When it comes to sustainable fashion, it can be hard to know where to start. With an endless barrage of information, countless new and established brands to research, and a mass of confusing terminology out there, it's understandable that anyone might feel a little overwhelmed.
In light of this, every month we will focus on a brand that knows exactly what it means to be a sustainable force for good in fashion today. From debunking inaccuracies to advice for aspiring designers and tips for consumers on how to be kinder to the planet, we cut through the noise so that you don’t have to.
This month, to mark Earth Day, we spoke to the co-founder of Eco-Age and UN Leader of Change Livia Firth to find out what consumers can do to make a difference, the one thing she wants everyone to know, and why every day should be Earth Day.
Eco-Age – the organisation behind the revolutionary Green Carpet Fashion Awards – has promoted and encouraged vital conversations around sustainability for the past decade. Firth, who founded the business alongside British environmental journalist Lucy Siegle, has contributed significantly to the conversation around sustainability in fashion. Most recently, she appeared on a climate change podcast with Cate Blanchett, as well as producing the award-winning documentary The True Cost – which explores the impact of fashion on people and the planet – as well as mini-series Fashionscapes, which investigates fashion’s supply chain, shining a light on the likes of poverty wages, the rich artisanal history of countries like Guatemala, and the impact of diamond mining in Botswana.
Although sustainability and our planet should be front of mind year-round, rather than just on one day a year, that doesn't mean we can't take the opportunity to further raise awareness about climate change. Firth shares below her main takeaways this Earth Day and what she's learnt from her sustainability work over the years.
Why is Earth Day so important?
"It serves as a good excuse to gather everyone’s attention on this beautiful planet we live on. I believe it should be Earth Day every day, just like it should be International Women’s Day every day or any other important days we celebrate."
What’s the one lesson you want everyone to know this Earth Day?
"I would urge everyone to read the IPCC report that was just released a couple of weeks ago and watch Don’t Look Up on Netflix if you haven’t done it yet. Currently, we are all sleepwalking into a huge train wreck and destroying our planet. But we can change this, and it’s up to each one of us, as together we have so much power."
How can consumers be more responsible and eco-conscious?
"Shoppers can be more responsible in many different ways. We should buy less – thinking of ourselves as citizens of this planet instead of consumers – start slowing down, and remember the power we hold in voting with our wallet every single time we buy something. Behind every product we buy, there are millions of people in that supply chain. We are all co-dependent and we should respect that."
What do you think needs to change in the industry?
"A huge amount needs to change in the industry. I advise you to watch The True Cost documentary and you'll find that all the answers are there. Fast fashion shouldn’t exist; anything that starts with disposability at the core of its business model and is fundamentally based on exploitation."
What does the fashion industry need to do more of?
"There should be more legislation, accountability and real transparency. As an industry, I'd like to see better partnership with producers, a bigger emphasis on having a positive impact on communities, as well as more ethical business principles. We can learn a lot from one another, so we should talk more together as an industry, for example how to disinvest from fossil fuels, as currently the majority of brands are using synthetic fibres which are oil-based."
What do you want to achieve personally with your work, in terms of sustainability?
"With Eco-Age, we have been working on sustainability for 14 years now and although we've seen a lot and made big changes, there's still so much still to be done. Currently, there's so much greenwashing and we are policing the space. Personally, I would love to see the end of fast fashion in my lifetime. I am 52, so who knows what will happen."
What advice would you give to those wanting to make their business more sustainable?
"Work in partnership with your producers. It's also vital for businesses to consider the end of life for all of your products and ask yourself whether they're going to be compostable. If not, where will they end up?"
Do you think high-profile celebrities have some sort of responsibility to lead by example?
"I absolutely do; everyone follows and wants to emulate them, so therefore they are huge influencers to lead by great example. This is also why we have moved the Green Carpet Fashion Awards to Los Angeles, to use the power of the entertainment and fashion industry and unite them to promote sustainable fashion and leaders."
What are the most common inaccurate “facts” about sustainability you see pushed out?
"We see so much greenwashing today in so many different forms, like the word 'transparency' being used to mislead as it's just a window to distract, as well as types of materials are used like 'synthetic' fibres or 'recycled'. 'Circularity' is another buzzword that everyone is using, and in our Fashionscapes episode we learn that it's all fake. And more recently, the metaverse discussion, surrounding digital products being branded as the new sustainable revolution, which actually couldn't be further from the truth."
What should consumers look out for when shopping sustainably?
"Shoppers should check materials, such as natural versus synthetic and the product's origin - but rather than researching countless certifications, it should really be about asking yourself, 'do I truly need to buy this?' or, 'will I wear it multiple times and for multiple years?'"
What’s the biggest misconception about sustainability and what would you say to counteract this?
"Fast fashion is the biggest enemy of sustainability, as we wouldn’t be in this gigantic mess if it wasn’t for the fact that we are conditioned to consume so much. Someone somewhere is paying the price – usually the garment workers – while we keep buying fast and furiously, then discarding at the same rate without thinking about the implications. If you're really wanting to shop better and more affordably, then buy something of quality to keep forever and don't buy too much. No one needs millions of clothes."
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