Livia Firth: “If Kim Kardashian Talks About Sustainability on Instagram, I Can Retire!”

Livia Firth: “If Kim Kardashian Talks About Sustainability on Instagram, I Can Retire!”

Livia Firth, co-founder of Eco-Age and architect of the Green Carpet Challenge on why ethical fashion needs celebrities (and influencers) and the problems of fast fashion 

Amongst the ironies of fashion today—insatiable consumerism at the cost of environment, now complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic—is that the more we emphasise sustainable vision, the more is the number of rip-off artists gate crashing into the territory. Logically, the game that draws large audiences will attract more players, but not everybody is a champion after all, however impressive the size of the muscle flexed for the photograph. Yet when the referee is also an athlete, the coach and a passionate spectator, voice and noise do not blur into one.

Livia Firth, co-founder of Eco-Age, the UK based consultancy that builds, implements and communicates sustainability strategies for companies to help them grow, is that kind of player. She can steer the game but play it like a champion as well. Over the years, as global sustainability dialogues have grown, we have learnt to hear her voice above the cacophony of all those trying to score goals on the field.

Eco-Age, now more than a decade old, moulds and represents the sustainability actions of companies like Stella McCartney, Chopard, Miu Miu and Gucci among others. As its website  explains, the team’s expertise lies in “supply-chains, textiles, impact measurement, internal and external communications, PR and event-planning.”


Journalist Hamish Bowles and Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue US, at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards 2019.

Firth, who founded Eco-Age with her brother Nicola Giuggioli in 2009. went on to establish the Green Carpet Challenge (GCC) in 2011 and the Green Carpet Awards (GCA) in 2016, was honoured with the UN Leader of Change award in 2012. The glittering annual ceremony that is the GCA has recognised unsung heroes from Italy’s unknown cobblers to top league designers like Miuccia Prada and Donatella Versace.

Some would argue that Firth got a short cut to the Hollywood red carpet (until she splashed it with other concerns and colour) because of her husband, the Oscar winning actor Colin Firth (the couple announced their separation in 2019). His support, which she has often mentioned in her interviews, undoubtedly gave her a privileged player’s advantage. It opened the glamourous and influential world of Hollywood celebrities to a girl born and raised in a rooted Italian family conscious about using, reusing and conserving resources, who wanted to make a life mission out of the fundamental rules of survival—respect for people and the environment.

Eco-Age, the website—with its global focus from India to Australia, Tasmania to Bangladesh—wears its clarity towards gender and equality, supply chain exploitations, the sync of food and lifestyle with fashion (or social justice and environment justice as Firth calls it in her interview below), not like a medal of victory. But as sturdy boots for a long haul march.


Photo: Valery Hache / AFP

Actor Cate Blanchett wearing a Giorgio Armani gown at the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival (2018), which she first wore to the 2014 Golden Globes.

Undoubtedly, GCC has seen Hollywood’s most talented and powerful celebs walk the power walk in couture made by brands sensitive to ethicality and sustenance, using materials that do not deplete or tarnish the environment. Among those who have dazzled in what was once called dowdy, boring fashion and is today the design ecosystem’s biggest challenge are actors Cate Blanchett, Olivia Colman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard and Emily Blunt, and model Gisele Bündchen.

For this interview, I tried to avoid “COVID-19…” questions; working instead towards a conversation that brought light to what will dim out and what will last anyway. Pandemic or not. Firth responded with brief, bright responses, interested in fashion’s “handprint” as much as the environment.

Edited excerpts from an email interview.

Since you founded Eco-Age, how has the growing receptivity for sustainability, justice and fairness in the fashion ecosystem changed the person in you?

I have certainly learned a lot! When we started I knew very little about sustainability, for me it was just common sense and I never thought about the opposite. By travelling across supply chains all over the world – from Bangladesh to understand the devastating impacts of fast fashion, for example, or Tasmania to learn about wool, Brazil to learn about leather and Botswana to learn about diamond mining – just to name a few – it has enriched me and enraged me in multiple ways.  Today I am certainly much more informed, empowered, and still hugely motivated to change the world!


Photo: Eco-Age

A still from Fashionscapes, a documentary series created by Livia Firth.

For GCC whether it is fair-mined gold or gowns made from recyclable materials, the “female” celebrity appears to be the primary site of expressing change. Do male celebs feel as strongly? Do male stars only prefer tuxedos or has the GCC seen innovation in the classic styles of men’s fashion?

This is a great question! The whole Green Carpet Challenge is based on a very simple concept: red carpets are the biggest communications platforms; everyone is obsessed with “who wore what” and so, let us use it to promote the stories behind the clothes. From this point of view – the female celebrity is obviously much more powerful as a majority of readers obsessed with the red carpet are women. But things are slowly changing; fashion is also becoming more gender neutral…

In the history of the Green Carpet Challenge we also had plenty of men doing it – working on their tuxedoes and making sure they were sustainable and this year’s awards season Joaquin Phoenix wore the same tuxedo for every event, which is something no one ever did before (believe it or not!)

You talk about Eco-Age as consultancy and ideas on Sustainability 4.0. What is 4.0?

It is about two things mainly: one that sustainability for us has to include both environmental and social justice, the two go hand in hand and in all the different manifestations (including for example diversity and inclusivity, which is something fashion is finally starting to address now). It is also about all the things Eco-Age does as an agency: from building the sustainability strategies to implementing them (we do the work on the ground), and communicating them. For the communication part, that includes not only PR but also events, celebrity partnerships, social media activations and so on.

Much is said about non-celebrity influencers and the big democrats of fashion. But can the film celebrity, the Hollywood star be replaced by Instagram influencers in the kind of sway they wield over large audiences? 

Social media influencers have a huge power, sometimes even more than the Hollywood actors/actresses who sometimes are not even on social media. I always say that if Kim Kardashian started to talk only about sustainability on her Instagram account I could finally retire!


Photo: Amy Sussman / AFP

Actor Joaquin Phoenix at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards on February 9, 2020.

Have stars in Europe and America sufficiently used their celebrity power and popularity to push sustainability development goals for fashion and allied concerns?

Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.  It’s a complex balance – there is so much greenwashing around and it’s difficult to understand what really lies behind a message sometimes. And if they don’t do it properly they get attacked.

You have spoken about the impact of your visit to Bangladesh factories that alerted you towards fashion slavery. But do you feel that barring a few committed organisations or brands—many are greenwashing consumers and jump on the sustainability bandwagon for quick attention?

This answer would require an essay… so let’s try to keep it simple. Ultimately it depends entirely on two things: does the fashion brand have a business model which is totally unsustainable anyway, like fast fashion? Then forget about it, whatever they do, it will always be green washing. Or does the brand intrinsically have the opportunity to change and address serious issues at supply chain and in doing so addressing environmental and social impact? Then you can work with them. But there also needs to be a lot of commitment within the brand in doing so, the journeys are complex and challenging – it takes time to change a supply chain. While you do that, you can communicate on products as long as your commitment is serious and the work is being done.  All our clients are examples of this.

Can fashion really aspire to be fair and equitable? Or does the very nature of the beast make it essentially about elitism, exploitation and some sections profiting at the cost of others?

Fast fashion will never achieve that as it is based on pure exploitation of labour. The rest not only can, but it has to. There is only one way forward – if you want your business to still exist in few years’ time, you better start respecting people and planet.