Feisty, fiery and passionate, Livia Firth is not one to mince words; especially when it comes to a cause that’s close to her heart. The Creative Director of sustainability consultancy Eco-Age (whose clients include Chopard, Gucci and the Kering Group) speaks to us about how sustainability is changing the face of luxury and how consumers have a direct impact on the attitudes that businesses with regards to this discourse.
Tell us about the moment you decided that sustainability was the cause you needed to work on.
I worked in human rights for a long time but when we opened up Eco-Age in 2007, it was more concerned with sustainable homes than fashion. At that time, I was working with Oxfam as a Global Ambassador and I went to Bangladesh for a campaign against domestic violence. And when we were in Dhaka, I asked to be smuggled into a factory because someone in London was already talking about ethical fashion and its repercussions. And when we arrived in the factory—Oxfam managed to find one that was A-rated; meaning, a good one—I was very confused because it looked like a prison. It was a big building filled with women; there was an armed guard with a huge rifle standing by the door; all the windows had metal bars; and there was no fire exit. This was before the Rana Plaza disaster. And a majority of the women were scared to speak because they get beaten up and abused. The few that spoke said that they had to work extra hours to live and they had to work every day. If their child was sick and they couldn’t come to work, they would have lost their job. They had no protection; nothing. I thought: “My god, this is slavery.”
When I came back, I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t see it, that I didn’t know. More importantly, as women, we talk about feminism, and this is what I’m doing to them when I buy a jacket? This is the story that I’m wearing.
So we started to look at Eco-Age and how we could help businesses to change these practices. When we first started to talk about sustainable businesses, I remember having conversations where people would say: “Oh my god, so boring, we have to put a little bit of our marketing budget this year towards our Social Corporate Responsibility programme.” Today, it is completely different. The conversation has shifted because a majority of businesses today realise that, first of all, they are responsible for their supply chain because stories are coming out every day so it cannot be ignored anymore. The conversation has changed dramatically since that time, thankfully. But there is still a lot to do.
So how does Eco Age help do that?
At Eco-Age, we have three levels. We have our proper business clients [for whom] we create, implement and communicate sustainability strategies. We are also activists who create advocacy campaigns that make people understand the importance of shifting [their mind sets]. For example, we created the #30wears campaign on Instagram that asks people if they will wear something a minimum of 30 times; to make them understand that it’s also a matter of how much they buy. Then, we also act on a level where we devise tools like the Green Carpet Awards in Italy and the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, where we involve countries in [sustainable] programmes.
Then, of course, there’s your work with Chopard, which started in 2012 and today, the company has announced its 100% Ethical Gold commitment for the production of all its products.
It’s an incredible achievement! When we started the journey to sustainable luxury, the primary focus was on gold because it’s the common raw material across jewellery and watches. So we started a strategic alliance with the Alliance of Responsible Mining (ARM), [an organisation] who works with small scale mining communities to take them to Fairmined certification. But what Chopard did was to also invest in the mines that hadn’t achieved the certification yet so that ARM could then train them to achieve the certification. So actually, thanks to their support, Chopard has directly impacted communities and brought a lot of these mines to certification. We never thought in our wildest dreams that we would be able to reach this huge target in just five years. And, the fact that this is a family owned business, they can make decisions very quickly. They have been truly extraordinary.
What can consumers do to ensure the rest of the industry follows suit?
I always say: Every time you buy, you are voting and showing your support for something. It’s the biggest voting system in the world and every time you put your money down, you’re showing your support for something. So make it matter.
If you had just one hope for sustainability, what would it be?
That we won’t need to define it anymore. Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food [International], says it best: How did we arrive in an era where we have to certify things that should be normal? So my only hope is that in the future, ethical, sustainable practices is the norm. And what is not normal, will have a huge red label that says: Unethical.