If Kim Kardashian decided to promote circular fashion, the rest of the world would follow. This is the ambition and goal for Livia Firth, head of the brand consultancy Eco-Age.

Emma Watson, Cate Blanchett and Miley Cyrus. These are just some of the Hollywood stars that leading ethical fashion advocate Livia Firth convinced to wear ethical fashion on the Red Carpet. Now the founder of the brand consultancy Eco-Age is encouraging social media influencers to make sustainability the next new fad. Livia Firth has her eyes set on the biggest of them all, reality superstar Kim Kardashian, with more than 174 million followers on Instagram and Twitter. Social media is Firth’s new channel to change the fashion world.

Listen to the full interview with Livia Firth:


Her Oscar-winning husband Colin Firth’s quiet advocacy turned Livia Firth into a vocal agitator for ethical fashion. In 2009 she created brand consultancy Eco-Age to help luxury fashion brands like Chopard, Stella McCartney and Gucci become more sustainable. In 2015 Firth produced “The True Cost” documentary to expose the garment industry’s social and environmental impact. Then she launched the Green Carpet Challenge urging celebrities to wear ethical fashion in the Oscar spotlight. Now she is turning to social mega influencers like Kim Kardashian to use their celebrity status for sustainable fashion. “If you take Kim Kardashian, who is the biggest influencer in the world – she just won an award at CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) for Biggest Influencer – if she decided to talk to her followers about ethical fashion, about garment workers’ rights, about pollution… I mean, I could close Eco-Age, I could retire!”, Livia Firth laughs.

The fashion activist believes if consumers knew more about how their clothes are made, they would make different choices. Social media is one of the top influencers in women’s fashion choices. Last year 67% of US women bought clothing online and more than a third of Millennial women said social media played a huge role in their fashion purchases, according to a new report by London-based market research firm Mintel. Studies also show most want to buy sustainable clothes but usually end up shopping for the best bargain with 80% of women aged 16-24 mainly looking for low prices. Firth wants social media influencers like Kim Kardashian to help close the gap between good intentions and action.   

Wear old clothes! Buy things that last!

Livia Firth knows what sustainable fashion looks like. She grew up in Italy where people bought high quality locally produced clothes, mended them when they tore and wore them over and over again. She says her closet is bursting with vintage clothes she enjoys wearing every day.

“I am lucky because I am old enough to have lived, in my teens and my early twenties, without fast fashion so I know how I can consume without fast fashion…You know, you have a party, and instead of looking inside your wardrobe or asking your friend to borrow a dress, you go into a fast fashion brand and you buy a cheap dress, your clothes have a hole, instead of mending them you throw them away… As consumers, also, we have a huge power of vote, because every time we buy something we’re voting,” she says.

“I always say we wouldn’t be here talking about sustainability if fast fashion didn’t exist. Because if you think about it, fast fashion is a very recent phenomenon.”

Livia Firth wants social media influencers to help wean people from cheap fashion focused on speed, low cost and maximum sales. Its products are outsourced to the cheapest labor with pressures for low pricing forcing manufacturers to cut corners. More than one thousand Bangladeshi workers died during the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013, despite warnings about cracks in the walls. Fast fashion also harms the environment releasing greenhouse gas emissions, using toxic chemicals and producing harmful waste. The fashion industry is on course to consume a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050 if left unchecked, a recent study shows. “I always say we wouldn’t be here talking about sustainability if fast fashion didn’t exist. Because if you think about it, fast fashion is a very recent phenomenon. It only happened in the last 30-40 years and it relies on producing huge volumes of clothes incredibly fast and very cheaply, so that the turnaround is constant” she points out.

Ditch Take-Make-Dispose and go Circular

The Eco-Age founder blames fast fashion for corrupting the entire business model, replacing sustainable production with a “take-make-dispose” formula. “The True Cost” documentary claims fast fashion has created 52 seasons, selling US$ 80 billion worth of clothing and producing 400% more garments per year than just 2 decades ago. Under the current model less than 1% of the materials clothes are made of are recycled, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which champions a shift to a circular economy. Environmental fashion experts believe that the only way to break the unsustainable circle is to go completely circular. This means using materials and products which are continuously reused instead of ending up as polluting waste.    

There is €160 billion a year to be made by improving companies’ environmental and social impact

Livia claims major companies are only paying lip service to circularity, despite the sustainable goals declared by the world’s largest fashion retailers. Zara has started a repair and reuse program with the goal of zero waste in landfills by 2020, while H&M aims to use only recycled or sustainable materials by 2030. Firth argues, switching to organic products which still end up in landfills is a marketing ploy rather than a real change. She says the two brands are not interested in switching to circularity because they’re making too much money in fast fashion: “There are plenty of businesses that (have circularity) in their factories, but fast fashion can’t do it, because it would affect their bottom line. So you have two of the richest men on the Forbes list, in the top 10, the owner of Zara and the owner of H&M. But this is why they are on those lists.”

Studies by the world’s largest sustainable fashion forum, Copenhagen Fashion summit, suggest there is €160 billion a year to be made by improving companies’ environmental and social impact. Firth points to companies like Gucci proving corporations can make money by doing right by people and the planet. “Look at (Gucci), a business that is hugely famous, hugely profitable, and in fact the curve is going up and up and up. And yet, what they produce is all made in Italy, when they produce abroad it’s in factories where they’ve been mentoring, they’ve been educating, and they pay a fair price,” Livia says.

Companies with a proven record like Gucci keep Firth optimistic. She sees change coming from customers demanding ethical and circular produced fashion, businesses realizing change is inevitable and governments writing new mandates. This year the EU hopes to pass new Ecodesign regulations making products easier to reuse and repair. Initiatives like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation put circular economy on the agenda of a growing number of companies. The Copenhagen Fashion summit thus also reports a growing number of companies setting circular targets: 94 companies have committed to targets on 4 points, with 58% set on circular design, followed by garment collection 49% and recycling 46%, but only 24% on reuse. Though surveys show only 52% of CEOs said sustainable targets guide their business strategy.

As to Kim Kardashian, she is now promoting futuristic accessories implanted into her skin with lights programmed to glow with her heartbeat. So no retirement is imminent for Livia Firth. The tireless campaigner can continue her battle to slow fast fashion with help from celebrities like husband Colin Firth’s behind-the-scenes action, celebrities wearing green on the Red Carpet and her relentless advocacy for buying high-quality fashion that lasts.