Temperature rising Livia style

Tone Skårdal Tobiasson
Posted on
Thursday, 26 May 2016

The temperature in the room rose quite a few degrees as speaker and founder of EcoAge, Livia Firth, addressed the elephant in the room during the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. “Has anything really changed in the two years since the last time I was on this stage?” was the rhetorical question she hardly needed to answer.

The movie *True Cost’ which she co-produced also captured the scene everyone remembers vividly from the last Copenhagen Fashion Summit, where Livia Firth attacked H&M for their relentless ‘product-pushing’, and further elaborating on the phenomenon of fast fashion by pointing to its addictive side. Later in the day, during a debate on fashion and politics, led by EU commissioner Lars Fogh Mortensen, the French ambassador to Denmark – François Zimeray – brought up Livia’s point again and compared this constant need for newness with a craving for drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. His point being that the EU and governments should put in place stronger regulations and be aware of the strong forces that would try to hinder this.

After H&M’s Head of Sustainability, Anna Gedda had held her speech later in the day, Livia Firth posted a short film of a very disgusted reaction on Instagram: a #repost which brilliantly shows how I felt yesterday after #H&M outrageous claims (…). As I said I didn’t know whether to laugh like crazy or throw up. (The) fast fashion business model will NEVER work ethically or sustainably no matter how many band-aids you put on it.” Interestingly enough, H&M had completely changed the focus of their Design Challenge this time around, and challenged iconic designers such as FilippaK and Marimekko to show off their longevity and slow fashion side. Obviously in direct response to Livia’s heated attack two years ago.

In her speech this time, Firth said she would only accept an actual systemic change, as she claimed that the concept of ‘sustainability’ was quickly becoming emptied of meaning, and that ‘development’ was being banged around almost as much and thus becoming equally meaningless. “It is growth being marketed as development,” she underlined. She also referred to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and showed how these were blatantly being violated in the two industries and actions we need to deal with in our lives every single day: “Getting dressed and eating. Now start a journey backwards – to where your food and your clothes come from. At the other end, you will rarely find happy people, treated with dignity and respect. Human beings working at the bottom of any supply chain – whether it is strawberry picking, prawn fishing, cotton farming, garment workers – are often treated like slaves, without reference to our common humanity.  So “fashion” – i.e. what we wear every single day, has huge relevance and huge consequences on human, social and environmental capital.”

As Livia Firth clearly was running out of patience with the industry, she also offered up a solution: “I have partnered with the Lawyer’s Circle, a powerful collective of women lawyers within the NGO, The Circle, on a new initiative to establish legal accountability in this sector. We will soon publish a study that will set out the legal case for a living wage as a fundamental human right and explore the legal options for setting a global standard for a living wage. I hope it will give those in the industry who are willing to be courageous the architecture for the change we dream of.”

Her last piece of advice went to what the conscious consumer could do: “The biggest message is every time you buy something, always think, “Will I wear it a minimum of 30 times?”. If the answer is yes, then buy it. But you’d be surprised how many times you say no. That should tell you something about how the current model in fashion is unsustainable - and needs urgent change.” Which is why Livia is falling down on the durability and use per unit side of the fashion and textile debate, not the ‘recycle ad infinium’ side, her #30uses says it all.