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Livia Firth Answers Your Questions on Fast Fashion, the Effects of Covid-19 on the Industry, and More

Readers from Amman to Riyadh ask Livia questions about shopping responsibly for a changing body, taxing fast fashion, and the long-term effects of Covid-19 on the industry

Livia Firth

Vogue Arabia Sustainability Editor-at-Large and Founder of Ecoage Livia Firth. Supplied

The “buy less, buy well” message is important, but we desperately need business models to change. How can we get fashion companies – luxury and fast fashion – to go beyond “sustainable collections” and lead the charge by producing less?
Becca, Zimbabwe

I think we need to keep fast fashion and luxury fashion separate here. Luxury fashion produces much less than fast fashion and in much lower quantities. Fast fashion produces approximately 50 collections a year and in huge volumes. If that business model doesn’t change, there will never be sustainability in fashion. The fast fashion brands are also the ones that greenwash more than the rest with all their “sustainable” or “conscious” collections. I’ve had so many discussions with companies like Zara or H&M and their unwillingness to produce less is alarming. Now, it will be interesting to see what happens with this global pandemic – maybe this crisis will force them to change their ways.

I’m a 16-year-old girl who loves fashion. While a large part of my closet already contains second- hand clothing, it’s not enough. I need new clothes for my changing body and I don’t want to wear the same clothes every week. I don’t have much money, so what alternatives are there for me that are sustainable but also low budget?
Brecht, The Netherlands

Dear 16-year-old. There is no such thing as cheap fashion unless someone else (sometimes another girl your age) pays the price. My question to you is: Why do you feel the need to change your clothes every week? Who puts the pressure on you to always wear something different? Why not show leadership and be the cool one who says: “I stand with other girls like me producing the clothes I wear. I want to show you that I care for you and that it is cool to wear the same thing over again and invent many different ways to wear it.”

How do you think we can transform international fashion weeks so that they are more sustainable and promote the right message to buy smart?
Amina, Amman

This is a great question, and I wish fashion weeks all over the world would start thinking about this. Extinction Rebellion – a global environmental movement – has been asking for it for a year now and it would be wonderful to see fashion weeks as moments in which we’d support emerging and independent designers who work in a sustainable way, organize workshops on sustainable materials, host conversations on how to deal with supply chains, and so on. What would you like to see change? What are your ideas to transform fashion weeks into amazing opportunities?

You have been visiting factories in countries that are less developed. Do you create a connection with some of the workers or do you try not to get involved emotionally?
Safiya, Dubai

The reason I love traveling all over the world and properly immersing myself in different supply chains is because of the people I meet on the ground and all the stories they tell me. I learn so much from them and I always get emotionally involved. This is a huge part of what I promote as well: there are millions of people working in terrible conditions to make the clothes we wear every day. Why would we ever consider their lives to be less precious than ours? If you were to work enslaved in a factory and abused every day, would you like it? Do you think it is their only choice? No. Respect is at the foundation of sustainable fashion.


Livia Firth with factory workers in Bangladesh

How do you feel about the aggressive type of activism from groups like Peta, and other anti-fur organizations? Do you think they could or should deliver their message in a less aggressive way? One that also allows other people to celebrate their freedom of wearing whatever they want, even if you don’t agree with them?
Ghada, Tunis

Regarding aggressive types of activism, I am not a huge fan and I always prefer organizations such as the Humane Society, which does a lot of work behind the scenes with brands to help them ban fur. Fur in itself is a complex issue: many, many years ago, it was a by-product of the food industry and in fact it was rare and very expensive. Today, you find fur on wooly hats or key chains and that is surely not a by-product and it is disgusting. We need to be mindful of our choices; sometimes freedom of behavior is not an excuse.

How do you think Covid-19 is going to affect the fashion industry long-term?
Aisha, Jeddah

I don’t think anyone has an answer for this yet. But hopefully it will be the end of buying fast and furiously and will make us slow down and not treat fashion as disposable anymore. Fast fashion businesses will have to change their business model, finally! I love what Carlo Capasa, the chairperson of the Italian fashion chamber, just did: ask the government for special measures to protect all the small and medium fashion and textile enterprises in Italy. That kind of craftsmanship represents the legacy of a country and it needs to be protected. This crisis is so sad and causing so much pain, but it will also help us to think in a new way and appreciate different things. It will be full of new opportunities.

What is the most shocking fact you can share about the results of buying fast fashion?
Mariam, Kuwait

Every day, millions of garment workers get sexually assaulted or beaten up in supply chains all over the world. Every single day. Chances are that the clothes you are wearing today carry this story.


Carlo Capasa, Chairperson of the Italian Fashion Chamber

Do you think we should start adding a tax to fashion that is not made in a sustainable or eco-friendly manner? Do you think that it would make people shop differently?
Zara, Cairo

Tax in fashion: A loud yes! I always quote Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement, who said, “How did we ended up having to certify things that should be normal?” We have to certify food as organic or fashion as ethical – it should be exactly the opposite! Put labels that read “food full of pesticides” and “unethical fashion” – that would change everything.

Buying second-hand clothes is better for the environment but what about second-hand fur?
Sana, Ramallah

I haven’t found an answer to this question yet and, in fact, I was just talking about it with my mother the other day. Many years ago, I inherited my grandmother’s fur coat. I never wore it. The fur debate is so heated and the fur industry is so wrong now – it is best to stay away from it completely and not promote it by wearing second-hand fur either. At least for me.

Why are sustainable fashion options so expensive? If they had high street prices, maybe it would encourage people to shop that way more often. How can this be changed?
Alaa, Riyadh

This is precisely the issue we have today. First and foremost, fashion should not be cheap. You can’t produce clothes cheaply if they are made well, with quality materials, and by people who are treated fairly and paid a living wage. Full stop. When I grew up, I couldn’t buy cheap fashion – but I also did not buy much. We had to save for months before buying something and then we kept it forever. Today, fast fashion brands are producing far too cheaply and luxury fashion brands put a price tag that is too expensive. I saw a straw hat recently that cost US $1 200… Honestly? But there is a world of emerging, independent brands in the middle of this fashionscape and they are the ones we should support and buy from.

As a mother, how do you encourage your family to think green and wear more sustainable fashion? Do your kids listen or do they ignore your advice in favor of more fashion-forward pieces?
Laila, Beirut

I am so lucky as I have boys! They do not change their clothes as much as girls do. My boys always wear the same thing and hopefully, they have also stopped growing so it is so much easier for me.

You are friends with so many celebrities and fashion designers. Can you convince them to only shop sustainable and also to design better, and more, sustainable collections?
Fathima, Muscat

Oh, believe me, I pester them all the time! I don’t think they can stand me anymore!

Read Next: The Words and Their Definitions to Know When Talking Sustainability in Fashion

Originally published in the April 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia

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