Bespoke, Couture or Runway
The Green Carpet Challenge (GCC) Stylist Handbook is the ultimate dressing guide for
contemporary sustainable looks fit for the red carpet (real or virtual)
Back in 2010 the Green Carpet Challenge disrupted traditional fashion, bringing sustainable style concepts from upcycling to regenerative materials straight to the globe’s biggest fashion showcases – from the Oscars to the Met Ball. It has been credited with changing the face of awards-dressing, sustainable style and the wider fashion industry. It has served as the launch pad for some of the most important concepts and talents in the sustainable fashion arena.
The Green Carpet Challenge (affectionately known in the business by the shorthand ‘the GCC’) has proved to be one of those rare things – a major fashion disruptor that turned into an enduring movement.
But while millions have been inspired by the GCC, our style handbook and designer protocols have remained under wraps. They have remained the preserve of a small clutch of designers, stylists and Hollywood red carpet royalty. Until now! Because for the first time here, we publish a revised and updated version of the GCC Style Handbook for everyone.
‘I’m so excited to publish the GCC Style Handbook,’ says Livia Firth, founder of the GCC. ‘This revised version distils the learnings, methods and inspiration that we have gathered over years of working with design superstars committed to making fashion fit for the future on a healthy planet with full respect for everyone in the supply chain. The GCC is about ideas, mindset, creativity and ingenuity. Those are our currency which we share with you today. In an age where sustainability in fashion is often misunderstood as more units of production with a green gloss, this is about democratising a vision – that beautiful fashion comes with deep green principles.’
In 2010 Livia Firth began the Green Carpet Challenge, wearing an upcycled dress to the Golden Globes. Livia had begun to look into the ecological and social footprint of fashion and textiles and had become increasingly alarmed by the industry’s terrible track record and huge impact. Today we are more accustomed to understanding the true cost of fashion; helped in part by the 2015 Netflix hit documentary – The True Cost directed by Andrew Morgan and produced by Livia Firth and Lucy Siegle (the team behind the Green Carpet Challenge). According to the UN, ‘the fashion industry contributes to between 2 and 4 per cent of global greenhouse gas, while 85 per cent of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated when most of these materials could be reused.’
But a decade ago this startling impact was yet to be discussed in the mainstream. To make matters worse, fashion had developed an unhealthy dependency on trend and pace. The dominance of the fast fashion system of rapid production and over production for over consumption is one of the hallmark’s of our time. The values of fashion were being subverted and the craft of making, respect for the maker and wearer and audience in between were all being devalued. In 2013 a building housing a clothing manufacturing facility, the Rana Plaza complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1334 garment workers – predominantly young women. It was the worst industrial ‘accident’ on record, and yet still fashion did not stop and recalibrate. It has become ever faster, and increasingly exploitative of people and planet.
But there is an antidote and that is sustainable style, crafted with principles and belief in fashion as a form of expression and not as a cypher for run away consumerism. Sustainable style recognises that fashion is an industry dependent on the precious resources of the biosphere. I takes only what can be replaced in a truly circular system where materials and creativity and the skill of the maker are cherished and celebrated.
In 2010 the world needed to know about this but we also needed proof of concept, two of the reasons for the Green Carpet Challenge.
“The red carpet is one of the biggest storytelling platforms there is, and an opportunity to change conversations,” said Harriet Vocking, the chief strategy officer of Eco-Age, “Wearing a sustainable garment (at award ceremonies) has become a way to lead by example, but also challenge the current fashion system.”
The Green Carpet Challenge began by introducing a group of a designers with a strong background in ecological practices. Some were refashioning and upcycling, using deadstock and some were pattern cutting according to zero waste principles or using ecologically low impact fibres such as hemp and even dyeing with homegrown indigo. The designers told us two things:
– They loved being in charge of every part of the process (many had fled industrial design companies where they felt they had lost control)
– Give designers a problem such as how to stop the planet from burning, and they will rise to the challenge. They are innovators at heart.
The problem was, nobody knew about the designers. The limelight was being hogged by unsustainable fashion. That’s where the GCC came in, working at first with a coterie of ingenious but little known fashion innovators dedicated to sustainable practice….
By 2012 the GCC had the blessing of style luminaries such as Anna Wintour, and had a presence on every major red carpet. The GCC team began to work direct with some of the most famous design houses and revered ateliers on the planet. These designers and makers worked to a strict series of GCC protocols. At the same time, the GCC began to work with stylists to the A-list stars who could make design ideas travel all around the globe.
To date the Green Carpet Challenge has involved some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, Cate Blanchett, Viola Davis, Emma Watson, Thandie Newton, Olivia Coleman and many more
Whether we are working with big designers or newly graduated students, or partnering designers across continents to facilitate an exchange in design ideas and materials, we have found that creative minds benefit from constraints. For this reason we began to develop GCC protocols, helping GCC participants to focus their problem solving skills. (This included providing guidance on materials, and introductions to new alternative fibres, in order to scale back impact. We were early decarbonisers of fashion, something we continue to this day!)
Alongside this we developed some of the framing for bespoke sustainable style that we’re sharing with you today. The greatest misconception was and remains that in order to be red-carpet-reading you need create something new. But it’s time to let you into a secret, to have a fashion moment, and to produce a fashion response to the times we live in – defined by a climate and nature crisis – sometimes it is completely unnecessary to create something new. The GCC has always been about ideas and concepts, more than product and pieces. Those are the important things!
In this spirit, we’ve created this guide. It makes low impact (but high effect!) sustainable dressing as easy as possible, but it also makes room for zero impact fashion moments. We have created four clear categories: Bespoke using our longstanding Eco-Age materials expertise. Artisanal, highlighting slow fashion – the regenerative, the reclaimed, and the recycled. Or champion existing materials and craftsmanship through vintage and re-wear.
Once you have your outfit ready, whether for the red carpet or a special event, send us a picture to get the GCC accreditation of sustainable excellence and use the #greencarpetchallenge hashtag when promoting your look.
1. Learn the story behind your look and wear it with pride
While the fast fashion cycle has made us feel ever more detached from our clothes, the first step towards being a more active citizen is revaluing our wardrobes and reconnecting to our clothes by learning about the stories, materials, processes and hands behind them.
2. Buy for life and re-wear forever
When shopping, prioritise pieces that you love and will wear for years to come. Try to avoid impulse buying in favour of carefully thought-out purchases and only buy something you know will go beyond #30wears – and if you do decide it no longer belongs in your wardrobe, it should be something you can gift or sell on.
3. Wear artisanal
Reconnect to the makers who created your clothes and choose artisanally created pieces rather than mass-produced items. This can help to protect skills and traditions that are in danger of disappearing, and buying from small businesses also helps to sustain those manufacturing locally and independently.
4. Discover second hand and vintage
By shopping second hand and vintage you are extending the lifecycle of existing garments, potentially diverting them from landfill, and most importantly properly valuing the resources that went into making them in the first place.
5. Embrace clothes swapping and borrowing
Sharing clothes with friends can reduce buying new, saving you money and giving a new life to otherwise unwanted items. Organise a swap shop with your friends ahead of your next big event and avoid the resource-intensive process of manufacturing a new garment at the same time.
6. Read the labels
Whether you’re shopping new or second hand, your first point of call should be the care label. This should tell you where the item was made, and exactly what it was made from, and of course how to care for it to keep it in great condition. If any information is not provided, contact the brand and ask.
7. Go natural with your fabric
We know that synthetic fabrics are fossil fuel fabrics, so always choose natural fibres over synthetic materials. They will biodegrade over time, and are less likely to release microplastic when washed. Not only this, but natural fibres can play an important role in regenerative farming systems which are integral to protecting our environment.
8. Go upcycled or recycled with your fabric
Reuse materials that are already in existence to avoid the resource-intensive process it takes to grow, extract and manufacture new fibres. Deadstock, recycled or upcycled fabrics give you the joy of wearing something new without the cost to the planet.
9. Find a seamstress or make your own
A more sustainable fashion industry is as much about innovative new technology as it is about slowing down and going back to traditions. Hand-making clothes helps us revalue the items that we are wearing, as we become more familiar with the time and skill taken to create our clothes, and we also end up with a garment that fits our body and personality perfectly.
10. Treasure the memory of each wear
Last but not least, building up our personal history of the items in our wardrobes is key to changing the mindset of overconsumption. Once you have special memories associated with items of clothing, they take on a much more personal significance and become infinitely more valuable.
Once you have followed the GCC steps in creating your final Green Carpet look, the final outfit can be submitted to Eco-Age for review. Our in-house experts will review all elements of the look and give the Green Carpet Challenge accreditation, a ‘seal of approval’ which can be communicated publicly.
“On that first GCC outing to the Golden Globes in 2010 we were really sending a lot of messages. We were saying to that first crop of designers and makers who were activists and sustainable designers that they also deserved a spot on this platform. The whole point of the Green Carpet Challenge initially was to work with them for a change. They are empowered people and had really influenced me and I found that when I wore clothes that had been made by these designers, a bit of that spirit rubbed off on me.
I wanted it to be the start of something.”