womens black and white traditional dress

The Green Carpet Fashion Awards opened in Milan today. This eco pioneer explains why this once-unfashionable concept has become a success.

Ethical fashion was once unfashionable. She says that when Lilia Firth launched Eco-Age her consultancy, it was a decade ago that “it was something nobody was talking about”. The current round of fashion shows, which featured dresses made from recycled plastic bottles and protests by Extinction Rebellion, has seen people talk about very little else.

Firth says that the past two months have seen a “final turn”. It is a beautiful moment, but it is also very dangerous. Fast fashion .is the first offender in sustainability and there is greenwashing at a level there has never been before.”

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Firth speaks from Milan, where she and her team are finishing up the Green Carpet Fashion Awards. The event, now in its third year of operation, focuses more on fashion’s social footprint than its environmental footprint. However, they are closely linked.

She says the goal of the event is to recognize the unsung heroes who make fashion more ethical.

It’s not low-key if that sounds like Sunday’s event. The event is Oscar-like with 1,000 guests and A-list speakers. Donatella Versace, Miuccia Parada and Cate Blanchett have been awarded prizes in the past. Julianne Moore and Julianne Moore presented them. Valentino Garavani, a 87-year old pug-loving designer, will receive the Visionary award this year. The gondoliers from Venice will be praised for switching to natural fibers for their striped uniforms. Eco-Age will also produce gowns by some of the most well-respected designers in the world, based on “our principles”.

Since 2011, Firth has been an important player in ethical fashion. This was after her husband, Colin Firth won an Oscar. She was able to be a plus one for many awards seasons and chose to only wear ethical brands. Firth was initially viewed as an unorthodox party-pooper at the time. She freely admitted that she could not have done it without Colin’s help. However, people have become more open to discussing issues like exploitation over the years.

It is sustainable, not ethical, that is the buzzword in mainstream fashion. It speaks volumes about the human nature of people that environmental concerns have impacted buying habits in a way that the human cost has never done, even after the Rana Plaza tragedy of 2013. After an unsecure building collapsed in Bangladesh, 1,134 people were killed. It was home to garment workers who made clothes for some of the most prestigious fast-fashion retailers in the world.

Firth says that fast fashion has been able to “appropriate” the conversation by separating these two issues. Recent pledges by fast-fashion brands to use sustainable materials were made. She says that it is the human cost and not the fabric being used that is most responsible for environmental pollution.

“If they [brands] couldn’t produce so many clothes so cheaply using slave labour, then you wouldn’t have an environmental impact.” She says fast-fashion brands “cannot” improve fashion’s social costs unless they alter their core business model and make less.

She adds, “You can’t make a monster sustainable.” It’s “its very nature is that it’s monster.”

She says it’s quite different in the luxury sector. We don’t work for all brands, but we work with the ones we do. This is because they have a lot to invest in research and development.

One of Eco-Age’s clients, .Kering, for example, has been singled out for praise after “investing tonnes and tonnes of money” understanding how to do things differently and introducing an environmental profit and loss statement.

Clearly, Firth’s approach is very different to that of Extinction Rebellion, which campaigned for London Fashion Week .to be closed .altogether, though Firth thinks the group may have a point.

The Green Carpet Awards, co-run by the Italian equivalent to the British Fashion Council, are more of an incentive than a punishment for the industry. The Green Carpet Awards has its own footprint, with plants on the red carpet going to community gardens in Milan, and the green carpet made of recycled fishing nets from the sea.

Firth has proven that glamourous awareness-raising can work – she just learned she was made an honorary MBE. She says, “It’ll be a weapon for mass construction.” She says it will be like being Colin Firth’s wife or being awarded UN Leader for Change. It doesn’t matter what it takes to spread the word.