Fashion has resisted regulation in the past, and lawmakers around the world—until now—were unsure how fashion fits into the fossil fuel conundrum.
Less so today.
“Who would have thought that just a few years ago we would have so many conversations about fashion policy?” said Elizabeth Cline, director of advocacy and policy at Remake, during a session on fashion policy at the Fairchild Media Group Sustainability Forum held virtually on April 28. flower. It’s been a really fun time.”
Remake’s goal as an industry watchdog is to ensure garment workers are paid fairly. Where policies can help achieve that mission, organizations have played a major role.
United States Governor, California Gavin Newsom passed the Garment Workers Protection Act in September 2021, which aims to do exactly what its name suggests by building shared responsibility (and fair wages) into California’s sprawling garment manufacturing district. More than 140 businesses, including Reformation and Eileen Fisher, supported the bill with advocacy groups. Meanwhile, the “Fashion Act” or Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act is on the list for the current New York State legislative season.
“Fashion has its own unique challenges, and the Fashion Act in particular places unique social and environmental issues on lawmakers’ radars,” said Cline. “What [Remake] asking is for MPs to see what happens to the human rights due diligence chamber in Europe. We think that’s what they’re doing with this bill, and to make sure it’s ahead of the regulatory and legislative curve because we firmly believe that if New York is going to do this, then we have to be up front and be at the forefront. leader in this matter.”
The bill prompted countless endorsements, including at least two open letters delving into the workforce and nuances of circularity (the former spearheaded by Remake and the latter written by Circular Services Group, with signers such as ThredUp). Retailers like ThredUp believe that circularity needs to be at the forefront of the conversation in Washington, DC, and Albany.
“We are in a very interesting position right now in terms of overall public policy. MPs have a lot of issues thrown at them every day,” said Seth Levey, ThredUp’s head of public policy and sustainability. “We want to ensure that sustainable fashion is raised higher on the priority list for MPs. That’s why we think the Fashion Act, for example, is so important in setting a pathway for conversation around sustainable fashion. We believe that reuse should be at the top of the waste hierarchy. The reuse and management of textile waste is currently neglected. We think this is a great opportunity for textile waste management to be integrated into public policy.”
Levey reiterated “ThredUp’s support for the Fashion Act as a whole” and anticipates working with other players to “build a viable channel of public policy initiatives at both the state, federal and international levels for sustainable fashion.”
Working at the intersection of sustainability, design strategy and impact for much of her career, Ibada Wadud, Parsons School of Design faculty, Lulah founder and founding member of the New York Fashion Workforce Development Coalition, is keen to take a few steps back when it comes to policy.
“I think it is very interesting to analyze across sectors and especially with regard to the fashion industry, to analyze some of the root causes of the problems we are facing today, especially understanding not only the current industrial landscape but how we got to where we are,” said Wadud. “Once we have a deeper understanding of some of the gaps that exist — our industry has essentially operated in a black box, for most of this century — we can then respond appropriately. And it takes people of all capacities, skills and knowledge — as well as strategies to actually get there and achieve those goals.”
The way it works with the Council of Fashion Designers of America — a trade and membership-based nonprofit that also operates a separate foundation for educational initiatives — is also a bit unique.
“We are not directly positioned under our mission to lobby, however, we are engaging with a multitude of alliance and stakeholder ecosystems,” said Sara Kozlowski, vice president of education and sustainability initiatives at CFDA. “At this time, we are very pleased to be collaborating with fellow trading members including AAFA [American Apparel and Footwear Association, and] Accessories Board. Our membership in the CFDA includes more than 400 leading American brands. However, many of them would qualify as SME or SMP in terms of their income.”
Continuing, Kozlowski expressed the organization’s excitement to be involved in the policy opportunities that the Fashion Act can generate, as well as hone in on where the gaps are.
The goal, he said, is “to ensure, in the future, we can have a voice on transformative governance and use our influence in the fashion sector to ensure that all voices are heard — businesses in the fashion sector of all sizes — small, medium and established — businesses. women-owned, minority-owned businesses. We are looking forward to policies that will not only help regulate but also help [incentivize] and get us where we need to be with decarbonization efforts.”
“I think we all agree that we are at a tipping point. …We are moving in the wrong direction,” said Kozlowski. “I think we’ve warmed 6 percent with last year’s greenhouse gas emissions, but we’re all talking about bringing together and meeting 1.5 [carbon] a limit in eight years and a net zero transition by 2050, when in fact, our temperatures will already exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030 or 2032. In fashion, so many of our problems lie in our supply chains, particularly in materials. But the answer is there too.”
Circularity, non-renewable energy and de-fossilization of materials (moving away from synthetics) are part of the solution guidelines, according to Kozlowski. The CFDA increasingly looks to the United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action (which contains a vision to achieve net zero emissions by 2050), the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the Science-Based Targets Initiative, or SBTi, as examples of industry alignment. The CFDA also launched a number of free sustainability resources, including a new directory tailored to ESG targets.
“One of the biggest challenges, especially for small brands, is funding,” says Kozlowski.
On how brands leverage sustainable solutions, despite funding constraints, Wadud emphasized: “This is different for everyone. There is no universal definition of what sustainability looks like.”
“The key point is that it is intersectional — meaning that there are aspects of environmental responsibility and justice, there are social, economic and cultural aspects. [aspects] depending on what value you promise as a brand or as a customer,” said Wadud. “I think to other stakeholder groups — including communities and individual citizens — it might look different how you create shared value, whether that’s through business models, through philanthropy or public-private partnerships or some other way. What’s important is that you have a solid understanding of what strategy is. ”
And mapping the brand ecosystem with intent attached to it. Disconnection occurs when values are not aligned.
“Sustainability is a roadmap for profitability and innovation,” said Wadud. “If we want to move towards a future where we lead in innovative ways, we must also consider sustainability as a key component of that, and that needs to interact with those parts. It doesn’t work in silos. ”
And neither should the policy.
Levey agrees circularity is critical and Europe is one to look to for policy inspiration – but so are other industries. Proponents of sustainable fashion need not be so short-sighted but instead, he says, “find ways to build a cohesive value chain approach to sustainable fashion policies,” while linking arms with advocates from other industries.
In its resale report, ThredUp says 36 billion pieces of clothing are thrown away every year, so this issue is palpable.
“In many places, sustainability will come by making things easier. It will come through consumers understanding that the right choice is a sustainable choice, is an affordable choice,” said Levey, repeating that ThredUp — as a brand and resale platform — wants to say so within the bounds of the new policy, and believes alliances are key. for that shift.
Legislators’ incentives and education are by no means covered in policy banter.
“There has to be, at some point, serious money put into fashion’s efforts to decarbonise. I’ve seen figures that this industry is going to cost trillions to decarbonise,” said Cline. “I think Remake [and advocacy] has such a critical function of exerting public pressure that companies often need to make commitments to the people and communities in their supply chains, and I hope this is the only strategy we use until we have stronger regulations.”