As 2019 comes to a close, Eco-Age’s Co-Founder and Creative Director Livia Firth reflects on her journey in sustainability so far in the latest of our Life as I know it series.
I used to drive my dad crazy when I was in high school and he would ask me: “What do you want to do when you are grown up?”
I’d answer, saying that I wanted to work in public relations and talk to people. He would shake his head and tell me: “That’s not a job, Livia.”
My mum fell pregnant again when me and my sister where 12 and 11. When my twin brothers were born (Nicola is now the CEO of Eco-Age!), my dad was the only one working in the family and naturally, this meant that financially things started to get difficult. During this time, my mum became a genius at saving money in every way she could: from mending clothes and hand-me-downs to using low energy consuming light bulbs all over the house. Today we call this being ‘green,’ but at the time it was the only way to be sustainable in the truest sense of the word.
I started working when I was at university – juggling a day job while studying, as only in Italy you can do. I learnt a lot from those first years in the office, particularly from my aunt Nadia who was a big businesswoman in Italy. She trained me as the perfect secretary in her company COPAM, which at the time was the exclusive grapefruit importer in Italy. After spending a year there, I went on to work in a production company with a film producer, Fernando Ghia, and few years later I also met Colin on a film set in Colombia.
I began producing documentaries straight after university, but it was the experience I had while working on ‘In Prison My Whole Life’ which really opened my eyes to the world of activism. A story about Black Panther and death row prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, producing the film was a once in a lifetime experience that led me to meet so many incredible people from Alice Walker to Snoop Dogg, Angela Davies to Noam Chomsky, Mos Def and more. Premiering the documentary at the Sundance Film Festival and then being let down by distributors who did not want to do ‘political’ movies made me really start questioning the outlets of messaging: how do you spread words and messages which are important when nobody seems to care?
This is why I was so astonished when I stepped on a red carpet at the Golden Globes in 2010 and launched The Green Carpet Challenge. Seeing the reaction made me think: “Well, if you want me to campaign through fashion, then I’ll give you fashion!” I wondered if it was down to the fact that since we get dressed every single day, using fashion as a vehicle helps us to ask bigger questions? Or if it it because we are so obsessed with appearances and celebrities, red carpets and gossip? Whatever the reason – it really didn’t matter.
In 2008 I went to Bangladesh; I entered a factory for the first time and experienced exploitation on a completely different scale. Nonetheless, the ‘principles’ were the same as the ones I experienced with the documentary on the Black Panthers; governments or corporations that were able to erase entire segments of society for their benefits.
At the beginning of that same year, we had opened Eco-Age as a shop on the high street selling products for ‘eco homes’ and offering consultancy on all the materials to build the greenest of houses. But when at the end of that year I came back from Bangladesh, having experienced human rights abuses and exploitation through fashion firsthand, I knew something had to change. In 2010, the Green Carpet Challenge catapulted sustainability style on to the global scene and helped change the conversation about ethical fashion in a way that neither Lucy Siegle (one of my mentors and the one who launched it with me) or I could anticipate.
Eco-Age has kept growing into the stunning one-of-a-kind sustainability consultancy, communication agency and lifestyle platform which is today – doing so many different things that it is almost hard to describe us. We call it Sustainability 4.0: from technical supply chain consultancy, to PR strategies which have now become legendary; from events such as The Green Carpet Fashion Awards to celebrity activations such as Emma Watson’s press tour for Beauty and The Beast. And our lifestyle platform, with its brandmark programme, keeps becoming bigger and bigger and it is recognized as THE destination for all things sustainable living. Eco-Age’s remit and client base are so broad that to say this keeps life interesting is an underestimation!
For me, life as I know it is incredibly multi-faceted and full of unexpected turns and surprises; some great, some less so. However, the advantage of having had a loving family upbringing, the support of Colin and our boys, a diverse career, the opportunity of meeting some truly extraordinary people from so many different backgrounds, traveling to visit factories and different supply chains (garment productions, wool, leather, diamonds, just to name a few) has brought me to where I am today – hungry to keep learning and curious to see where else I will go.
My career has seen me learn plenty of important lessons along the way, and people didn’t always turn out to be what they seemed. But if there’s one reason that I am still so excited about coming to work every single day, it is the fact that the Eco-Age team truly rocks. Together we learn about sustainability every single day and are grateful for every one of you who wants to learn with us.
Livia shares her experience of visiting garment factories in Bangladesh.
Livia Firth and Noam Chomsky in conversation.
Find out more about Livia’s work and motivations in Bringing Business to Life.