Livia Firth

Sustainable or Greenwashed? Eco-Activists on Kourtney Kardashian’s Collaboration with Boohoo

Sustainable or Greenwashed? Eco-Activists on Kourtney Kardashian’s Collaboration with Boohoo

Kourtney Kardashian for Boohoo
The heat is rising for Kourtney Kardashian, as criticism of her current and upcoming collaborations with Boohoo and her appointment as the brand’s ‘sustainability ambassador’ refuses to slow down – and key environmental players including Livia Firth aren’t pulling any punches.
Firth, a long-time critic of fast fashion and greenwashing through her organization Eco-Age and Vogue Arabia’s sustainability editor, didn’t hold back in an Instagram post, highlighting the problems with raising awareness of the damage fast fashion does, while still promoting and producing it.
“Any ambassador, whether a Kardashian or other, should only promote these brands if they commit to change the business model, slow down production, pay their workers more, and use sustainable materials,” Firth exclusively told Vogue Arabia. “It’s that simple. Anything else is just a lazy attitude that creates more harm than not. Kourtney has a huge platform and if she promotes greenwashing, instead of educating young people on what sustainability really is, she is just giving them permission to shop more and more and more.”

UK-based online retailer Boohoo has repeatedly come under fire for its working practices, including accusations of unfair and unsafe working conditions and making misleading claims of sustainability.
“Fast fashion is a business model that would never be sustainable, it is predicated on the simple formula of producing millions of clothes and selling them at very cheap prices, so people use them short term, dispose quickly and start again,” explains Firth. “And this formula is only made possible by using slave labor. So fast fashion equals environmental destruction and social exploitation. No matter how many ‘sustainable’ capsule collections they produce, the above formula stays intact.”
On the day her first collection launched at New York Fashion Week earlier this week, Kardashian hit back at critics of her new role in an Instagram post, saying: “I knew it would get backlash,” stating that fast fashion retailer Boohoo and sustainability “just don’t go hand in hand.”
“I went back and forth about doing this collection with Boohoo because the first thing I think about when I hear the words ‘fast fashion’ is that it’s bad for our planet,” explained the Poosh lifestyle website founder and entrepreneur. “I thought about the attention this collaboration would bring to people who may otherwise have no idea about the impacts of fast fashion on our planet. I thought about how pushing Boohoo to make some initial changes and then holding them accountable to larger change would be impactful.”

But her statements have been met with cynicism, as social media users and sustainability champions alike accuse Boohoo and Kardashian of ‘greenwashing’ – paying lip service to reducing environmental impact and using it to promote their products without intending to make any real changes to their business model. Environmental group A Plastic Planet said that the Boohoo/Kardashian partnership had “taken greenwashing to the next level”, while garment workers’ rights organization Labour Behind The Label had just one word for the collaboration’s announcement: “Urg.”
Outside of her partnership with Boohoo, Kardashian has also faced recent criticism for her family’s jet-setting lifestyle as well as her property’s excessive consumption of water during California’s recent droughts. Only time will tell whether her new sustainability role will help her to understand the impact of fashion as well as other lifestyle factors on our planet.
Read Next: Why Science-Backed Clothing Labels are Key to Stopping the Epidemic of Greenwashing

Amber Valletta, Christopher Bevans, and Aditi Mayer on Subverting Existing Structures to Help the Planet

Amber Valletta, Christopher Bevans, and Aditi Mayer on Subverting Existing Structures to Help the Planet

Aditi Mayer, Livia Firth, and Amber Valletta
My friend, Professor Hakan Karaosman always says that sustainability is such a multi-faceted issue it is impossible to condense it into one topic. Yet today, this is what keeps happening: we read about an initiative that is supposed to “solve it all,” or a commitment from a brand about one side of the story (oft en climate) without ever mentioning the other (often social). We need to have honest conversations that tie all the threads of sustainability together. That is why, last month in Los Angeles, in the wake of announcing the Green Carpet Fashion Awards (GCFA) moving there, we hosted the first of The GCFA Talks with actor, model, and activist Amber Valletta; sustainable fashion content creator, photojournalist, National Geographic storytelling fellow, academic, and labor rights activist Aditi Mayer; and designer, tech genius, and creative director of Eddie Bauer, Christopher Bevans. What came out of that was nothing short of inspiring.
“When I was modeling in the 90s, I felt a discrepancy,” Valletta said. “I didn’t know what it was, but my internal compass was saying something isn’t right. When I stepped away in 2000 for about a decade, I started getting into environmental activism, which is why, when I decided to get back into fashion, I knew I couldn’t do it the way I was before. I also started seeing how many problems there were through the supply chain, on every level, whether it be worker rights, human rights, diversity issues, climate issues, or animal rights. I was shocked at how little everyone knew about this 12 years ago. No one was talking about sustainability apart from a small group of us. And every time we mentioned it, people were like, ‘What?’ Investors would look at us like we were speaking another language. They’d never heard it. I kept saying, ‘This is how business will go. And it won’t just be about fashion, it will be every industry, because this is the biggest change we’ll need to make in our lives.’”
Amber Valetta
I remember those times myself, as I also started 12 years ago — and then something terrible happened that exposed the dark side of fashion. Mayer recalls the same. “My genesis in this world started in 2014. It was a few months after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,134 garment workers,” Mayer shares. “What Rana Plaza did for me, as a young South Asian woman and daughter of immigrants, was unpack the politics of labor, the disproportionate impact on people, especially women of color, globally, and the environmental impact of fashion. I wanted to know the conditions that set the reality for Rana Plaza: how do we have a system predicated on speed and scale at all costs, even human lives? There is a role we have as consumers, but there’s an even bigger role we have as citizens.”
If you are a citizen with power on social media, you should use it in the right way. Why we create, and what we aspire to, are two big themes that need to be addressed and reimagined. Mayer refers to the “attention economy” of social media. “It is one of the biggest drivers of fast fashion. The sheer rate of information we’re consuming; the sponsored ads that are tied to an aspirational image.” Therefore, we should call for a more critical look at algorithms, how even creators who are focusing on sustainability and slowness are still put at odds with the platform that always wants us to create. “The future for me is decentralization in every facet possible,” Mayer concluded. “Fast fashion is rooted in mass production, and we need less mass production and more production by the masses. This decentralization is what will allow us to have more ethical supply chains.” Valletta also noted that the idea of celebrity is tied to centralization of power. “How do we convert a culture of influencers that live a lifestyle of consumption, versus a culture of thought leaders that push critical thinking?”
Livia Firth and Christopher Bevans
No one knows more about this side of technology and algorithms than Chris Bevans, who has turned his incredible designer’s skills into tech knowledge. “I grew up in a house where we made just about everything we wore,” he shared. “My grandmother was a dressmaker from Jamaica. We didn’t talk about sustainability. We talked about survival; being crafty and handy. As an adult, I found myself at Nike in corporate design, seeing the amount of fabric wasted just for sampling. I started thinking that there had to be a better way. I also wanted to figure out how to bring emerging creatives together to support their ideas and help them navigate supply chains and share resources. That’s why I started The Hallway, where designers could have access to a database of sustainable factories around the world. We wanted to open source it, hack the system, basically. Because for me, it’s all about communication and sharing. That’s what is going to destabilize the titans that are corroding the system. Technology is a tool that we can use to take down the juggernauts. We can take down these giants using the same technology they use on us.”
For someone like me, who recently spent sleepless nights wondering how on earth we let an ultra-fast fashion brand like Shein brainwash us (and then realizing it happened exactly in the way Mayer, Valetta, and Bevans talked about: influencers and algorithms), I left this conversation with a euphoric new mission. Hack the system. That is where the new battleground of sustainable fashion will be.
Originally published in the July/August 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Read Next: Livia Firth on Why Going Green Should Be More Like Common Sense to Save the Planet

Livia Firth on Why Going Green Should Be More Like Common Sense to Save the Planet

Livia Firth on Why Going Green Should Be More Like Common Sense to Save the Planet

We’ve lost our instinctive connection with what’s important for ourselves and the planet – and it’s time for common sense to lead the way again.
Photo: Elizaveta Porodina
Almost every interview I have done in the last 14 years or so starts with the same question: “When did you become sustainable?” Sometimes the phrasing is different, but the concept is always the same: how and when did it happen?
I usually shrug my shoulders and come up with an answer, but the truth is, I am not sure there was a precise moment – it was more a collection of circumstances that brought me to where I am today. I associate my personal journey with the transformation not only of the fashion industry, but with how we went from being “citizens” to being “consumers.”
I was born in 1969, the year of that fabulous Woodstock festival and the hippy movement, and the first man on the moon. I spent the first 20 years of my life (if not more) in an era pre-internet, pre-mobile phones, pre-consumerism. I was also born in Italy, so everything that happened in the 80s – including the beginning of consumerism and fast food – arrived in my country much later than in the US (where it was born) or the UK (where I moved to in 1996). I am sure the same is true for any of you who are from my generation and are not based in one of those two countries.
Two-year-old Livia at her aunt’s wedding with her mother, wearing a custom-made silk dress which she later gave to Livia
Apart from Madonna’s music, huge earrings, and shoulder pads, the 80s for me are about my twin brothers being born, my family suddenly becoming four siblings, my dad having to maintain everyone with one salary, and my mom buying lowenergy light bulbs not because we were “eco,” but because we needed to save money. The same went for clothes that were mended, altered, passed down, and exchanged – simply because we couldn’t afford it and cheap fashion didn’t exist anyway. We had to save money to buy clothes and we bought quality clothes to save money, as they had to last through the years.
Things start to get blurry later on, and maybe the question is not, when did I become sustainable, but rather, when did everything become super fast, super cheap, super accessible, and super charged at the speed of light? When did we start living in an era when we had to certify things, or call them “sustainable” or “eco,” while it had been normal practice up until then?
Livia wearing a Laura Strambi recycled plastic bottles dress. Photo: Getty
At some point this is what happened, and it suddenly became cheaper to buy new socks, rather than mending the holes in them, and we started buying readymade mash potatoes at the supermarket rather than boiling and mashing two potatoes. Isn’t it interesting that, in the span of my lifetime, I saw this huge transformation from one kind of world to a completely different one? And now I’m witnessing a new revolution: the technological craze of Web 3.0 and all things “metaverse.” Maybe this is why I always say that for me, sustainability – call it green or any color you like – is more like common sense than anything else. And if you start looking at it in this way, then there are a million questions whose answers will always be no. Does it make sense to you that we buy things that we throw away after a few times? (Think about this for a moment – the fact that we throw away clothes like food that has gone past its expiry date in our fridge.) Does it make sense to you that we wear toxic materials on our bodies? Does it make sense to you that we spend our time looking at the lives of people we don’t know on social media, because our lives are so empty that the only way of feeling alive is to feel envious over what someone else is wearing, or which place they have gone on holiday? Does it make sense to you that, although we technically abolished slavery last century, we still enslave millions of people in supply chains around the world, since we need to buy lots of very cheap things, very often? I could go on, but shouldn’t the real question be, when will we start to care again, to reconnect with what matters again?
Livia in a factory in Dhaka. Photo: Reza Shahriah Rahman
For the last two-and-a-half years I have been writing these pages, every month on different topics, every month trying to involve you in something new. This month I would like to throw the ball back in you court and would like to ask you what you care about. What would you like to know more of, explore more, understand more? What is your story and what are your solutions for the future of humanity?
Originally published in the June 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Read Next: Livia Firth and Tom Ford Discuss the Gigantic Issue of Thin-Film Plastic Polluting Our Oceans

Is Digital Fashion an Eco-Friendly Replacement to Fast Fashion or a Virtual Illusion?

Is Digital Fashion an Eco-Friendly Replacement to Fast Fashion or a Virtual Illusion?

Virtual fashion available from DressX. Photo: courtesy of DressX
In pure Carrie Bradshaw style of “I couldn’t help but wonder,” I have found myself recently thinking about this new “digital fashion” phenomenon and whether this means that physical clothes will eventually become irrelevant as our lives will be moving online and into metaverse platforms in virtual worlds. You only had to read the fashion press of the last few months to notice an increasing number of digital fashion releases, NFT collections, and articles studying this new phenomenon – and branding it as “sustainable.”
Our avatar versions can’t go around naked, and brands are here to solve the problem. And if you don’t have an avatar yet (like me), you will probably soon be able to stay in your pajamas for Zoom meetings (forgoing the casual leggings and dress-up top we’ve all been wearing the past two years), wearing a Gucci “shield” in the same way you can fake your environment with beautiful screens while working from bed.
I remember Marco Bizzarri, CEO of Gucci giving a lecture at the London College of Fashion in 2017 during which one student asked him how he would reconcile Gucci’s own sustainability agenda with the company’s need to keep producing new clothes season after season. He shrugged andsaid that while he didn’t have an answer yet, surely the only way would be for Gucci to become more of a content producer and diversify its business model. Fast-forward a few years and Gucci has become one of the first brands to have a virtual world, with digital products and gaming too. It is called the Gucci Good Game. Marco was right–and looking at it through this lens, it is a genius move. If you can keep your company profitable while not producing more physical clothes (with all the consequences this implies), surely, it’s a win.
But, as you probably know by now, for the last 10 years I have been particularly invested in the harsh reality experienced by the 70 million real people currently entrapped in the fashion supply chain to meet our insatiable consumption appetite, which is fed by a multibillion profit-making fast fashion model that now is presumed as being the norm. My first question is, what does this new virtual revolution hold for these 70 million people – the garment workers who are predominantly young women? We’ve already seen the consequences a global pandemic had on them, with brands refusing to pay for placed orders and cutting subsequent bookings without any responsibility towards the workers at all. Adding this new “virtual revolution” to an already existing problem of exploitation could spell a social crisis on a scale we haven’t yet witnessed – the dystopian nightmare, which we are all pretending not to be a part of. Predicting the future is a perilous business. And I don’t have an answer for you yet. But we need to stay vigilant and not let history repeat itself. Sustainability is not only about environmental justice, but, much more importantly, social justice. We need to make sure inclusivity and equality are fundamental pillars of this revolution.
My second question is, is it also truly sustainable from an environmental point of view? What are the metrics we will use to measure this? CNN recently reported on the limited data available about the reduced impact of digital fashion, quoting a sustainability report from digital fashion startup DressX saying digital garments emit 97% less carbon than physical ones. But how did they measure this? As we know by now, data can be manipulated, and reporting can be stirred according to what a business wants you to see. DressX states on its website, “We share the beauty and excitement that physical fashion creates, but we believe that there are ways to produce less, to produce more sustainably, and not to produce at all. At the current stage of DressX development, we aim to show that some clothes can exist only in their digital versions. Don’t shop less, shop digital fashion.” The devil is in the details and the sentences “Don’t shop less” (so continue to feed consumerism) and “At a current stage of DressX development we only sell digital fashion” (implying it may start selling real clothes in the future) set alarm bells ringing in my head.
This epoch promises plenty of disruption, but whether this is welcome depends on how we steer a course through change. The one superpower we have – and which we have the duty to use – is our action to push for the right governance and accountability. We don’t need our avatars to be better versions of ourselves.
Read Next: Dubai-Based Designer Ayesha Depala Launches Her First Physical Store of Sustainable Ready-To-Wear Pieces
Originally published in the February 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

Livia Firth’s 10-Step Solution to Being More Sustainable in Fashion

Livia Firth’s 10-Step Solution to Being More Sustainable in Fashion

Livia Firth (left) at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in a dress first worn by her mother in 1968 (right).
Dear fashion lovers,
With this global pandemic shining a spotlight on fashion’s biggest problems, one can only wonder: how did it all get so messy? When did we stop thinking about our clothes as the dear friends they should be, and start to treat them as disposable? And most importantly – when did the word sustainability start to become so empty? Shall we try and return its meaning?
I grew up in Italy in the 70s and 80s in a family of four siblings. Only my father worked; we had to be frugal with lots of things, including what we wore. Hand-me-downs and make-your-own were the norm and by the time I started earning money, I saved as much as I could to buy staple garments – famously saving for more than a year to buy my Max Mara coat, which cost 700 000 liras (the equivalent of probably £1 000 today). I still have it!
At the time, high street was practically non-existent. Shops offered high-quality clothes at prices that better reflected their value, and we all bought with purpose. No one – no matter how much money they had – would dream of buying something to wear a few times before throwing it away, like is the case today.
Then fast fashion happened and changed our world forever.
Today, I want to offer you a solution. What if sustainable fashion were an act of rebellion? A way to slow it all down; a way to look at it as an opportunity to change our behavior and save fashion? With the Eco-Age team, we came up with 10 solutions to help us navigate it all. We called them “Make every step count.” I hope these steps to navigate fashion life offer a useful way to challenge misconceptions, re-engage with what we wear, and make a difference. It can seem overwhelming, but global issues such as the climate crisis and slave labor can have local solutions, thanks to our simplest of daily acts: getting dressed.
Also Read: Amber Valletta, Livia Firth, Karen Wazen, and Burberry’s Nicole Lovett to Join Vogue Arabia’s Future of Sustainable Fashion Discussion
Time’s Up Vintage in Copenhagen
1. Learn the story behind your look and wear with pride
The fashion world can feel disconnected and without identity, but there are so many beautiful stories we can wear. I am sure you know plenty of brands who can tell you how their clothes are made, by whom, and from what materials and techniques. Make sure the story is authentic and wear it with pride.
2. Buy for life and rewear forever
How many times do you ask yourself if you’ll still wear a piece in 10 years’ time? I think about all the ways I could style anything I want to buy, which has saved me from making some disastrous shopping mistakes. I love wearing everything I have. I am sure the same is true with your wardrobes – no matter how many clothes you get, you probably have some which are the equivalent of your “comfort foods,” pieces you wear all the time as they are safe and make you feel great.
3. Wear artisanal
How many times did you get dressed in a trend, rather than a story? How often do you wear a piece of art? There is so much “fashion” around us that it is hard to connect with things that are handcrafted. I would love to think that our fashion future is completely artisanal and that one day we will all care for the people whose hard work goes into making the clothing and accessories we wear and love, and whose techniques go back centuries.
4. Discover second-hand and vintage
One of the best things about vintage clothing is that it’s often of very high quality, which is why it has lasted so long. I remember my mom taking us kids to a second-hand market south of Rome to look for clothes for the whole family to save money. One day, she found this extraordinary vintage dress, in black silk with white cashmere polka dots, and guess what, I still have it!
5. Embrace clothes swapping and borrowing
Another misconception is that we have to own everything we wear. My sister and I grew up swapping clothes, and I still borrow clothes from or lend them to my girlfriends. Sometimes it makes for fun stories – like when I found myself in Botswana to film with director Andrew Morgan and packed all casual clothes, only to learn on arrival that I was granted an interview with the president of the country. To my rescue came Pat Dambe, head of corporate affairs for De Beers, who dressed me for the interview.
6. Read the labels
Most labels today do not offer enough information. I think our biggest power right now is to push governments to establish stricter labeling regulations like they do for food. We should also tell brands what information we want from them – social media is a powerful tool we can use to voice our values.
7. Choose natural fabrics
There’s nothing better than a beautiful fabric made with the highest quality wool, organic cotton, linen, or even hemp. Simply speaking, natural materials come from plants and animals and have the potential to be made with little to no chemicals. Just remember that natural doesn’t necessarily mean organic. They are also easy to freshen up with dyes, or to repair if needed. Wool is a particularly great option as you can air it instead of frequently washing it, drastically cutting down on water and energy use.
8. Go upcycled or recycled with your fabric
There are amazing recycled materials out there made from waste – Econyl regenerated nylon is a favorite, made from recycled fishing nets and carpets. You can already buy swimwear and sports clothes made from it. Another way to approach it is to upcycle your old clothes. Take something you haven’t worn for years and use the fabrics, pockets, zips, and buttons to create something new.
9. Find a seamstress or make your own
We don’t have to buy ready-made clothes to enjoy fashion. Clothes made just for you are clothes that will be treasured forever. You can make your own, or, if sewing isn’t for you, there are so many skilled seamstresses out there.
10. Treasure the memory of each wear
I remember my mind being blown by an interview with Amanda Harlech from 2011. She spoke about how her wardrobe was full of incredible memories. For every piece she could recall when she wore it and what happened, from her first kiss to other adventures. It is the best way to describe my wardrobe, too. I have so many pieces, which I have had for decades, clothes that used to belong to my mom, or my aunt, or my mom’s best friend… All worn countless times and attached to some incredible memories.
Watch Livia Firth and Manuel Arnaut discuss all this and much more by tuning into Vogue Arabia’s Future of Sustainable Fashion digital event on June 28 at 4pm UAE time/3pm KSA time. Click here to register.
Read Next: Livia Firth Answers Your Questions on Fast Fashion, the Effects of Covid-19 on the Industry, and More

Livia Firth Highlights the Urgent Need for a Living Wage in the Garment Industry Through This Documentary

Livia Firth Highlights the Urgent Need for a Living Wage in the Garment Industry Through This Documentary

Ahead of eighth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh (April 24), Livia Firth launched a new Fashionscapes documentary about the urgent need for a living wage in the garment industry.
Photo: Reza Shahriar Rahman/Polaris
For me, activism has always been about being a challenger. When we start challenging the status quo, or even a simple action like getting dressed, and start asking questions… change really happens.
Something like this happened a few years ago, after I returned from a trip to Bangladesh. I went there to see what had changed in the two years after the devastating Rana Plaza garment factory collapse on 24 April, 2013, which killed more than 1 100 people. The majority of the victims were women, killed while they were sewing clothes for us. Let that sink in, please. At the time, I could not stop thinking about something Nazma Atkar, a garment worker I met in Dhaka, had said: “Livia, nothing will ever change unless there is a transnational agreement on wages. Until then, brands will always hop from one country to the other in pursuit of the cheapest possible production line.”
Business and Human Rights Researcher Thulsi Narayanasamy in Fashionscapes: Living Wage
Would something like this even be possible, I wondered? At the next meeting of The Circle – the NGO I co-founded with Annie Lennox and many other amazing women, to work together to achieve equality for women and girls in a fairer world – I challenged some of our lawyer members with this question. Little did I know that that query would spark a revolution.
Six years and three reports by the lawyers later, and The Circle has just submitted a proposal of legislation to the EU parliament for a living wage. To make you understand why this is beyond exciting and a real game changer, let me put things in perspective.
Children working in factories
The readymade garment industry stands as the poster child for exploitation. In an increasingly globalized world, companies source goods from factories where people work in conditions and for wages that would be illegal, and likely criminal, in the main marketplaces for those goods. So when a group of internationally renowned women working in senior positions began conversations with legal colleagues in garment hotspots including Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Cambodia, garment workers began talking to them after their shifts. Sometimes these encounters took the form of hurried conversations outside factory gates. Through this network, a flow of evidence began to travel, carried by women from the factory gates of “secret” factories to a network of women legal professionals across the world. Together, this network was able to prove that fast-fashion wages are in contravention of human rights. This is the biggest challenge to slavery in fashion that we have ever seen – and it doesn’t stop there.
Women working in factories
With filmmaker Andrew Morgan, we decided to tell this story through a new episode of our Fashionscapes documentary series. Fashionscapes: Living Wage illustrates how The Circle’s mission of truly fair living wages will reshape an entire industry and work to create a more equitable, just, and humane world economy.
The battle for a living wage in fashion is a story that’s time is now. It reflects a growing understanding of ways to dismantle the dangerous status quo through nuanced activism. This story contains many pointers as to how to use radical, collaborative activism to speak truth to power and how to position and articulate a solution to a long-standing injustice. It tells the story of unexpected collaboration by people across transnational boundaries combining their expertise – whether that be legal or lived experience working day to day in this system – and using the tools of activism to bring decisive change. It helps shake the foundations of “head in the sand” passivity from “consumers.” It reinforces the agency of the active citizen.
Human Rights Lawyer Jessica Simor from The Circle
As Bill McKibben, American environmentalist and co-founder of climate campaign group 350.org, says, “When we fight, we win a surprising amount of the time. So we should probably fight more often.”
Fashionscapes: Living Wage is available to watch at Fashionscapes.tv
Watch Livia Firth and Manuel Arnaut discuss all this and much more by tuning into Vogue Arabia’s Future of Sustainable Fashion digital event on June 28 at 4pm UAE time/3pm KSA time. Click here to register.Read Next: Livia Firth on Why Need to Stay Vigilant About Fashion’s Impact on the Planet

Livia Firth on Why Need to Stay Vigilant About Fashion’s Impact on the Planet

Livia Firth on Why Need to Stay Vigilant About Fashion’s Impact on the Planet

Livia Firth and guests at the Eco Age Earth Day Party in London, 2018. Photographed by Dave Benett
Americans gave birth to the first ever Earth Day on April 22, 1970, in a time when air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. According to the Earth Day official website, “the stage was set for change, with the publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962. The book represented a watershed moment, as it raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment, and the inextricable links between pollution and public health.”
Students at An Earth Day March in the US, 1970. Photo: Getty
Today, one billion individuals from more than 190 countries mobilize for action every Earth Day, and they will do so again this year. In fashion, a flurry of initiatives around the anniversary, including dedicated capsule collections, will come out for sale. Then in May, everyone will have forgotten that our industry, in pursuit of selling fast and furiously, is one of the most polluting ones in the world and its environmental impact is devastating. Are you surprised? We do get dressed every single day, and fashion is an all-encompassing industry – from agriculture to communications. It touches everything.
Firth in Botswana with the Natural Diamond Council. Photo: Courtesy of Eco-Age
Thankfully the tide is turning, in some cases quite rapidly. At Eco-Age, the company I co-founded, I see it happening faster and faster as more brands and companies are asking for programs that respect planetary boundaries driven by scientific data, or are willing to sign up to organizations such as the Allan Savoury Institute, which promotes holistic management in agriculture.
Firth in Botswana with the Natural Diamond Council. Photo: Courtesy of Eco-Age
At the same time, we live in confusing times, where circularity has become the new trendy word for greenwashing. The EU is trying to pass legislation for a green label on products (a PEF label) that would endorse synthetic fibers, which are fossil-fuel based, as more ecological than natural fibers. The methodology is not accurate as it doesn’t take into account the whole life cycle of all the fibers at the moment, so we need to stay vigilant.
Firth in Botswana with the Natural Diamond Council. Photo: Courtesy of Eco-Age
I consider myself incredibly lucky as my work has allowed me to travel to so many different countries, experiencing first-hand the impact that what we wear has on the ground – from Brazil, where trees are cut just to let cows travel from one ranch to the other (Did you know that meat and its coproduct leather are responsible for 80% of today’s deforestation?) to Tasmania, where the opposite happens, as wool growers manage the land with respect and long-term thinking. A couple of years ago, I visited Botswana as part of our work with the Natural Diamond Council and learned about the journey of a diamond – the eternal symbol of love that is formed inside the earth and comes out after billions of years. That experience was probably the one that taught me more about how an industry can exist and operate with respect for people and planet, and how communities can truly thrive when business is done responsibly and sustainably. A diamond’s journey begins with conversations, consultations with governments, listening to local people, and discussing with environmentalists, and it can take years. No quick decision can ever be made. Once the mine exists, extraction uses nature’s elements. Local people and communities soon feel the benefits as schools get funded and conservation projects are created, on top of jobs and wider prosperity. This shapes communities for generations to come.
Imagine, just imagine, if fast fashion did the same… It would not be possible. So let’s change the narrative, let’s talk about blood clothes and change the way we look at our wardrobes. Happy Earth Day.
Read Next: Livia Firth Highlights the Independent Designers Taking Matters of Sustainable Fashion in Their Own Hands
Originally published in the April 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

What Do the Technological Advances in Fashion Mean for Garment Workers?

What Do the Technological Advances in Fashion Mean for Garment Workers?

As technological advances in fashion threaten to leave behind vulnerable garment workers, could the answer lie in our imagination?
Fashion styling and shopping app Drest. Photo: Courtesy

In April last year, a couple of months into total lockdown and as we were all getting accustomed to our Zoom meetings, online classes, and remote dance parties, I had the privilege of interviewing one of my heroes, Naomi Klein. Among other things, we spent quite a long time sharing our feelings about technology. Naomi said she heard Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, talking about this as a grand experiment: “So I think we should say: You’re right. It is. We’ve been living in Eric Schmidt’s grand experiment. And guess what? We hate it! You know, we’re not happy… Do you know anybody who’s enjoying spending this much time on screens, having this little contact with other humans? I think we should be grateful that we got this fast-forward vision of this Silicon Valley utopia. And we now know in our bones that we don’t want to go there.”
So here I am – one year on, still in lockdown, still working on Zoom, doing online classes, and at the beginning of another month of fashion weeks, where we will consume fashion digitally, virtually, and in ways we have never thought before (look at what The Fabricant has done in the realms of 3D fashion design and animation in the past few months…) – asking myself: do I like this future?
Drest. Photo: Courtesy

Before trying to give an answer, let’s unpack our technological fashionscape so far. Three or four years ago, everyone started to talk about how technology was the best friend of sustainability and how this epoch promised plenty of disruption. But I remember at the time thinking that whether or not this was welcome, it depended on how we steered a course through change.
Take increased automation, for example. Fashion is a human industry that relies on and needs people. Are we saying that we don’t want human involvement anymore? Or that we are happy to throw on the scrap heap approximately 70 million people currently in the supply chain, because we think we can produce more efficiently, even cheaper and even faster using technology? I hear too great an emphasis on disruptive technology targeted at the usual suspects. For example, how can the consumer consume products even faster, or how can we sell more; what technology will get this from runway into their hands before they have time to change their minds? How might brands deliver results and boost productivity?
What I am not hearing, though, is how all of this will impact the less visible people in the supply chain – the garment workers.
Rob Hopkins’ From What If to What Is. Photo: Courtesy

But then imagine the technology (and we don’t have to imagine too much because it’s starting to become a reality) if some of the spoils of the digital age were transferred to garment workers. Women with smartphones, able to monitor and report on their own safety conditions, to be in charge of their time and their piece rates. Imagine the enhanced transparency! Imagine if we use technology not just to monitor the sale of apparel, but also the story of its recapture, its disassembly, and reuse. This is where technology starts to become a force for progress. Imagine all the stories we could tell! As Rob Hopkins says in his beautiful book From What If to What Is, “In these times of deep division and deeper despair, if there is a consensus about anything in the world, it is that the future is going to be awful. There is an epidemic of loneliness, an epidemic of anxiety, a mental health crisis of vast proportions, a rise in extremist movements and governments, catastrophic climate change, biodiversity loss, food insecurity.” But there is plenty of evidence that things can change, and cultures can change, rapidly, dramatically, and unexpectedly – for the better. We do have the capability to effect dramatic change, Hopkins argues, but we’re failing because we’ve largely allowed our most critical tool to languish: human imagination. Imagination is central to empathy, to creating better lives, to envisioning and then enacting a positive future. Yet imagination is also demonstrably in decline at precisely the moment when we need it most.
Livia Firth with the founder of Drest, Lucy Yeomans. Photo: Getty

This is where the use of technology gets me excited – when it is used as a means to enhance imagination. With this in mind, for example, last year at Eco-Age we used technology to create a new narrative inside The Green Carpet Fashion Awards. We created the first event in the world to ever be produced and broadcast using four different kind of technologies – augmented reality, digital, holograms, and film. We used it to send out a strong message about using this period as a portal into a new era, where environmental and social justice underpins everything we do. And it was a huge success: we could involve talent all over the world without having them leave their locations, created films, and turned the iconic La Scala in Milan into the perfect magical world. Technology can also create much needed new business models for the fashion industry when it helps brands, for example, to move from selling clothes (unsustainable) to gaming – something that Lucy Yeomans, founder of fashion gaming platform Drest, understood a year ago. Let’s see what this year unfolds but technology as a tool to progress is something that makes me excited – otherwise it will be the emperor’s new clothes all over again.
Zendaya at the virtual 2020 Green Carpet Awards in a vintage Versace dress. Photo: Courtesy

Read Next: Livia Firth Highlights the Independent Designers Taking Matters of Sustainable Fashion in Their Own Hands
Originally published in the February 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

Livia Firth Highlights the Independent Designers Taking Matters of Sustainable Fashion in Their Own Hands

Livia Firth Highlights the Independent Designers Taking Matters of Sustainable Fashion in Their Own Hands

As we re-emerge into a new world with new values, emerging fashion designers will have an important role to play.
Sindiso Khumalo. Photo: Courtesy

When you look at the current fashionscape, you can often feel caught between a rock and a hard place – on one side fast fashion (aka disposable) and on the other luxury fashion (aka unapproachable). While these two suffered immeasurably due to the pandemic and still don’t have a clue on how to go forward, another sector has figured it out: the emerging and independent designers. Will 2021 be the renaissance for small producers giving us fashion as it used to be? With this question in mind, I turned to some of my friends to shed some light.
Stefan Siegel founded Not Just a Label in 2008 to showcase independent designers. “It’s sad that fashion needed something as catastrophic as the pandemic to happen so that it can finally adopt new systems. What we’re seeing now is what we’ve been predicting for years. There are still eight conglomerates holding on to what is left of the fashion industry. When we started Not Just a Label, we had 500 independent designers. Now we have 49 000! There is creativity coming from every country around the world. And there’s a right for them to exist. We’re also seeing new ways of running businesses as designers come up with things like cut-to-order, where they don’t make the product until they receive the order. There’s customization coming in, there’s personalization and, with that, there’s a different type of appreciation.”
Designer Sindiso Khumalo. Photo: Getty

Christopher Bevans, a former Nike designer and founder of Dyne.Life, is about to launch a game changer in the industry: The Hallway, a digital platform for emerging and independent designers to speak to each other and share textile orders, mills, and manufacturers to optimize their production. “Fashion never truly embraced technology in the way it easily could’ve done but chose not to, because of the way the infrastructure is being controlled. With my brand, I wanted to change the conversation around how you shop (by using Blue Bite NFC technology, for example) to disrupt the industry, disrupt retail, and connect with consumers in a more meaningful way. The Hallway is the evolution of all of this. It’s about creatives communicating directly, sharing everything, including sketches.”
Designer Priya Ahluwalia. Photo: Getty

This speaks to Sindiso Khumalo, the textile and fashion designer based in Cape Town, South Africa, who recently won best independent designer at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards. “The biggest struggle is access to materials or trade shows,” she says. “And even once you have access, you have the hurdle of minimum orders. But I’m positive because so much has happened in the last few months that has awakened consumer consciousness. My brand is intrinsically sustainable, since the way we operate is small and intimate. I’ve been approached twice by investors but I know what’s going to get compromised, and I’m not ready for that. For me, the future is about more brands that are intimate with people and the planet, rather than loads of big brands.”
Ahluwalia. Photo: Courtesy

Priya Ahluwalia, whose brand gives new life to vintage and deadstock clothing, says, “Big businesses run in the same way – they put profits over people constantly and consistently. It’s time to talk openly about the fact that white supremacy and sustainability are intrinsically linked. And we need to change this. For me, it’s been interesting that people are starting to wonder if workers are being treated fairly across the globe. We need to find a way of backing communities in other countries, while also supporting locally. At Ahluwalia, we have been thinking about ways that benefit our local community. Now the big question is, how can we change the collective mindset, when we get so many adverts from fast fashion online retailers? When what’s marketed as interesting is buying loads of clothes and looking different every weekend?” Bevans says, “These big brands never really know what to do; they always look to us, the smaller emerging brands, to validate them, not the other way around. But now emerging designers are building bridges in big ways. It’s our moment, and it’s going to stay our moment for a while.”
Designer Bethany Williams. Photo: Getty

Bethany Williams is a menswear designer committed to effecting social change by collaborating with new charities each season, while addressing problems from all angles of the industry, from agriculture to communication. She looks at what kind of fashionscape we could have in a few years from now: “We work with social manufacturing projects and I often wonder, in the years to come, if there were lots of smaller businesses like ours, working locally, would that be a better way? There wouldn’t be mass production and we would all source sustainably. This last year has shown us the power of coming together and as far as emerging brands go, I like the power of our collectiveness.”

Bethany Williams. Photo: Courtesy

Talking to all of them made me hopeful. I can see the tide changing, as Siegel explains so well, “The winning argument here is that independent designers can solve all the problems we have in fashion, because they can create items that are loved, that people do not throw away. They make something bespoke, they know their supply chain, they adopt zero waste policies, because they cannot afford to be wasteful. They don’t over-produce. It is sustainable fashion at its best.”
Read Next: A New Blueprint: Livia Firth Wants Us To Shop Ethical Denim, Here’s Why
Originally published in the January 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

A New Blueprint: Livia Firth Wants Us To Shop Ethical Denim, Here’s Why

A New Blueprint: Livia Firth Wants Us To Shop Ethical Denim, Here’s Why

Denim is one of the most environmentally destructive fabrics to produce, from its massive thirst for water to the pollution left in its wake. Livia Firth speaks to Alberto Candiani, owner of Italian manufacturer Candiani Denim, to find out if there’s a different way to go blue
Photography: Carla Guler

The first time I met Alberto Candiani, the fourth- generation owner of the family-run Candiani Denim, I was completely struck by his passion, knowledge, scientific research, and deep need to know every single part of his denim’s supply chain. What I did not expect was to also meet a heavy metal DJ and that we would end up talking about how to plant a denim garden.”
LIVIA FIRTH: Alberto, I love the story of Candiani’s sustainability journey starting from a garden… or better, from a nature reserve.
ALBERTO CANDIANI: Yes! Candiani was born in 1938 in the little town of Robecchetto, where Parco del Ticino nature reserve was founded in the 70s. This meant that for every decision, they had strict rules and restrictions. That forced us to become efficient and sustainable, long before the word “sustainability” was widely used. If you talk to my dad, he would say that efficiency is the grammar of sustainability. And I agree, because if you are efficient, it means you’re also sustainable, or at least that you have that type of proposition. As a consequence of that, we also had to become pure innovators.
Alberto Candiani

LF: What has been the driving force behind your innovation, research, and development? Was it always about becoming more sustainable and more environmentally friendly, or were you also driven by design? 
AC: We were driven by a vision, for sure. Innovation goes into the ingredients and the process. You want to use less water, less chemicals, less energy, and you don’t want to compromise the quality of what you do. And in order to do so, you have to invest in new technologies, you need to invest in the people, you have to have ideas, and you have to make those things real. We are driven by a need for improvement.
The Candiani Dyeing Department

LF: Tell me about the two technologies that you are the proudest of in terms of sustainability
AC: Number one is Coreva, our bio-stretch technology, which is the only bio-based and biodegradable stretch technology available in the market. We are basically replacing common synthetic elastomers with a plant-based elastomer. The circular idea is to use that fabric or that garment at the end of its lifecycle to bio-fertilize the cotton that it’s made of again. This is full circularity, which five years ago I was told by a scientific committee was not possible. And now it’s possible, it’s demonstrated, and it is scalable. We launched it in 2019 with selected R&D partners like Denham and Stella McCartney, and in January 2021 we’ll scale the production. Another technology I’m proud of is Kitotex, which we licenced exclusively for the denim world. It utilizes chitosan, which is a bio-based and biodegradable polymer, to replace the liquid plastic normally applied on the yarns in order to weave them when you create the fabric. So Candiani is going plastic free. I’m giving up on even recycled plastic right now. No nylons – they’re just not needed for what we do. I’m also looking more into microplastics and liquid plastics, which are just as bad. We are cleaning up both the process and product to become plastic and micro-plastic free.
The Denham x Candiani Collaboration Makes Use Of Coreva Bio-Stretch Technology

LF: So, in a few years’ time, you could literally fertilize a field of denim with all the old denim that has been produced in this way?
AC: This is the idea. This is why Coreva is so important. It is revolutionary. We’ve even bio-fertilized fields of cotton with our scraps.
LF: You not only know exactly where your cotton comes from, but you have strong opinions about organic cotton versus non-organic, and you look into the supply chain very carefully. Why is that so important?
AC: I like to go and visit those fields that I get the cotton from myself and I like to have a direct relationship with the farmers. I care about the quality, the provenance, how it’s made, how it’s grown. Cotton is a very intensive plant to grow, but it’s been demonized too much lately. It is water consuming, true, but more than 65% of cotton grows because it rains. Sometimes it grows in specific areas of the world where you cannot plant other stuff, and it becomes a fundamental crop for the local agricultural rotation.
LF: You supply denim to lots of different brands. But lately you have decided to explore another business model: producing Candiani’s own custom-made brand of jeans. What’s the idea behind this?
AC: Our store in Milan is going to be a made-to-measure store with wide customization opportunities. The idea is to satisfy a question I’ve been asked so many times: Where do I buy the perfect pair of jeans? When you come here, we take your measurements, and we produce your perfect pair of jeans in only four hours. We will tell you about the Italian origins of denim, which not many know – it was invented 500 years ago in the city of Genoa.
LF: Will you also put a little DJ booth in the new store? Because I know you’re passionate about music…
AC: It’s pretty much gone now! With two kids and one coming… But when I find time to write some music or to produce it, I still go to the studio and I’m still loving it, even though the DJ career is over, and my band is over.
LF: But this is what we can do in the new store! You get to go for a dance with your perfect pair of jeans.
AC: I like the idea. Apart from the fact that you may not like my music, Livia… It’s quite heavy metal.
LF: Oh no! OK, forget about the last part of us dancing then…
Photographs Carla Guler
Read Next: 12 Clever Ways to Wear Denim Now, According to the Street Style Set
Originally published in the December 2020 Issue of  Vogue Arabia

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