Founder of Eco-Age and Vogue Arabia Sustainability Editor-at-Large Livia Firth has once again joined forces with director Andrew Morgan to create the third episode of the fashion documentary series Fashionscapes. Titled The Diamonds of Botswana, the insightful documentary sees Firth exploring the southern African country’s diamond mining industry.
Amid irresponsible mining practices existing to this day, Botswana has become an incredible success story while unearthing precious stones as the world’s second-largest producer of conflict-free diamonds. “Coming to Botswana, I was nervous that I would find the imbalance I have witnessed elsewhere,” shares Firth. “When a single industry generates wealth and has disproportionate power, it can be very dangerous. “
Unlike other fast fashion hot spots where human rights are abused by employers exploiting workers and communities, the Botswana government operates in partnership with businesses and civil society to enforce strong labor and environmental standards. Having premiered in New York today, The Diamonds of Botswana offers a fresh and hopeful perspective on how a complex industry can work in favor of the people while amplifying the lessons other industries can learn from it. “Botswana has an incredible model, which, for me, could be the blueprint of how business can work in other countries,” remarks Firth. She describes the blueprint as “A big industry (diamond) forming a partnership with a government (Botswana), investing tons of money and resources to build infrastructure (mines, and around mines, hospitals and schools, and so on), investing in biodiversity (huge parks around the mines to protect the land and reinvest what they take away) and then the profit distributed with the government, which puts it all back into the country and the communities and infrastructures. It’s a cycle.”
The eco-activist continues, “Now take exactly the opposite and you will understand how it normally works: A big industry (fast fashion) going into a country (Bangladesh, for example), not investing a single penny in anything (no building of factories, no employment of people, no building of schools or hospitals), only placing orders in factories, driving the cost of that production down as much as possible and exporting all the wealth (products) from the country. There is a lot to learn from the diamond industry in a way, isn’t there?”
The ethical business operations in Botswana isn’t the only aspect of the mining industry that the documentary explores. “The way that the diamond industry puts back into the communities and how empowered the women there are, really stood out to me,” says Firth of meeting the many strong women featured in the documentary, including the first female managing director of a diamond mine, and a female truck driver. ‘There is no gender pay gap – it’s extraordinary!” shares Firth. “And there is a social ladder. You can start working in a mine as an intern and then become an engineer and progress – something that I had never seen in other supply chains. For example, in Bangladesh, you start as a garment worker and you stay a garment worker all your life.”
Previous documentaries in the Fashionscapes series have discussed similar spheres of the fashion industry, bringing to light the stories behind the clothes we wear, but what makes The Diamonds of Botswana different yet equally important is its showcase of the possibility of a better, more ethical future. “When we started the Fashionscapes series, it was with the intention of highlighting different stories of what we wear,” says Firth. “I always said that visual advocacy is so much more powerful than reading articles about an issue.”
“In Forever Tasmania, for example, I had so many vegan friends coming up to me after watching it saying, ‘I thought as a vegan I couldn’t wear wool but now I know it is not true and it is absolutely fine!’ The True Cost highlighted the mess we are in because of fast fashion and left you with a sense of despair and injustice. But it has been one of the most important fashion documentaries of the last decade (The Hollywood Reporter named it among the 10 most influential ones!) and truly helped change the conversation around fashion forever,” says Firth.
And now, after having experienced first-hand the impact of the diamond mining industry on Botswana, Firth describes her visit as “surprising, heart-warming, and fun,” and hopes that “people will understand that diamonds have brought to Botswana a wealth in the country which would have never happened without this industry.”
Watch the trailer for Fashionscapes: The Diamonds of Botswana below: