Livia Firth is no ordinary red carpet accessory and wife to one of Hollywood's most lauded actors, Academy Award winner Colin Firth. A former producer, she's recently become one of the world's most celebrated ethical fashion promoters.
When it came time for Livia to accompany her husband on numerous red carpets for the premieres of 2009's A Single Man and the awards season that would follow, she collaborated with journalist Lucy Siegle in creating the "Green Carpet Challenge," an effort to wear only up-cycled, ethically made, or sustainable dresses while recruiting top designers.
It was Oscar season three years ago that jumpstarted her new role. Livia reached out to other stars out on the awards-season circuit that year, successfully enlisting a slew of high-profile names to wear eco-conscious pieces that garnered press attention and raised awareness of how to dress with a conscience.
Livia – who also runs a lifestyle website for ethical and green living, Eco-Age – and Siegle continued with the project after the 2009 awards season. And now, to add another (literal) hat to her repertoire, Livia has created a five-piece ethically produced fashion line, Livia Firth Designs, to debut in September. THR spoke to Livia about how her projects have evolved, and what's next for the Green Carpet Challenge.
"We started the Green Carpet Challenge out of the desire to communicate to other women the questions that we never asked ourselves. And I learned so much and I'm still learning. Fashion is the biggest communicator of all. You wear a dress and the impact that the dress has on so many people is huge!"
2011 saw a huge leap in that fashion communication, thanks to stars like Meryl Streep and Viola Davis getting on board. Streep wore Lanvin's first ever custom-made eco gown to the 2012 Academy Awards, winning the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in The Iron Lady. The golden gown was made from eco-certified fabric, while Davis attended the 2012 BAFTA Awards in a pink Valentino dress made of recycled soda bottles.
"With actresses, generally speaking, celebrities are starting to be aware of the Green Carpet Challenge and they're starting to embrace it and it's amazing. Hopefully more and more will join and they will ask the right questions. They will be proud — I think it's very nice for an actress to walk the red carpet with a story," said Livia.
Before Streep and Davis, Downton Abbey's Elizabeth McGovern was the first official celebrity to join Livia in the challenge, wearing an up-cycled wool Henrietta Ludgate dress to the Royal Television Society Awards in March. Livia told THR about McGovern's experience, recalling, "Elizabeth called me the day after and said, 'My god, Livia! I walked the red carpet differently! I was so proud!' And I thought, 'Exactly. This is it.'"
Since the conception of the Green Carpet Challenge, Livia and Colin have shown supporters how to go green in style, from one of Colin's old suits repurposed into a dress for her to an ethically produced wool Tom Ford tuxedo for him, which Colin wore to two Academy Award shows in a row.
And Livia is adamant that designers educate themselves in ethical production. "The designers that have been on the scene for a long time have to turn the business around and start looking at things differently and it takes much, much longer [to create new, ethical production lines]. But a new designer that does not start a career by looking at environmental impact and social justice and the implication of the clothes would be unforgivable. Because now, the resources to create a traceable production chain using certain textiles are definitely available."
Livia is holding herself to those same standards, now that she is designing herself. "I'm always being creative in my personal wardrobe by altering things that my mom used to have or that friends will give me, or things I've bought at the OXFAM secondhand shop. By working with some of these designers that have been in sustainable fashion for a long time, it became inevitable that I would design."
She revealed about her collection, "I'm launching in September, and with the hats and the scarf I produced them with companies that I've been working with for a long time, Pachacuti, the only certified hat maker in the world, and Panchachuli, a beautiful community project in India."
In addition to the woolen cloche hats and embroidered pashmina, Livia Firth Designs will include a classic little black dress made from organic wool accented by a vegetable tanned leather obi belt, and a hand-crafted butterfly necklace.
As has been the case with the Green Carpet Challenge, Livia has been completely hands-on throughout the process of creating her line. "I personally went and found the producers; I went and worked with the producers to see where the products were made, how they were made, and who made them. I know each person that made each product, how each product was cut, and the materials used, so I was 100 percent involved."
On top of putting together her own line, one that will hopefully see many future collections, Livia is excited about what is to come for the Green Carpet Challenge and Eco-Age. "So many more [fashion designers] are joining and many more will be revealed in the autumn, so there are a lot of dreams coming true. And next spring, we're going to launch the first-ever fashion collection by a very big interior designer." While she remained secretive about the details, Livia did say the collaboration was "my dream come true because it's someone that I've admired for a long time."
Now, Livia is more optimistic and open than ever to take on ethical fashion. "From the very, very beginning of the Green Carpet Challenge when we launched with Tom Ford, the first thing I said was, 'I'll try anything, but I'm not going to wear a sack on the red carpet!' But now, we'll see what happens! There are some really exciting plans ahead, but I can't disclose them yet. Let's just say it's going be a hot autumn!"
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Colin was exclusively committed to wearing eco-friendly designs on the red carpet. Althought he is not exclusively committed, he continues to be a strong supporter of the Green Carpet Challenge.