Green Expert: Interview with Livia Firth

Livia Firth: Stop Bitching and Start a Revolution

Yes, she’s married to one of the “50 Most Beautiful People,” but Livia Firth is a committed ecoista who walks the talk both on and off the red carpet.
by Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff,

Yes, she’s married to one of the “50 Most Beautiful People.” Yes, she spent the awards season traipsing over red carpets from Venice, Italy to Venice, CA. But as the co-owner of Eco Age, a sustainable fashion and lifestyle boutique in London, and co-founder of the “12 Degrees of Ethical Fashion” project, Livia Firth is a committed ecoista who walks the talk—and rolls with the punches.

When accused of being—in her words—the “wife of a famous actor who decided to do the eco thing,” Livia upped the ante with the “Green Carpet Challenge,” in which she wore only sustainable fashion designers on the red carpet of awards shows from the BAFTAs to the Oscars.

Livia’s motto? “Stop bitching and start a revolution,” a mantra she gleaned from a sticker she bought in Venice—Beach, not Italy. Next, she plans to open an ethical boutique in Los Angeles. And she won’t stop promoting sustainable fashion until she’s got the ear of Anna Wintour herself.

So let’s get down to it: When did you start getting involved in eco-consciousness?
It started three years ago when my brother Nicola had the idea to open Eco Age. We’ve always been eco-conscious without ever using the word “eco.” My mom bought the first energy-saving light bulbs when I was 12—not because she was “eco,” but to save money. As Italians, the way we grew up was just that way—we cooked only fresh, locally produced food. It just came naturally.

Now do you buy locally and grow your own food?
We have three veggie beds in the garden, which we started last year as an experiment. I try as much as I can to buy organic products. When I buy my veggies and fruit I try to make sure they don’t come from far away. I’m careful with what I buy. I try to be thoughtful about what I do.

I recently read an interview with upcycled From Somewhere line] and director of Esthetica, the ethical fashion branch of London Fashion Week, and me.

We’ve known each other for years. Last year we started the program at Eco Age and also as a series of pop-up stores, each month focusing on a different aspect of ethical fashion: labor rights, community projects, organic fashion. Each month, we showcased all the designers who were working on that issue.

Then when Colin got the Golden Globe nomination, Lucy put me to the challenge of wearing nothing but ethical fashion on the red carpets. We took it to Vogue and they loved it. It’s been incredibly fun.

I wanted to ask you about Esthetica. Some designers that I spoke with about the Green Shows at New York Fashion Week felt like the sustainable shows had been “ghettoized,” rather than integrated into the main tents. How does Esthetica compare?
At Esthetica, it’s all in the same place; it’s in the same pavilion as London Fashion Week, but under a different name. I actually just spoke with Orsola about that. I was asking her why the Esthetica shows weren’t mixed with all the others. What she told me is that they had been working with the London College of Fashion and the British Fashion Institute for four years to develop the Esthetica concept [in which] these designers are rewarded for being sustainable [by sharing the space].

You can argue both sides. I have a feeling that it won’t last long. In a few years, all the shows will be together.

I personally think that you choose a design for the beauty and the style—the sustainability is a plus.
But if you put these designers in the middle of all the others, they would get lost right now.

I was reading that on your blog and I thought it was so interesting that two of your favorite ethical designers—Leila Hafzi and Nina Skarra—are both from Norway. Do they know each other?
I don’t think so!

What other eco-fashion labels have you discovered?
Some of my favorite designers from Esthetica were Ivana Basilotta, Ada Zanditon and Nina Dolcetti. We also saw an amazing accessories collection from Elvis & Kresse Arts that’s made from recovered fire hose!
On the red carpet, I’ve worn From Somewhere, Anatomy, a re-purposed wedding dress by Christiana Couture, Mr. Larkin, Sara Shepard, Linda Loudermilk, Nina Skarra and Leila Hafzi. The shoes and bags are Roger Vivier, except for SAG, where I wore Stella McCartney.

What are your favorite eco-friendly beauty finds?
So far I’ve been addicted to Intelligent Nutrients, which is Horst Rechelbacher’s new line—he launched Aveda. It’s hair products and supplements and face oils, which I use. They are incredible! When I started the blog I went to him to sponsor because I love them.

As far as make up is concerned I haven’t tried anything at the moment that has convinced me to switch. I have my foundation and eyelashes and mascara and they’re not eco. I know there are more products out there now—I should find better ones.

There are so many new lines, jane iredale and Josie Maran Cosmetics are both full-range and have amazing products for red carpet makeup.

I can’t wait to try them. It’s like the Green Carpet Challenge—I know I’m going to be convinced!
Okay, speaking of, what’s your worst eco-sin?

Flying. We can’t avoid it. I’m Italian—we go to Italy. Colin travels for work all the time. Flying is one of those things that we have to do. We can’t avoid it. So we offset our flights and we try to amend with other things.

I love that you can choose to offset when buying tickets online.
Yes, Virgin offsets when you buy your tickets; British Airways has a program. But I don’t do it by these programs. We work directly with two charities, Oxfam and Survival International. I’m against the [airline programs] for two reasons. I think they let people not think too much about it. And they are difficult to control, they’re businesses in themselves. You have to really dig deep into who controls them, how they’re made, are they planting trees in the right land. There was one [program] where they were planting trees on land that the local people needed for their crops—they took that land away from them.

What’s the biggest green change you’d like to make in your life—even if it’s impossible right now?
To revolutionize the fashion industry! [laughs]

Aim big!

Yes, joking aside, if this Green Carpet Challenge can start a tiny little change it will be incredible. It’s the most wasteful industry and nobody is talking about it.

They talk about food, planes, cars. But fashion is among the biggest out there for consumption and waste.

If it could [connect with] someone who would change that, it would be fantastic.

After I saw “The September Issue” I was struck by how many people said that Anna Wintour had single-handedly brought back fur in the ‘80s by putting so much of it in Vogue. Think about what she could do if you could connect with her!

I thought I was the one aiming big! [laughs] Yes! Let me meet Anna Wintour. Fix me up.

What’s your favorite eco-friendly tip our readers should know about?
Well, to follow up on the fashion conversation:

Never throw away anything from your closet. If you buy good quality garments, they will last for a lifetime.

I hate these articles about how to clear out your wardrobe to make space for the new season. I have so many things in my closet that I bought when I was 20 and I still wear—I’m 40! I have so many clothes from my mom, including shoes.

Who’s your eco-idol and why?
I have so many. How do you choose one? Each one of us can do so much. And most of us are doing a lot. Why is the work that you do less important than what Franny Armstrong [“The Age of Stupid”] or Jane Goodall is doing?

Each one of us has chosen a mission. They’re all important.

Caroline Schiff photographed Livia and Colin Firth at the Golden Globes (white dress by Christiana Couture) and the Academy Awards (black dress by Orsola de Castro/From Somewhere) , Alessandro Giuggioli photographed Livia and Colin at the London “A Single Man” premiere (teal dress by Nina Skarra); photo of Eco-Age principles Livia and Colin Firth, Nicola Giuggioli and Ivo Coulson by Pal Hansen.