Fashion for the Earth

How the Fashion Act Hopes to Change the Fashion Industry for Good

Key Takeaways: Earth Day Live – Fitting Fashion for the Future

It is well established that the $2.5 trillion global fashion industry is one of the most far-reaching, omnipresent, and negatively impactful sectors. The sector contributes disproportionately to greenhouse gas emissions, microplastic water pollution, toxic chemical use, and landfill waste. The need for reform is evident. The fashion industry’s standard evaluation mechanism is dressed to kill our planet. 

On May 13, 2022, EARTHDAY.ORG aired Fitting Fashion for the Future, a live digital event moderated by Brittany Sierra, Founder of the Sustainable Fashion Forum with panelists New York State Assemblymember Anna Kelles; Maxine Bédat, Founder of The New Standard Institute; and Michelle Gabriel, Director of Programs at Glasgow Caledonian New York College who discussed New York’s proposed Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act (The Fashion Act). 

The Fashion Act is projected to be the first of its kind, a groundbreaking policy addressing the fashion industry in the world’s fashion capital. By creating a baseline for the fashion industry’s environmental and social practices, the Act intends to end fashion’s destructive impacts on the environment and worldwide exploitation of garment factory workers. The Act would regulate any company with over $100 million in global revenue. 

As Bédat emphasized at the outset, the impacts of the fashion industry currently cannot be holistically quantified. The first step, therefore, is supply chain transparency. The second step, “the meat of the bill,” requires brands to reduce their negative impact based on environmental and social effects with baked-in benchmarks for mandatory disclosures and due diligence. And finally, the “real teeth” of the bill is in enforcement through the Attorney General’s office, which can fine a company up to 2% of their global revenue as a penalty for infringing on the law.

Both Bédat and Gabriel commented on the lack of transparency in the fashion brand supply chains. “We have an industry that has baked in the layers of opacity and complexity from the beginning to take advantage of for-profit purposes,” according to Gabriel. 

Assemblymember Kelles agreed but affirmed that there is already precedent in “equally consolidated” industries such as the food industry, where mapping of their supply chain was mandated – and while it may have been difficult, it was possible. “If the regulation is there, they will find a way,” she said. Furthermore, “Mapping will shift practices. The choices large companies make will influence the companies they want to purchase from that create their own transparency.”  

Moderator Sierra asked about greenwashing and if the 3rd party auditors required to do reporting could be compromised, and brands could essentially “grade their own homework.” By endeavoring to prevent greenwashing, Assemblymember Kelles explained the bill places accountability and transparency at the forefront. The proposed legislation includes a robust auditing process designed on rigorous international standards and conducted through third-party entities, not in the fashion space. 

As far as how The Fashion Act would affect the industry, one very positive outcome would be the leveling of the playing field for smaller brands. As Gabriel pointed out, “There is a section of this industry building value out of sustainability and social impact who is ‘Yes, please….allow me to compete with the mega-size producers and the mega-size profit capturers.'”  

And Bédat pointed out that regulation can drive innovation and change as it did with the California Fuel Efficiency Standard regulations. “As a result of those laws, you had big successful companies like Tesla that took advantage of that and became successful and legacy companies like Ford that really turned themselves around.” 

Finally, Assemblymember Kelles explained that it could take as long as a year or two before The Fashion Act comes to a vote. “Policy doesn’t happen overnight, especially when you are as collaborative as we are so that the industry is at the table. We are in that process, and it should not be rushed.”  

While these policy dynamics are intricate, we all have a chance to have our voices heard in this conversation. Assemblymember Kelles said that she could not emphasize enough how vital advocacy is. “If a member receives even ten emails…from their constituents in their district that urges them to sign on to a bill, it will bring that bill up to a priority for that legislator…you can’t disregard the public.”

Thus, the Act primarily aims to enforce product supply chain disclosure to demystify the fashion industry’s inherent opacity, shifting the conversation from valuing risk mitigation to prevention that reduces negative environmental and social impacts. Overall, the paradigm shift will require large enterprises to do some much-needed mapping.  

This sector, like many others, is hungry for innovation. Would you like to be a part of this revolutionary change? Look for more information from EARTHDAY.ORG and Fashion for the Earth.