How Fashion's Boldest Legislation Came to Be

The Fashion Act was put forth by a female-led coalition including politicians, citizens and activists.

fashion policy
(Image credit: Alamy)

As the fashion capital of the U.S., New York is aiming to be the first state to enforce major legislative changes that will propel the fashion industry toward a more sustainable and socially responsible future. On Friday, key sponsors Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblymember Dr. Anna Kelles publicly introduced The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act (or, The Fashion Act) S7428/A8352 to tackle the environmental and social shortcomings of the fashion industry. The “common sense protections,” according to Kelles, within the bill demand global fashion companies who conduct business in New York with revenue of at least $100 million disclose at least 50 percent of their supply chain, material use, wages of workers, and carbon impact to ensure they align with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Failure to do so within 12 months will result in fees that will fund environmental justice initiatives in New York state. 

This type of regulation is not only momentous for a $2.5 trillion industry that is responsible for as much as 8.6 percent of global carbon emissions, but necessary to pave the way for a better industrial future. But this kind of legislation doesn’t just materialize in front of senators. Maxine Bédat, director of the New Standard Institute, through her experience raising awareness of fashion’s negative impact, she came to the realization that the industry simply cannot save itself and citizens may need to step up than wait for change to happen: “Wait, [citizens are] going to have to be the ones who do this.” Her background in law came into play as she set out nearly a year ago to draft a bill. Step one was to determine the biggest problems and biggest points of impact of the industry and then what rules would be needed to tackle them. “It’s one thing to critique the industry and it is quite another to set the rules of how the system should actually work,” says Bédat. 

Getting early support from Senator Biaggi and Assemblymember Kelles was crucial and helped build a network of members who could provide feedback on organizations to include in the coalition, such as NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), Environmental Advocates New York, New York Communities for Change, South Asian Fund for Education Scholarship and Training (SAFEST), Ferrara Manufacturing, EarthDay.org, Oceanic, Uprose, and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. Many important members of the coalition, coincidentally or not, are women. Says Bédat: “Because we are not part of the established patriarchy, we can have a clearer vision of what the future should look like.”

The next phase is gaining more industry support. Longtime champion of sustainability, Stella McCartney, is an early backer of the bill. The fashion industry has been quick to get behind environmental and social justice in their marketing; now, big brands have the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak. “We’re hopeful that because the fashion industry has spoken so much about this and professed to claim that they care, that with setting these common rules, it will be something they will embrace,” says Bédat. With this spirit, she hopes this bill can act as a blueprint for other industries to create similar regulations. “[Fashion] is an industry like every other and it has similar issues to any industry that has a long supply chain, and fashion has one of the longest supply chains.”

A vote on The Fashion Act will likely come this spring. “I hope that this can echo with other people,” says Bédat. “We don’t have to feel like part of the tribe of activists to get engaged, but we all have to get engaged to get bills like this passed.”

Watch the bill’s progress, and visit the New Standard Institute for resources on how to get involved.

Julia Gall
Julia Gall

Julia Gall is the Style Director at Marie Claire, covering all things fashion, as well as styling tips, wardrobe upkeep and sustainability. Check her out at @juliasgall.