Where are you right now?
Birmingham. Soon I’m off to Oxford. I’m following Miranda Hart. Not as a stalker, but because we’re working together. Every night this week I’ve hosted her live challenges for Comic Relief on the One Show. She’s raised a ridiculous amount of money waxing rugby players, ballroom dancing and being in a girl band live onstage at the Bullring. All this she’s managed with just one functioning leg – due to a nasty injury on Sunday night.
You are a specialist in ecological and ethical lifestyle matters – what are you working on at the moment?
I have a weekly column in the Observer magazine and online at the Guardian that each week answers an ethical conundrum from a reader. These can range from the really big issues – ‘should I trust the Brazilian government when it claims to have halted deforestation in the Brazillian rainforest?’ to the microscopic, ‘is it ever OK to use bleach in my loo?’ . So I’m answering one of those. Plus we’re coming up to the closing date for entries on the eighth Observer Ethical Awards aka the Green Oscars. I’m doing a lot of work on those. This year, rather thrillingly I’m also a judge for the Winton Science Book Prize for the Royal Society with Jon Culshaw, Joanne Harris, Uta Frith and Dr Emily Flashman. I was so excited but then five boxes of science books were delivered to my house and I realised I have to read two a day. I’m now excited and terrified.
What inspired you to write your last book ‘To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing out the World?’
The state of my wardrobe (full to the brim with rubbish clothes that I never wanted to wear again) and the state of the fashion industry and the knowledge that we could all do a lot better. I also wanted to celebrate a sustainable style movement that I thought was one of the hottest stories in design history.
Tell us about the Green Carpet Challenge…
The Green Carpet Challenge began four years ago when it became apparent that my friend Livia Firth would be walking a lot of red carpets (her husband, Colin was nominated for many awards for his brilliant performance in a Single Man). Livia says that I challenged her to do all the red carpet sustainably. Anyway, the GCC was born. At first it was pretty low key – we blogged at Eco-age.com (the website of Livia’s consultancy) and on Vogue – and she wore ‘ethical’ designers to the various events including the brilliant Orsola de Castro, who designed a dress made out of textile waste for the Oscars. The whole enterprise snowballed as we gained lots of lovely followers. Anna Wintour, editor of US Vogue has been a great supporter and suggested we work with some of the world’s most famous design houses. We worked with Stella McCartney to create a bespoke eco piece for Cameron Diaz for the Met Ball a couple of year’s ago and the GCC went up quite a few gears. We are very privileged to have worked with A-list design and talent and to get some privileged insight into the supply chains at this end of the fashion spectrum. Our work goes much deeper however than just the red carpet which is the bit most people see!
It’s been a very exciting time recently. At Paris Fashion Week (4 March) we launched the first GCC Brand Mark product, a collection of Gucci bags made from the world’s first leather from the Brazilian rainforest biome certified as deforestation free. I chaired the panel at the launch and the buzz in the room was electric!
How is it making a difference?
If you take the bag launch as an example it is vital to secure sustainable supply chains for fashion materials. Most people assume logging is the biggest driver of rainforest deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest. It’s not. It’s cattle ranching. We were told it’s impossible to certify leather from the time the cow is born right through the chain to ensure zero deforestation. Livia and I worked with the National Wildlife Federation and Gucci to disprove that. Obviously very few people will own a Gucci bag but this is a message to the industry that it is possible. Elsewhere the GCC’s mission is to match aesthetics with ethics – both are important – and to keep sustainable style in the headlines. Complacency is the enemy of sustainable change.
Three top tips on how we can make our wardrobes more sustainable?
1. When you buy new clothes aim to get a minimum number of wears. So only buy a piece you can commit to wearing 30 times as a starter. You’ll be amazed how this makes you think differently!
2. Use a percentage of your fashion budget to invest in sustainable pieces. If you shift even a small amount of your fashion budget to a piece from a brand such as People Tree or hat makers Pachacuti (by the way, I think hats are essential!) you are not just making a Fast Fashion Mogul even richer. You are investing in the producers and the makers. Plus their pieces are now really good.
3. Try making something, anything. Once you’ve knitted a piece (my thing) and painstakingly tried to match seams you’ll never treat fashion as a throwaway consumable again.
If you had to make a quick escape where would you go?
Very quick escape – Hampstead Heath, in the summer swimming in the ponds is not for the faint hearted but it is gorgeous. Slightly longer South Hams, Devon. One of the great things about working on the One Show is that it reconnects you to some fantastic places to visit in the UK. I love to visit Manchester and Liverpool (but then I’m a Northerner). We filmed on the Formby sand dunes recently and it was a beautiful day and I learned to fly a kite. I’d love to go back. I also did some filming last year riding horses across Ogmore beach in the Vale of Glamorgan. They can expect a return visit too.
What’s on your bedside table?
Science books (see above)
Who would you most like to meet for a drink?
Drinking should be fun so nobody too onerous. Baroness Trumpington who flicked the V sign in the Lords appeals. I also think Claudia Winkelman does irreverence beautifully and would make me laugh.
Three things you’d take with you to a desert island?
Science books, hair straighteners and a PV solar panel to charge them.
Lucy was talking to Annabelle King.