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In Conversation: Manuel Arnaut and Livia Firth Take a Deep Dive Into World of Ethical Fashion

Manuel Arnaut and Livia Firth at the screening of the Renaissance Awards movie at Expo 2020 Dubai

This January marks the beginning of my third year as sustainability editor-at-large. When Manuel Arnaut asked me to join him, I immediately said yes, full of excitement to start exploring new territories, meet new audiences, and learn new fashionscapes. I met Manuel by accident when I was in Dubai in 2019 for Chopard, the luxury jewelry and watch brand Eco-Age has worked with for many years (and proudly so, since together we achieved a 100% ethical gold supply chain in only five years) and we instantly clicked. Manuel is open and curious and adventurous – everything you want from your editor-in-chief. I was in the emirate again this past December to screen The Renaissance Awards movie at the Italian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai and we started chatting about sustainabilty and fashion, so to open 2022, I wanted to know what, if anything, had changed in Manuel’s sustainability journey. This is how the conversation went.

The Italian pavilion

Livia Firth: What does sustainable fashion mean to you and how has your journey evolved?
Manuel Arnaut: One of the things that I learned through our collaboration is that sustainable fashion is not only about the ecological side, it’s also related to the way the clothes are produced, and to the people in the supply chain. I’ve also discovered sustainable fashion is full of great solutions for things that we haven’t even thought about – for instance, the floor of the Italian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai is made with discarded orange peel. The world of sustainability is full of beautiful opportunities. It can be glamorous and couture and high fashion, and this is what is exciting for me now.

LF: What’s your personal style, and if I open your wardrobe today, what would I find?
MA: My personal style is quite basic, I usually dress in black, so you’ll find a lot of black staples. I prefer to buy less and to buy pieces that I can wear for longer. This is something that I know is now a trend, but I’ve always gone for staples, like a black blazer, pants, and shoes; items you can wear again and again and that you can also mix and match, as I travel a lot and it just makes my packing easier.

The Italian pavilion

LF: What is the biggest challenge in sustainable fashion, do you think?
MA: I think the challenges are two: one side is to push trends, and to believe in the power of sustainable brands and fashion and to investing in production so people love their clothes for longer and respect supply chains. The second challenge is explaining to our leaders and consumers the importance of making more conscious decisions. There are a lot of people around the world who end up buying fast fashion because it’s what they can afford. This is also something we need to think about. How can everyone have access to sustainable fashion? Another thing I learned from you is that a lot of people also buy fast fashion because they love to turn around their looks fast, so they consume at a higher rate. This is something we, at Vogue Arabia, need to address too, as we are part of this machine.

LF: You travel a lot for work. What have you noticed in how different countries and fashion weeks perceive sustainability?
MA: I think there’s a big change in the world in general in terms of ethical fashion. But at the same time, all those promises that were made during Covid – that the shows were going to be smaller and fashion weeks were going to be fewer days – unfortunately, I don’t see that happening. I see the fashion events and shows being as big as before, if not more… What was promised during Covid is not being delivered. It would be nice to see some of the promises being honored.

The Sustainability pavilion at Expo2020 Dubai

LF: We have nine years left to meet the Paris Agreement target of limiting global heating to 1.5C. What do you think the role of fashion is, or how can we use fashion to educate citizens?
MA: Taking into consideration that fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, I think we have a big responsibility in getting to this target. So definitely, fashion needs to start by solving its overproduction problem, and continue to improve the supply chain and respecting the people in it. In terms of how we can use fashion to educate citizens, I think it’s also citizens that need to educate fashion, so I would ask everyone to be attentive to what they buy. Read the labels, get informed, and understand where the clothes are coming from, how they are produced, what they are produced with, and then make choices that will reflect in the success or not of the brand. Because unfortunately brands are driven mostly by numbers, so if we are able to give better numbers to the ones that are doing things properly, the industry will change.

LF: And with this mission in mind – to give better numbers to sustainable brands – we start 2022. Happy new year all!

Originally published in the January 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia

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