Lawmakers, Advocates Renew Push for “Fashion Act”

A new bill aims to rein in waste from the fashion industry, one of the most environmentally harmful industries in the world 

By Elizabeth Brewer and Elizabeth Maline

“The Fashion Act Rally” was held Saturday, February 12 underneath the “Needle Threading a Button” sculpture in Manhattan’s Garment District. It was scheduled to coincide with New York Fashion Week to draw attention to unsustainable practices in the fashion industry. Elizabeth Maline for NY City Lens.

On Wednesday afternoon, photographers and attendees of New York Fashion Week gathered in a bike lane that acted as a makeshift “step and repeat” outside Spring Studios in Tribeca. While models walked the runway, advocates and lawmakers hit the streets to push for the passage of new legislation that aims to make the fashion industry more sustainable.

In October, Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblymember Anna Kelles introduced Assembly Bill A8352 and Senate Bill S7428, known as the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act. A coalition of nonprofits, including the New Standard Institute and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), have backed the bill. 

The bill would require fashion retail sellers and manufacturers that do business in New York and generate more than $100 million in annual revenue worldwide to disclose at least 50 percent of their supply chains, release environmental and social due diligence policies and achieve specific climate-related benchmarks. New York would be the first state to pass any type of legislation that would hold the fashion industry accountable for wasteful practices.

The Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report, published in October 2020, found that 2,700 liters of water are required to produce one cotton T-shirt. The same report also found that New York Fashion Week, one of the most prominent industry events in the world, generates 40,000 to 48,000 tons of carbon dioxide. 

tons of clothing will be consumed by 2030, a 60% increase from 2020, 80% of which will end up in landfills

cubic meters of water used by the fashion industry, annually

tons of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the global fashion industry, amounting to roughly 10% of total global emissions

Dozens of lawmakers and activists gathered Saturday, the second day of New York Fashion Week, to protest the harm caused by couture runway shows and fast fashion. 

“This week, we celebrate the runway during New York Fashion Week, the part of the industry that churns out billions of garments, through the rise of an increasingly disposable business model that remains hidden,” said Maxine Bédat, Founder and Director of the New Standard Institute.

Bédat emphasized that New York, as a fashion capital of the world, has a unique responsibility to use its “enormous market size” to set global standards for the fashion industry. 

A lack of federal regulation and legislation with regard to the fashion industry is what prompted Biaggi and her fellow electeds to craft this bill. 

“The fashion industry, unfortunately, has for too long acted in a black box being unregulated,” she said. “This bill is not a punishment. This bill is an invitation to the fashion industry to join us and be a leader for other industries in making sure that we are not only leading on the climate crisis, but that we are charging the way.”

Kelles drew further attention to the lack of public awareness about the significant impact the fashion industry has on the climate. 

“We need to address the industries that are having the greatest impact, and this industry is one of those industries,” she said. “Every single piece of clothing you put on your body has a global impact.”

For fashion model and budding designer Meg Ricks, sustainability is important to the design process from the very beginning. 

“We’ve been very picky about the manufacturers that we’re working with,” Ricks said. “We want to use manufacturers who are talking about sustainability, who are working on sustainability, who are using only sustainable products and manufacturing. It’s been a huge topic of conversation for us.”  

McKenzie Kirk (left) and Meg Ricks (right) pose outside the entrance to New York Fashion Week in Tribeca, NY on Feb. 16, 2022. Elizabeth Maline for NY City Lens.

To bring sustainability issues to the attention of New York Fashion Week attendees, Ricks suggested that next year, they hold panels focusing on the environmental impacts of the fashion industry. 

“Everything is word of mouth, right? So the more they’re talking about it, the more they’re making it a topic of conversation,” Ricks said. 

Eileen Ryan, who attended New York Fashion Week, discussed some of the ways she observed designers utilizing sustainable practices in their shows throughout the week. 

“We’ve definitely seen some that are using fabrics from recycled materials, which is important,” she said. “I think also some of them are donating to sustainability causes, which, of course, is important as well.” 

Eileen Ryan (left) and Jessica Weiss (right) outside the New York Fashion Week runway shows on Spring St. in New York, NY on Feb. 16, 2022. Elizabeth Maline for NY City Lens.

But for Ryan, who was wearing a vegan leather bag by designer Ji Won Choi, there’s more that can be done to promote sustainability. 

“It’s really up to those big corporations to help educate people,” she said. 

This year’s fashion week included several sustainability-focused interactive experiences. For example, Lovesac contributed to a lounge where New York Fashion Week guests were invited to sit in their bean bags made from 100% recycled water bottles and filled with repurposed foam. 

Richard Schrader, Legislative and Policy director of the National Resources Defense Council in the Northeast, who mostly works in New York State, has actively lobbied for the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act over the past three months. His goal is to try and get the bill passed this session, which ends June 2. 

“This law would create an alignment with how the fashion industry operates with New York state’s existing climate law,” Schrader said. “It’s going to level the playing field and allow the companies that are trying to do the right thing, by way of climate, environment and the workforce, to be competitive with the companies that are, right now, not doing it, and will have to do it by law.” 

Protesters gathered to show their support for the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act on Saturday, February 12 at “The Fashion Rally.” Elizabeth Maline for NY City Lens.

For consumers looking for information about a brand’s sustainability efforts, Schrader says the bill will require companies to disclose information on their websites. 

“The requirement of the law is very specific,” he said. “It has to be not only put on the website, but transparent so that it’s easily accessible to consumers.”

Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, who signed on to be a co-sponsor of the bill, said pushback from companies is to be expected. 

“I think you are going to face resistance and unfortunately I find that resistance come[s] with ignorance,” she said. “Those that are profiting off the industry are going to fight it, right, because they don’t want to impact their bottom line.”

Schrader believes much of this resistance will come from “fast fashion” companies like Shein

Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas spoke at “The Fashion Act Rally” on Saturday, February 12 in the Garment District. Elizabeth Maline for NY City Lens.

According to González-Rojas, many consumers are unaware of exactly how their shopping habits affect the health of the planet and tend to focus on “composting or recycling.” After becoming aware of this bill, González-Rojas addressed her own sustainability practices in hopes her constituents would do the same. 

“People can really look inward and look at their own practices around sustainability,” she said. “Every single one of us has a role.”