Whether it’s campaigning for sustainable fashion and ethical travel, or encouraging celebrities to go green for the red carpet, Livia Firth embraces a conscious approach to life.
She is best known for her work as a sustainable-fashion advocate – as the co-founder and creative director of ethical consultancy firm Eco-Age, executive producer of the 2015 fast-fashion exposé The True Cost and founder of the Green Carpet Challenge, which brings sustainable style to the red carpet.
But eco travel is another of Livia’s passions. After all, her job requires her to fly around the world, from garment factories in Bangladesh to fashion and film events in New York and Paris. That’s why Booking.com chose her to be the 2019 ambassador for their Booking Booster Accelerator Programme, which invests in sustainable tourism startups worldwide.
“I’m always in pursuit of sustainable solutions for every aspect of our lives,” she says in a lilting Italian accent, on the phone from her London home. “I also travel a lot, so the idea to discover new companies and startups that were working and tackling some of the issues about sustainable tourism and sustainable travel really appealed to me.”
Recently Livia headed to the travel company’s Amsterdam base to help judge which of the 10 social-enterprise finalists would receive grants from Booking.com’s $3.5-million fund. Many of the finalists, who took part in a three-week accelerator programme, are helping to create change by connecting travellers with the local communities they visit.
Livia points to Australian platform Clean Travel, an ethical-tour marketplace, which helps small travel operators reach a global audience, and Indian startup NotOnMap, which connects tourists with authentic accommodation and experiences in local villages.
“A lot of people travel and they don’t really integrate with the local community. They behave more like tourists. And instead, we should say, how do you communicate with this community, how do you integrate with them, how do you go back home much more enriched and you learn from this community?”
Earlier this year, Livia took a group of fashion designers and industry insiders, including Donna Karan and Carmen Busquets, as well as representatives from Parsons School of Design and the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America), to Guatemala.
The trip, in conjunction with the country’s Pacunam foundation, saw the launch of the GuateMaya initiative and facilitated the designers to engage with local artisans. “Some of the designers that went with us, they went back home and they were completely inspired to do things differently,” says Livia.
The mother of two teenage sons first became passionate about ethical fashion after visiting a factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
“What I saw literally changed my life forever. The factory had an armed guard at the door with a huge rifle. Every floor was crammed with women and all the windows had bars and there were no fire escapes. They were producing at the time 150 pieces an hour. Today they produce 200 pieces an hour. The minimum wage was $64 a month. I thought, ‘I can’t not remember this, I can’t not think of these women and pretend that I haven’t seen it.’”
Now she campaigns for better wages and working conditions through her work at Eco-Age and The Circle, Annie Lennox’s women’s advocacy group, of which Livia was a founding member. She shows up for ethical fashion too, wearing cutting-edge sustainable fabrics, vintage dresses and ethically made pieces on the red carpet as part of the Green Carpet Challenge.
At the 2019 Met Gala, Livia wore a custom-made recycled polyester kaftan by Richard Quinn, paired with a Stephen Jones headpiece made from foraged feathers, and borrowed Chopard jewellery (the Eco-Age client has an ethical and sustainable supply chain).
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She also attended the European premiere of Mary Poppins Returns (Livia’s former husband Colin Firth played the villain) wearing New Zealand sustainable label Maggie Marilyn.
Her influence makes a difference – other celebs who have taken part in the Green Carpet Challenge include Gisele Bündchen, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and Bradley Cooper. For those who worry that investing in sustainable fashion will be too expensive, Livia says that it’s most likely not true if you work out the cost per wear of a garment.
Eco-Age’s #30wears initiative encourages people to consider if they will wear a garment 30 times before buying it. “You start realising how many purchases you do on an impulse and how much money you’re wasting, how many clothes you’re wasting.”
To people who haven’t made the switch to ethical fashion yet, she asks, “Who do you think made your clothes? If you buy clothes really, really cheaply, somebody is paying the price for that, and that somebody is the garment worker, who is usually a woman.
“As a woman, do you want to talk about feminism? Look what we’re doing to women around the world. They are enslaved in the circle of poverty to make our clothes. The way to a more sustainable fashion is to stop consuming and buying fashion at the same rate as we’ve been doing in the last few years. It’s as simple as that.”