestation Amazonian leather. Since then, the exclusive brand has been awarded to Chopard’s Green Carpet Collection of jewellery, Stella McCartney’s 2014 Green Carpet Collection, a 2013 collaborative project with Victoria Beckham, Christopher Bailey, Erdem, Christopher Kane and Roland Mouret and Narciso Rodriguez’s (HEART) Collection for Bottletop.
The trick for Livia Firth will be to make sure that designers are serious about change and not just interested in the buzzword marketing value of ethics. She’s passionate and fiery and rarely takes no for an answer. No doubt she is in for the long haul and it wont’ be surprising to find that, given her character, fortitude and vision she will achieve her goal.
Eco-Age supported the making of this extraordinary and hard-hitting short film Handprint.
Make sure you see it: CLICK HERE