“We have been brainwashed in the last fifteen, twenty years, to think that it’s democratic to buy a t-shirt for five dollars,” says Livia Firth, creative director of London-based sustainability brand consultancy, Eco-Age. “I totally disagree that fast fashion is democratic.” Firth, an active force in the fight for ethical and sustainable fashion, focuses on inspiring and supporting designers to embrace ethical production, and on bringing light to the abuses – human, social and environmental – associated with the practice of fast fashion.
Speaking to fellow activist E. Nina Rothe last year, Firth shed light on the importance of going against the tide of fast fashion and its practice of modern day slavery.
On sustainability: Sustainability is about people. The fast fashion system has truly enslaved countries and people in a system that will never change unless they change the business model. So it’s not about, “how do we make it better?” it’s “how do you change your business model so that these entire volumes can be reduced?”
On making the switch to ethical fashion: It is possible. I’m forty-five, when I grew up there was no fast fashion. So how did I, a little kid from a family where my father had four kids, we had no money, and yet I went to parties, I went to work every day, when I was in my teens, and twenties, twenty-five, how did I buy and shop? Very, very differently. Back then, in fact, if any of us ever saw a t-shirt for five dollars in a shop we would have not touched it because we would have thought, my God, no matter who produced it, it must have been made in such a poor way to be costing only five dollars! Today, they flipped our perception so now we think it’s a bargain we have to have it, it’s so cool and the kids – the fifteen year-olds, the twenty year-olds – today think that it’s completely normal.
You can still buy your H&M clothes, if you buy one. The problem we’re talking about now with H&M – but it can be Zara or any other fast retailer – is the way that they’ve been making us addicted to this cycle of buying fast, and immediately. Because we can all go into H&M one day and go “Oh, I’ll buy this dress, it’s so affordable, it’s so nice and I just saw it in Vogue and this is so similar!” But you buy without thinking and you buy a lot. Most people go to H&M and Zara once a week, once every couple of weeks. But if each one of us went to those stores once a month, that would be the strongest message we as consumers could send to these retailers: Slow down.
On the women making fast fashion garments: How, as Western women, can we buy relentlessly without even thinking about the woman making this product? If we knew that the woman had died to produce that T-shirt, we’d never let it happen. But somehow we don’t think about it. By treating [clothes] as disposable we are endorsing the slavery in another part of the world, where someone is producing them for nothing. So how about telling that woman in Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, that we actually know she exists and we care for her? So when we buy something, let's wear it at least 30 times, in respect for her.
On putting the onus on fast fashion brands: The onus is on the retailers. If you’re producing clothes in Bangladesh, you have to make sure your factory is run properly. These companies make multi-billion-pound profits – they can’t spare a little more for their workers? These people are enslaved in a circle of poverty. They will never, ever get out. Never.