Q&A with The Circle co-founding member Livia Firth

 

The biggest treasure in life is sisterhood. The power of women in supporting each other is endless and so different from anything else in the world

At The Circle,we are ever-inspired by each and every one of our members. From the students and the mothers to the lawyers and the musicians. They are doers and they are the engine moving The Circle.

One of those women is co-founding member of The Circle Livia Firth. Founder and Creative Director of the sustainability brand consultancy Eco-Age, a UN Leader of Change, an Oxfam Global Ambassador and mother of two, Livia has also somehow found time to executive produce The True Cost movie and work on The Lawyers Circle’s ground-breaking report that was published in May 2017 and that shows that a living wage is a fundamental right.

In the relatively quiet time between the media frenzy about the report and the next phase in the project, we talked to Livia about what the next steps are to ensure a living wage for garment workers, how to be a more ethical consumer and what makes The Circle different.

Every member has her own unique journey within The Circle. Can you tell us a bit about your journey and why, after so many years, you still support The Circle as a member?

I consider myself an active citizen and support different NGOs — in environmental and social justice and all the different aspects of these two pillars. I am very lucky as I had the opportunity to travel a lot with Oxfam or collaborate with the small and powerful Reprieve, among others NGOs I come across in my work at Eco-Age. The Circle is very different — when you put women in charge and women together, the opportunities are endless and the results are very concrete.

The Circle is about women coming together to empower the most vulnerable women and girls worldwide. But many members of The Circle feel empowered by being part of our network too. How has The Circle helped you to feel empowered?

The biggest treasure in life is sisterhood. The power of women in supporting each other is endless and so different from anything else in the world. The Circle is the perfect manifestation of this — knowing that there is this wonderful resource of women of every background which each one of us, wherever in the world (from a big city in England to a small village in Africa), can call upon and create true change. It’s magnificent!

Can you tell us about an inspiring woman that you have met through The Circle?

Too many! Are there un-inspiring women?

You are best known for being a leading advocate of ethical fashion and have worked closely with The Lawyers Circle on their Living Wage report, which focusses on wages and working conditions in the fashion industry. How did your interest in ethical fashion begin?

When I met Lucy Siegle, Orsola De Castro and Jocelyn Whipple back in 2008 at Eco-Age. It was the first time I heard about human rights and environmental justice being linked to fashion. Then, the same year, I went to Bangladesh with Lucy Siegle for the first ever trip The Circle did — and we got smuggled into a garment factory and what I saw shocked me: so many women working producing 150 garments an hour on different production lines, in a building with no air, and bars at the windows and no fire escape or anything like that. Armed guards at the only door to get in and out, two toilet breaks a day and the most inhumane conditions you can imagine. It was a real eye-opener.

What are your top tips to be a more ethical consumer of fashion?

Just a simple one: stop consuming obsessively and treating fashion as disposable. Buy only things you know you will wear for years and that you will take care of. This is how you build a sustainable wardrobe full of things you love (and full of memories too!).

So we should buy less too?

Absolutely buy less. And take care of things. When did we become the society that buys ready-made mashed potatoes? Do you know how long it takes to boil two potatoes and mash them? And it’s cheaper. Or mend the hole in that sock rather than throw it away because it’s easier to buy a new pack of socks for £5. They have made us addicted to consuming and being lazy.

Often the clothes most of us can afford are manufactured in countries with weak workers’ rights and wages regulations. How can one be a more conscientious consumer on a low budget?

Do you know that most people who think they have no money and therefore buy fast fashion cheap clothes end up spending much more on fashion? Do you really want to save money? Invest in clothes that last forever.

Changing the way we consume is necessary, and, if enough people do it, in the long term brands will have to change the way they produce too. But how can we, as individuals, help make that shift quicker? How can we influence brands that are not ethical?

Stop buying from fast fashion brands at the pace we are shopping today. Then they will have to produce less! They say it is because “the consumer wants it” — well, let’s show them the consumer does not want it anymore.

You recently went to Copenhagen to launch The Lawyers Circle report. The report argues that a living wage is a fundamental right and that fashion brands have a responsibility to ensure that garment workers earn a living wage. What are your next steps in the struggle to ensure a living wage for workers in the fashion industry?

The report took two years to make and it’s ground breaking — it’s the first time ever that the living wage issue and discussions (which have been on the scene for more than a century) are analysed from a legal point of view. Watch out for what not only the power of law but the power of women lawyers will unleash! The second phase will be to align different stakeholders — business, governments and more legal entities — to progress on achieving the results we want: to end slave labour worldwide.

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