Whether they’re campaigning about climate change, shining the spotlight on sustainable style or highlighting the fragility of our ecosystems, The Glossary’s Eco Pioneers series gets to know the game-changing women who are on a mission to save the world. Here, Livia Firth, co-founder & creative director of Eco-Age and founder of the Green Carpet Challenge, discusses her A-list revolution and the shopping rule we should all be following.
Italian activist Livia Firth set up Eco-Age with her brother Nicola Giuggioli in 2007. Initially a store in Chiswick offering stylish eco products as well as a sustainability consultancy, everything changed when Livia and Lucy Siegle, the ethical living journalist and author, visited a garment factory during an Oxfam trip to Bangladesh. They were appalled at the conditions.
“For the first time in my life I saw how the impact of what I was wearing was having miles away from me. It was like having someone throw a bucket of iced water on you,” Livia says. “When I came back I told Nicola we had to forget about the shop and homeware etc. – this is gigantic. We have huge human rights and environmental issues within fashion – what can we do about it? And that was the new phase of Eco-Age.”
Soon afterwards, in 2010, Livia’s husband Colin Firth was nominated for an Oscar for A Single Man; Lucy challenged Livia to do awards season wearing only sustainable and ethical fashion, which she did, recording her efforts on Vogue.co.uk. And so the Green Carpet Challenge (GCC) was born. Like most great ideas, the GCC has gathered momentum with a host of designers and high-profile stars – from Stella McCartney and Tom Ford to Emily Blunt, Viola Davis, Gisele Bündchen and Meryl Streep – getting involved.
“We decided early on that the Green Carpet Challenge would work on two levels: on the world’s red carpets to get our favourite A-listers wearing sustainable style in front of the flash bulbs, and then deep in the supply chain with real producers all over the world making systemic change,” she explains. Following on from its success, a Green Carpet Challenge capsule collection was launched in 2013, followed by the annual Green Carpet Awards, which debuted in Milan four years later, to celebrate the brands showcasing total provenance and sustainable innovation.
GCC aside, Livia and her team continue to advise businesses worldwide on how best to achieve growth by adding value through sustainability. Working directly with brands, often but by no means exclusively fashion, Eco-Age aims to simplify sustainability by creating, implementing and communicating achievable solutions – and giving a new generation of conscious consumers fresh and compelling reasons to invest.
Their Eco-Age Brandmark is awarded to those that meet key principles (transparency, fair work, traceability, pollution minimisation, animal welfare…) and is, Livia hopes, a way of deciphering the often overwhelming number of ethical validations and certifications within the industry. “We wanted to create a brandmark for sustainable excellence to encompass all sorts of different validations – which the consumer can trust because if it is validated by Eco-Age it means that it’s good and they can buy it guilt-free. Or at least have all possible information about it,” she explains.
New projects include the launch of an Eco-Age office in Milan, to be run by Nicola, and working with Alberta Ferretti on a special Earth Day collection to remind us to love the planet and those living within it – think recycled cashmere knits and organic cotton T-shirts with slogans like ‘Love Me’, ‘Help Me’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful World’.
Livia’s advice on how to shop responsibly? “We say the first point is always, ‘Do I really need this? Am I going to wear it a lot?’ If the answer is yes, buy it. But you’ll be surprised how many times you’ll say ‘Not really’. Maybe you’ll wear it to a party and another couple of times, and put it back. That’s the starting rule for sustainable fashion.”
Images: brands’ own.
A version of this feature was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of The Glossary.