Fashion Act is a crucial step toward a sustainable future

Mia Gindis

New York took a major step in furthering the sustainability movement earlier this month by passing a new piece of legislation that could alter the trajectory of the fashion industry.

The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, introduced by The New Standard Institute and sponsored by Assembly Member Anna Kelles, as well as Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, proposes that any brand operating out of New York with global revenue of $100 million or higher be expected to meet a certain standard of environmental consciousness.

Companies will be evaluated based on their ability to hit science-based targets, which include disclosing their material production volumes and providing a comprehensible, transparent report on greenhouse gas emissions, plastic, water and chemical management. They will also be evaluated on their performance of due diligence to avoid labor abuses.

Failure to meet any of these targets would result in a fine of 2% of the brand’s annual revenue, with a caveat that these funds be distributed among environmental justice organizations.

If passed, this legislature would undoubtedly level the playing field of an often-times unconscientious industry by demanding that the same standards be met by luxury powerhouses and fast-fashion giants alike.

“Right now, companies are uncompetitive if they do the right thing,” Maxine Bédat, the founder of the New Standard Institute, said to Vogue.“That is not a framework for success. By making these regulations the floor of doing business, every company will have to comply, and every company will have to do the right thing. Of course, they can go above and beyond that and show leadership in other ways, too.”

In the past, the fashion industry has been notorious for being unregulated. A single company’s operations could span across continents, making it impossible to standardize a practice that falls under the jurisdiction of different governments, and consequently, different laws about labor and the environment.

Many instances of major brands exploiting this lack of regulation to the detriment of their employees and the environment have come under the limelight more in recent years.

In 2020, an investigation by The Guardian led to the discovery that fast fashion brand Boohoo was mistreating Pakistani factory workers by paying them well below minimum wage. The employees faced appalling conditions and were sometimes called on for 24-hour shifts.

More recently, France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office opened an investigation over suspicions that four major fashion retailers were benefiting from forced labor by Uyghurs in China. Two out of the four companies, Inditex, the owner of Zara and Uniqlo, strongly denied any claims made in the case. The remaining two, Skechers and SMCP, refused to comment.

According to Biaggi, the passing of the Fashion Act would ensure that “labor, human rights, and environmental protections are prioritized.”

Such a crucial directive must be implemented in a fashion center as influential as New York. While similar legislative ideas are floating around in the European Parliament, this bill would be the first in the world to attempt to regulate the greater social and environmental actions of major apparel and footwear companies.

New York’s status as a global leader makes it all the more important that it sets the standard high. The successful passing of the Fashion Act could incite a political domino effect, causing countries housing leading fashion brands to follow suit with similar legislation.

Some might even argue that the roots of the worldwide sustainability movement are tethered to somewhere just below the city sidewalks, a downward extension of seeds planted by environmental activists, since sprouted into secondhand and consignment shops.

According to a recent study, Generation Z prefers to shop sustainably, with the majority saying they are willing to spend 10% more on sustainable products. The report also discovered that Gen Z is far more likely than Millennials to make purchase decisions based on whether an item was ethically produced.

Though it appears that the next generation of consumers will be more environmentally conscious than the last, it’s crucial that reform is enacted on a legislative level. Many now recognize that the mantra “buy less, buy better” is putting the burden of change onto the buyer, rather than the real culprit: fashion brands.

The Fashion Act is the future of the sustainability movement. The informed consumer can only do so much against an industry plagued with concealed injustices; it’s high time that the state regulates it, and eventually, the world might follow suit.