We’ve seen the organic trend happen with our food, and now a parallel movement has arrived: sustainable fashion. As consumers are beginning to ask where their clothes are made and how, we're starting to see the same label trends in retail clothing stores as we've seen at the grocery store: badges for ethically sourced textiles or organic cotton, and even barcodes embedded with stories behind how a pair of jeans is made from 100 percent recycled bottles (yes, Levis actually sells a pair of these).
But what exactly is sustainable fashion? Also known as “eco-fashion,” it is a philosophy that addresses environmental concerns and bringing about a more socially responsible ethos within the industry.
A lot of this is thanks to a man named Nicola Giuggioli who started Eco-Age, a unique brand consultant agency that helps brands build sustainability strategies. Giuggioli founded Eco-Age with his sister and creative director, Livia Firth (yes, the one often seen on the arm of her husband Colin Firth at red-carpet events).
For Giuggioli, it all began in Rome, where he grew up in a single-income home with six siblings, which set the a foundation for a simple, smarter lifestyle. “When there was a hole in our clothes, we placed patches," he told me in an interview. "We were a wise, sustainable family due to great financial strains.”
Fast forward 20 years, combine Giuggioli's simple upbringing with his passion for design and technology, and you have Eco-Age skyrocketing from a shop in London to partnering with such global retail brands as Chopard and Gucci and such designers as Victoria Beckham, Tom Ford, and Prada. “We’ve created a story and a solution," he explained. Designers and retailers "have realized it is financially viable and there’s a lot of interest in being a part of it.” Eco-Age has been able to, as he put it, “bring into light an issue that no one was talking about."
It's significant that a company like Eco-Age has been successful at integrating itself within the large luxury retail realm and influencing how they do business. In turn, it can become a catalyst for change by setting trends down the fashion chain, from runways down to your local Target. Businesses and consumers evolve in their spending habits and philosophy on choosing clothes. One need look no further than H&M’s conscious collection and Gap and Zara banning Angora fur to see evidence of eco-fashion entering the mainstream market.
Eco-Age is also making waves at high-profile events such as the Academy Awards and Cannes Film Festival, with the Green Carpet Challenge. As Giuggioli explains, “a journalist gave Livia a ‘green challenge’ on the red carpet, and she took it seriously.” Since then Livia has worn everything from a recycled sequin clutch and a repurposed wedding dress, to fabric hand-spun by the Yoruba people of Nigeria. With the GCC campaign, Livia has been able to counter the old notion that eco can’t be chic.
For Giuggioli, design is key. “The movement started in the 1960s and 70s, and then later with environmental issues in the 80s and 90s. But in the 2000s we are seeing young designers who believe in sustainable fashion and that it can still be beautiful and glamorous. Now, brands are competing against each other to differentiate themselves on sustainability because being green is something extremely cool and novel.”
It's not about changing fashion, for Giuggioli, it's about bringing fashion back to what it "really should be . . . what everyone aspires to, investing in fantastically fashionable pieces and feeling good when we wear them. What we put on our bodies is not any less important than what we put inside our bodies.”