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INTERVIEWS: LIVIA FIRTH

"Before buying a garment ask yourself: will I wear it 30 once?"

17 September 2016

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Livia Firth, the founder of the consulting agency Eco Age is trying to convince the world to consume more consciously and brands to produce fairly. She calls for a revolution in the world of fashion and denounces the false myths of the fast fashion. Meeting with a charming eco-warrior. - Isabelle Cerboneschi

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On the day of our meeting, Livia Firth wore a coral-colored dress slightly shaded with thin straps and embroidery on the front. It was in Cannes, on the terrace occupied by Chopard, with whom she collaborates very closely, during the festival where all the women, all the actresses are the standard bearer of their favorite brands. Wearing this dress, which had belonged to his mother, Livia Firth, the wife of the actor Colin Firth, was the spokesperson of fair fashion. "This dress is 60 years old," she says. She belonged to my mother ". How many times has she been worn? No doubt much more than 30 times ...

Livia Firth began her fight for responsible trade in 2009 when she opened with her brother Nicola Giuggioli and her husband, Colin Firth, a shop in London called Eco-Age, where one could find objects of design and eco-friendly decoration.

Then there was this revelation, when her husband was appointed to Golden Globes for his role in A single man, from Tom Ford. It started as a game: the English journalist Lucy Siegle had sent her a challenge: why would not she wear an eco-responsible clothing for the ceremony? Livia Firth arrived at the evening in a wedding dress reconverted in evening dress. This challenge gave birth to Green Carpet Challenge, or how to transform the rise of steps and the red carpet evenings into an eco-conscious act.

FASHION AND ECO-CONSCIOUSNESS
The agency Eco-Age, today, works as a consulting firm that supports companies towards an eco-responsible business model, and this, at all levels of the production chain. The agency works with companies like the Gucci Group, Stella McCartney, Net-à-Porter, Erdem, Marks & Spencer, to name a few. Chopard too. Caroline Scheufele, vice-president of the house, was the first to have adopted Livia Firth's speech in the field of fine jewelery. Since 2013, it launches every year on the occasion of the Cannes Film Festival a collection Green Carpet, ethical jewels made with gold Fairmined, an ore extracted from a sustainable Colombian mine supported by theAlliance for Responsible Mining and diamonds from an operator certified by the Responsible Jewelery Council. And this year, Chopard has announced a collaboration with Gemfields, the leading producer of responsible color stones.

The battle horse of Livia Firth? Push the marks of the fast fashion to change models and slow down their production until they produce only half. Every year, 1,5 billion garments are sewn by about 40 million people working in 250'000 factories installed mainly in the least developed countries of the world. An industry that would bring 3 trillions of dollars. At this rate, it is not surprising to learn that the fourth richest man in the world is Amancio Ortega Gaona, the owner of Zara, according to Forbes.

Livia Firth has a motto: "Whenever you want to give yourself a dress, ask yourself if you are going to wear it at least 30 times. You will see that you will leave the store very often empty-handed ". It does not condemn fashion, it just tries to put a little more awareness in this universe: whether on the side of buyers, or the side of brands that produce, including subcontractors.

Livia Firth does not just give advice, interviews, and attend conferences. She goes on the field, meets the workers and the workers. She has also produced the documentary The True Cost, by Andrew Morgan,who denounces precisely the system of the fast fashion. "In 2009, I went to Bangladesh with journalist Lucy Siegle and I understood the impact of what I was wearing on my back. It was like a cold shower, "she says. Livia Firth visited factories in Ethiopia, Zambia, Kenya. She met these women who produce 100 parts per hour, for a ridiculous salary. "Clothing with an average life of five weeks!"

IC: Last May, at the 2016 Fashion Summit in Copenhagen, you mentioned the bastardisation, the popularization of fashion. what do you mean?
Livia Firth:
With the advent of the last twenty years of the fast-fashion and the monopoly of the marks high street, we were sold the myth that this fashion was democratic, because it would be our right to be able to buy us a T-shirt for 5 euros, a dress for 15 or 40 euros. However, by buying these products, nobody thinks of the repercussions of this gesture. Fashion has become so cheap that, paradoxically, we do not really save money, we spend a lot, because this fashion is disposable: we buy a garment, we wear it a few times and then we get rid of it . If you look at the list of the biggest fortunes of the magazine Forbes, the fourth richest man in the world is Amancio Ortega Gaona founder of Inditex, who owns Zara, and Sweden's richest man is Stefan Persson of H & M (who owns 28% stake in the company created by his father, ed). These brands have not become multi-billion dollar companies thanks to poor people who have a hard time buying clothes. They have become multimillionaires because we keep buying, it's a compulsion. If you see the documentary The True Cost, you understand that this is today part of our culture. These myths must be desacralized: what seems to be democratization is not democratic.

In what sense is this cheap fashion not democratic?
It's the democracy of whom? Certainly not that of women in Bangladesh or Burma who produce for brands of fast-fashion. These companies make us believe that this system is good for the development of the poor countries, that they create many opportunities, generate a lot of money for the countries, and that without them these people would live in precariousness. But in fact these people are poor and manipulated: they are the slaves of a circle of poverty from which they can not go out. There is no possible progression for the workers who make clothes in these factories. It is impossible for them to evolve from simple cadres to managers, or even why not directors. There is no future, no advancement possible. The turnover of the company increases at their expense.

Many closets are full of compulsive shopping. What is your advice before buying a garment?
For my part, I buy very little. For years, I invested in pieces that I knew I could wear all my life. All my clothes are old. And if I buy something new today, I first wonder if the quality is good, if I will want to wear it for several years, if I still want to put it when I have 60 years, for how many occasions I could put it ...

It's a very wise, very old school to consume.
We have to go back, think about how we spend our money. A friend of mine, an Italian economist who appears in the documentary The True Costexplains how sad today is, because we do not always have enough money to provide training, education, health, for many things in our lives, but we still have enough to buy us crap that gives us the illusion of being good, of feeling rich. Our economic system and the business world are completely biased, distorted. And it has become extremely difficult to get out. Instead of talking about "green initiatives," "recycling weeks," "organic collections," the brands of the fast fashion should take the lead, lead the way and completely change their business model. Instead of presenting 50 collections a year, they would have to produce only half of them, to increase prices a little, to prove that their clothes are durable. These brands can not continue to produce this volume and do it in an ethical and sustainable way, that's impossible.

You know the underworld of fashion, we talked a lot about the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 in Bangladesh where 1134 people died while working for the fast fashion but how to make consumers aware of all this and make them understand that the cheap can kill?
Two things: the first, we must continue to have these conversations. Fashion is a feminist issue: as women, we should support women at the very bottom of the supply chain. We should all realize that behind a garment we bought, there is another woman who sewed it, who embroidered it for us. We must respect this woman, so we must take this as a feminist issue. At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the Princess of Denmark raised the fact that everyone is talking about gender equality, but gender equality must also exist in the clothing industry. In this world of fashion, 80% of the working force is composed of women, 80% on 40 million employees! So if you want to solve the problem of gender equality in the world, you have to start at the bottom, through the production lines. Women must create a bond of feminine solidarity. Second, we have to change the way we buy, and that's why we launched the campaign Thirty wears.

What is this campaign, Thirty wears?We must become active citizens again. When you are about to buy a garment telling you I love it, I must!, stop and ask yourself this question: will I wear it at least 30 times? If the answer is yes, buy it. But you will be surprised how many times the answer will be no. And at that moment, put it on the shelves. The hashtag from the campaign on Instagram, is #thirtywears.If you want to participate, you must commit to wearing each piece of clothing at least 30 times. Otherwise, give up. This is THE solution. We must stop consuming without thinking. We started to wonder about the food we put in our body, but not yet about what we put on our body. We want to know where our chicken, our beef, our vegetables come from: we have to start thinking the same way about our clothes. Because every day we do two things, whatever happens: we eat and we dress. So we have tremendous power! The world is not led by naked people. When you think of fashion in this way, you feel invested with a force. We can influence the course of things. It's up to us to take control.

A very moving short film was presented at the Copenhagen conference: you could see a woman who was dressing in front of a mirror and in this mirror, while she was putting on her clothes she saw the faces of all those who had participated in the development of her dress.
Oh yes, it was called Hand Print, the imprint of the hand. Instead of talking about footprintswe chose to talk about the print of all the little hands behind each dress. There are so many people, so many women, behind a garment! Why, God, do we make them suffer all this? On the 1134 people who died when the Rana Plaza collapsed, the majority were women. They died for us, for our clothes! When we think about that, we really want to cry forever. This should never happen.

You told me that the dress you were wearing belonged to your mother.
Yes. I did not show you the picture of my mother? We see her here dancing with my father. She kept a lot of clothes that my sister and I kept. In this photo, taken in 1968, she is wearing the dress I'm wearing. She had it made by a Florence tailor, it was a cocktail dress that was worth a certain amount at that time, but it still exists and I always put it! If you divide the price of this dress by the number of times it was worn, finally it was not so expensive! My Stella McCartney pants, for example, are much cheaper than my H & M pants. Those of Stella McCartney, I keep them at least ten years, the others, a few months at best. This is called the Cost per wear: the price of the piece divided by the number of days it was worn.

When we talk about fashion vintage, some people consider that this term is antinomic, because fashion must show the present and anticipate the future and not the past. What do you think?
Fashion is a reflection of who we are. We should never wear something that someone imposes on us just because it's fashionable. I have never been TrendyI always dressed with things that I loved, and that they were vintage or futuristic, I do not care. Moreover, fashion knows cycles and a tendency always ends up returning. Last year, we saw the return of fashion elephant-style trousersEventies, but I had those of my mother dating back to the 70 years. Fashion goes and comes back. Something you buy today can become vintage in twenty years. The dress I wore for an evening last night is signed Alice Temperley and date 2003. In a sense, it's a dress vintage. When I bought it, it cost me a lot, but I love it: she is thirteen and I love her just as much. It is a dress that I will put with pleasure. We manufacture our own vintage.

But if all women go shopping in their own closets, who will buy the fashion that arrives in the stores?
I am 46 years old. When I was young, there were no marks of fast-fashion. There were ready-to-wear fashion designers and more commercial brands that offered quality things, but cheap clothes did not exist. How did we dress, how did this branch make money? It was different. Today, we consume resources equivalent to two planets, and this movement has accelerated over the last twenty years. So if we want to be concerned about climate change, about the refugee crisis, we have to stop consuming as we do. Today, do our socks have a hole? We throw them away. We want to eat mashed potatoes? We go to the supermarket to buy ready-made mashed potatoes. We are losing our cell phone charger? We buy a new one. It's too much! We must stop and rethink our system as a whole. We must all do it or we will be gone in twenty years.

Is there a brand, a group that already takes this issue into account?
A few years ago, François-Henri Pinault launched at the level of the whole Kering Group a sustainability strategy integrated into his business plan. Last year, it was the first company in the world to publish an environmental-based profit and loss statement called EP & L (Environmental profit and loss account, an environmental profit and loss account, editor's note). They calculated the impact of their activities on the environment at all levels of the supply chain. This impact has been translated into monetary value and reported as profit or loss. That's what each company should do. Mr. Pinault has a long-term vision, because he knows that if he wants his business to generate profits in twenty years, we must take into account these issues today. Many companies are starting to understand the issues, realize that they have to change their model, evolve, otherwise their business will be finito!

You hope things change? The future is very gloomy, but I have children so I must be optimistic, I must.

A version of this article has been published in the Special Occasion of the Time Mode on 17 September 2016

"Every day we do two things, whatever happens: we eat and dress. So we have a huge influence: the world is not led by naked people. When we think of fashion in this way we feel invested with enormous power. It's up to us to take control. "