It’s no secret that fashion moves at an incredible pace in the 21st century. And as we discover in the latest issue of WOOL magazine, rapid production and manmade materials can come at an environmental and human cost. Oxfam Global Ambassador Livia Firth hopes change that culture with Eco-Age, her brand consultancy offering bespoke sustainable solutions, from influencing global opinion makers through to the supply chain. We meet Firth to discuss her mission.
Eco-Age founder Livia Firth.
Why did you found Eco-Age?
I found myself in it without realising too much - my brother Nicola had this idea, in 2007, to open a shop on the high street with a consultancy to offer solutions for eco homes. After two years, we closed the shop and started what Eco Age has become today- an ideas consultancy which powerfully aggregates global thought leaders and influencers to address the compelling issues and opportunities of our day by delivering solutions, through ethical and sustainable values. The first “why” back then was to prove that eco could be sexy…. and I think we have proved beyond that.
How does the operation work?
Eco-Age is a brand consultancy that helps businesses grow by creating, implementing and communicating bespoke sustainability solutions. We simplify sustainability, offering tailored, measurable solutions that help our clients achieve growth, establish sector leadership and enhance the bottom line. Ultimately, we add value to brands and help them speak with authority to consumers.
Whether in Colombian mines, Bangladeshi factories or Italian silk mills, our teams assess all aspects of the supply chain. We visit our clients’ suppliers. We experience, first hand, the conditions and environments where their people work. We make recommendations, working closely with brands and suppliers. Our criteria align with principles covering social justice, corporate accountability and environmental stewardship. When our criteria have been achieved, we award the Green Carpet Challenge® (GCCTM) Brandmark to a client’s product or collection.
How did you come up with the idea for the Green Carpet challenge?
Again – it was very much an organic process. Journalist and broadcaster Lucy Siegle and I were talking about “what to wear” to the Golden Globes in 2010 when Colin [Firth] received the nomination for A Single Man. She asked me if I thought I could have done the entire awards season wearing only eco fashion, I replied saying it would be a real challenge but maybe together we could do it, and that’s how it all started. Since then, I have never stepped out on a red carpet without sharing the story behind my outfit.
From that moment, the GCC has evolved dramatically. We now have a GCC Brandmark which is a guarantor of sustainable excellence, awarded to individual products and collections, once they have been validated against social, ethical and environmental criteria. In addition to this, we partner with many brands to help them create Green Carpet Collections – products which have ethical and sustainable credentials all through the supply chain.
What is the human and environmental impact of over consumption?
I think the documentary The True Cost shows this incredibly well – if you haven’t seen it already, please check it out on Netflix! By treating garments as disposable, we are disregarding both the huge impact that our over consuming habits have on the planet (consider the earth’s resources we are consuming on our side and the amount of garbage we are producing on the other) and people (to produce so fast and so cheaply and in these huge quantities, it can only be done by slave labour).
What are the benefits of slow fashion?
When I grew up fast fashion did not exist – and this is how it should be. We are spending so much more money on things that we can’t keep because they fall apart so easily and we fall out of love with them so quickly. The benefits of slow fashion are that you buy things you save up for that you truly love, care for and keep for ever – in the long term you can end up saving money by cherishing your clothes and re-wearing them in different ways. There is a confidence in wearing something you deeply care for. Also knowing that you have been taking into consideration the people at the bottom of the supply chain. As I often say, fashion is a feminist issue. If you consider that there are millions of women around the world sewing clothes for us wouldn’t you want them to be treated in the same way as you, rather than knowing they are enslaved because of your rapacious cheap buying habits?
How do you work to help brands and companies embrace slow fashion, sustainable and ethical fashion?
Eco-Age creates bespoke sustainability solutions that deliver a unique and powerful positioning for brands. Our highly skilled consultancy team works directly with brands and businesses to develop and create solutions that are relevant to their business needs – and deliverable within today’s commercial realities.
To do this, we synthesise a powerful and diverse mix of brand awareness informed by top global opinion formers, commercial and supply chain insights for competitive advantage and compellingly powerful, bespoke, product led initiatives.
What is your goal for the future?
To have a world where fast fashion doesn’t exist anymore. Where garment workers are treated equally, receive a decent living wage and can unionise. A future where producers work in partnership with brands rather than in servitude to them
MERINO WOOL: A NATURAL, BIODEGRADABLE AND RENEWABLE FIBRE
Australian Merino wool is an entirely natural fibre grown year-round by Australia's Merino sheep. Grazing on extensive grassland terrain, Merino sheep in Australia are free-range animals that live a largely carefree existence. From the high rainfall areas of the eastern seaboard to the drier pastoral areas of the west, Merino sheep have become an integral part of the iconic Australian landscape.
Merino wool is composed of a natural protein that is biodegradable, similar to the protein found in human hair. When disposed of, Merino wool decomposes in soil in a matter of years, slowly releasing valuable nitrogen-based nutrients back into the earth, acting like a fertiliser. In contrast, synthetic fibres can be extremely slow to degrade.
And Merino wool is a completely renewable fibre source; Australian Merino sheep produce a new fleece every year. Ethical and environmentally-sensitive farming can be as important for today's discerning customer as the quality of the clothing itself. Australian Merino wool achieves the highest standards across these areas.
Raised on sustainable grassland terrain, Australian Merino sheep are well-suited to grazing a variety of natural pastures. For generations, the farmers who produce this fine wool have shown how the Australian rural landscape can be managed effectively while protecting the natural environment, supporting rural communities, and meeting the needs of increasingly environmentally-aware customers.
Top image: A Merino wool look by Phoebe English for respected manufacturer John Smedley.