Why We Need The Fashion Act, According To State Senator Alessandra Biaggi

Photo credit: Courtesy of subjects; Getty Images

Photo credit: property of Hearst

Photo credit: property of Hearst

Style Points is a weekly column on how fashion intersects with the rest of the world.

“Fashion has basically operated in this black box for so long,” said New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi. She talks about how, unlike the finance, food, and automotive industries, fashion has been able to operate mostly without government oversight in the United States. There is no FDA equivalent for fashion. And, she admits, “it’s not the industry that many regulators are concerned about.” Although there are individual designers and fashion houses who seem firmly committed to change, she believes self-regulation is not enough. And if his new bill passes, he doesn’t have to.

A younger, often more progressive cohort is entering politics, bringing with it a heightened sense of urgency in the face of the climate crisis. Biaggi is in this category; on this particularly relevant question, she believes that “what is at stake here is our whole world”. She first became passionate about the intersection of fashion, climate and social justice after taking classes at Fordham University’s Fashion Law Institute, which opened her eyes to the connections between these topics. She rattles off statistics, including the fact that fashion is responsible for 4 to 8.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions. A number of brands have recently touted carbon neutrality or outlined steps toward green operations, but, says Biaggi, “self-regulation doesn’t work well. I don’t care if you’re the best-intentioned person or entity, it’s unethical to control yourself.

Photo credit: Courtesy of subject.

Photo credit: Courtesy of subject.

About a year ago, she said, Maxine Bedat and Alejandra Pollak of the new standards institute, a non-profit organization focused on sustainability in the fashion industry, reached out to her. “They said, ‘We’d love to work on this with you. Are you ready?’ And I said yes. We’ve spent the last year really getting into the details of what has become fashion sustainability and social responsibility law (the Fashion Act for short), introduced by the NSI and sponsored by Biaggi and Assemblywoman Anna R. Kelles. They’ve also racked up a large tentpole of backers: Stella McCartney has endorsed the Fashion Act, while others backing the bill include environmental groups like the NRDC and EarthDay.org.

The Fashion Act, which was introduced in the New York State Senate last week, would require fashion companies with more than $100 million in revenue that do business in the state to “map their chains of procurement, disclose environmental and social impacts and set binding targets to reduce these impacts. They should also publicly disclose the materials they use and the wages they pay workers. Those who fail to do so within a year could face fines of up to 2% of their earnings, which would be donated to environmental justice organizations.

Photo credit: Courtesy of New Standard Institute

Photo credit: Courtesy of New Standard Institute

If passed, the Fashion Act would become the first such legislation in the United States. But “the bill isn’t meant to be a ‘gotcha’ for the fashion industry at all,” Biaggi is quick to insist. “We wanted to do it in a way that didn’t scare companies away, but made them want to be a part of it and also kept them up to the standards.” She insists that New York is the fashion capital of our country, and that among those who would benefit are her constituents in the Bronx and Westchester. Some of them work in these industries, and then at the end of the day they “go home to their environmental justice impacted communities,” so it was crucial for her to make sure the fashion law addressed both social and environmental aspects of the industry.

The law, which Bédat said she hopes can be passed this summer, has been met with some skepticism; Everyday Women’s Clothing cited unnamed sources doubting it would make it through due to industry counter-lobbying. When I ask Biaggi about this report, she says, “Almost every bill presented will meet with resistance. It’s not an unusual thing. I think it’s fair to expect that some companies that are impacted by this legislation won’t initially support it because it’s new standards and for them it’s probably like, ‘Can we we even comply with this? We need to determine if we can even comply with this, let alone support it. “…I don’t think every company is a harmful actor, but I do think there will be companies that won’t support this initially, given that they have been successful in engaging in harmful practices and neglecting their environmental and social impact.

Photo credit: Peter Summers

Photo credit: Peter Summers

She adds: “What I am sure of is that we will be able to build a broad coalition, and that requires conversation. I’ve never passed a bill that didn’t involve really tough conversations, which were uncomfortable, and I think it’s important that companies considering opposing the bill understand: the state of New York and New Yorkers have truly given these businesses their success. .I think it will take time, a lot of hard work, a lot of input and back and forth on the language, as it always does. But I’m confident, because there is no way around this problem. There is not a single company on this planet that can ignore the issue of its environmental impact.

When it comes to government oversight of fashion, some European nations are already ahead of us: France’s circular economy law, passed in 2020, came into force on January 1 this year, and the French government will demand also now a “carbon label”. for affixing to clothing; The German equivalent, the “green button”, was implemented in June. If the Fashion Act is successful, could it lead to broader federal legislation in the United States? “My God, if the federal government thought about this, I would be delighted. However, we have a lack of action from the federal government and we do not have adequate federal legislation. said Biaggi. “If the whole country was regulated, that would be just remarkable, but that’s not where we are now. And that’s why I think New York, as a leader in fashion, has this opportunity to lead the way. I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that our state and our world depends on it.

If passed, the bill would have a ripple effect far beyond New York, as Biaggi points out that any major fashion house doing business in the state, including international companies, should comply with standards. (“That might be a bit of a political asshole, but it’s really cool.”) Cool too? The star power that descended on Albany to support the bill. “It’s not everyday you see fashion designers come to a state capitol,” she admits.

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