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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

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