New York’s Fashion Act Could Usher a New Era in Apparel Sustainability

15 February 2022

Manasseh Franklin

The fashion industry may be on its way to more sustainable and accountable practices, thanks to a bill introduced in the state of New York earlier this year. The bill, called the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, or the Fashion Act, targets all apparel and footwear companies that sell products and do business in the state and generate more than $100 million in revenue. This includes most major fashion brands in the world, including Ralph Lauren, H&M, Shien and more.

As detailed in our New Sustainability White Paper , the global textile industry is incredibly resource intensive, relying on large amounts of energy and non-renewable resources to produce garments that have limited lifespans and often end up in landfills after use. This amounts to a process that uses 98 million tons of oil, fertilizers, and chemicals, as well as 93 billion cubic meters of water, and relies on energy that produces 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent emissions annually. Not to mention, the impact of pollution from toxic dyes and treatments, and negative health impacts on workers.

Despite this, the fashion industry is often referred to as a ‘regulatory vacuum’ due to its lack of enforced environmental standards and accountability measures. Companies that seek to adopt environmentally friendly practices are pioneers, voluntarily pursuing the accreditations that do exist and creating their own sustainability benchmarks.

The Fashion Act proposes the following:

––Require brands to map at least 50% of their supply chain, and to disclose environmental impacts including greenhouse gas emissions, water footprint and chemical use.

––Require companies to disclose amounts and kinds of materials used.

––Disclose median salaries of all workers, along with management and policies that support responsible business actions.

––Perform mandatory due diligence in tracking and improving supply chains.

––Meet science based targets to ensure reductions keep pace with Paris Agreement guidelines to keep global warming below 2C from pre-industrial levels.

polluted water

The bill would be enforced by the office of the Attorney General and citizens could file civil action against companies in violation. Companies found to be in non-compliance would be given a 3-month period to remedy their infraction, before facing fines up to 2% of their gross income. Proceeds from the fines would accrue in a community fund to be used for environmental justice projects in New York. And though the bill is situated in the state of New York, it would have global implications as nearly every major clothing brand does business there.

“Fashion is one of the most harmful industries and least policed,” designer and one of the bill’s backers Stella McCartney said in a Financial Times interview . “Sadly, the idea of us self-regulating [is] not a fair thing to ask of an industry. We need to be helped. If we could just have some regulation, some policies, some [standardised] methods to measure our impact.”

In addition to being sponsored by members of the New York legislature, the bill has the backing of several advocacy groups including the New Standard Institute, Uprose and the Natural Resources Defense Council. It has received generally positive reception throughout the industry, as detailed in Vogue Business , “Some skeptics would like it to go further, but its ambition could re-shape how fashion behaves given it would affect virtually every recognisable fashion brand, from US companies such as Gap, Ralph Lauren and Tapestry to international players in mass market and luxury alike such as Shein and H&M, Prada and LVMH.”

fashion act info graph

From the beginning, LifeLabs has made sustainability within the industry a guiding priority. We seek to reduce impact wherever possible in every step of our product development, manufacturing and distribution, from our base materials to our sustainable packaging . We utilize existing regulatory frameworks, including the Higg Index, Bluesign certified factories, WRAP certification and more.

“Introducing regulation will help to level the playing field for brands who are trying to do the right thing by voluntarily self-regulating their impacts,” says LifeLabs Senior Sustainability Manager Nicole Kenney. This is an exciting step in the fashion industry, and we look forward to seeing the positive impacts it can have on apparel production across the globe.

Dig into LifeLabs sustainability efforts in our New Sustainability White Paper .