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Challenges of New York’s Fashion Act and those helping to prepare for it

By Rachel Douglass


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Attendees of New York Fashion Week FW24, street style imagery. Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

Despite the urgency and demand for regulations mounting against an unruly fashion industry, there still seems to be a sense of friction when introducing new legislation that aims to do just that. This has been the case for New York’s Fashion Act, which has found itself sitting in the committee stage of the state’s senate for the two years of its existence.

While this may be the case, it hasn’t stopped organisations from already setting about helping to prepare retailers and brands for its integration in light of a heightened consumer demand for more ethical and environmentally-friendly offerings.

What is the fashion act?

Introduced in the New York State Legislature in 2022 and later reintroduced in 2023, the Fashion Act – or the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act – would require qualifying companies to impose improved due diligence on both environmental and human rights issues. This includes the implementation of public global supply chain maps, the integration of science-based greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and published details on the management of chemical usage.

The Act would apply to any apparel, footwear or handbags brands with annual revenues of over 100 million dollars. Failure to comply would result in a penalty of up to 2 percent of the company’s annual revenues in New York, the funds of which would go towards environmental or worker protection programmes.

A slew of brands have shown their support for the bill, including Patagonia, Ganni and Another Tomorrow. The Act has even seen widespread celebrity endorsement, with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Ciara and Zooey Deschanel among just some of those backing the bill. So, why is it that the legislation’s progress has seemingly come to a halt?

Criticism the Act has faced

While those backing the bill have previously said that it had entered the new year with a refreshed force that saw it back on the agenda of New York’s legislative session, the fact that it is still facing hurdles leaves those looking in wondering why. After going back to the drawing board following its initial introduction due to hefty criticism, the amended version of the act placed a renewed reliance on existing sustainability standards as the minimum requirements for brands to follow. Qualifying companies would also be required to reduce climate impact to align with the Paris Climate Agreement and disclose certain worker wages.

Despite the changes, even the newest iteration of the bill has not escaped scrutiny. Next to fears that such requirements could negatively impact fashion businesses operating in the state, circular retail platform Cosh noted it was also lacking in enforcing brands to be accountable for their damages. Cosh highlighted that the Act “only requires brands to disclose information on their supply chain but not necessarily improve their sustainability”. As such, it is much more focused on how a brand communicates their targets and operations over achieving such actions.

Cosh also noted that it was currently unclear how retailers’ ‘Science Based Targets’ would be monitored, as the bill “does not oblige brands to act on these targets or attempt to hit them meaning that it lacks enforceability”. Notably, the Act asks for brands to disclose 50 percent of their supply chain without specifying which part they should detail, allowing space for interpretation and the ability to be selective in what to share. Such concerns had initially been raised by senator Alessandra Biaggi and assemblywoman Anna R. Kelles who, in an open letter, dubbed the bill “far weaker” than similar measures in place in other countries.

How organisations are aiding brands in the adjustment

While there may still be obstacles in the Act’s path, there are some organisations that are continuing in their efforts to help brands and retailers transition and adapt to the requirements. Gen Phoenix is among those. The UK-based, circular material tech platform has previously worked with the likes of Coach and Dr. Martens in making such changes through the launch of various initiatives and programmes that cater to the needs of the Act.

“Holding brands and producers accountable for more transparency will bolster consumers’ ability to evaluate a brand’s level of sustainability…”

John Kennedy, CEO of Gen Phoenix

Speaking to FashionUnited, CEO John Kennedy said: “Our approach has been to establish reporting systems with the agility to flex to our brands’ various needs rather than adopting a rigid data reporting system which would not translate easily to the individual needs of each brand’s reporting model. We work collaboratively with our brands’ sustainability teams and their advisors which gives them data that they can have confidence in and it helps us to refine and adapt our thinking about how we can anticipate and prepare for their future needs.”

Among Gen Phoenix’s tasks is to help related companies in formulating and executing transparency maps, a significant part of the Act’s requirements. When asked what was integral to the creation of such maps, Kennedy added: “Removing the often transactional ‘supplier/customer’ relationship and fostering a truly collaborative partnership to create roadmaps that are right for the brand and their environment goals is where we’ve seen the most significant impact – it’s not one size fits all. Only full transparency and openness can expose areas of improvement and drive positive change.”

For Gen Phoenix, another factor that is imperative is the Act’s emphasis on transferring the accountability from the customer to the brand. “This shift encourages accountability among industry leaders, fostering a more sustainable approach and reducing the environmental impact of the fashion and retail industries,” Kennedy noted. “Holding brands and producers accountable for more transparency will bolster consumers’ ability to evaluate a brand’s level of sustainability at face value, rather than relying on marketing claims that can be misleading or inaccurate. It’s an important step to level the playing field and recognise the brands already making progress, as well as requiring more to walk the talk.”

Country-wide bills also face delays

The Fashion Act isn’t the only bill to currently be weighed in both New York and the US. The state is also mulling the implementation of the Fashion Workers Act, which would regulate model and content creator management agencies that have largely been able to escape accountability when it comes to treatment of employees. Also introduced early 2022, the bill is another facing the lengthy legislator process in New York, and has not yet seen that much needed green light in order to carry out its desired change.

There are some states that have been much faster in implementing such procedures, however. California is among those, having already passed the Garment Worker Protection Act, another bill that banned PFAS from textiles and a climate accountability act, which was received with widespread approval from North American industry organisations. Country-wide there have further been bills addressing similar issues that are yet to be implemented. These include the Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change Act (FABRIC Act), which aims to create new protections for garment workers, and the most recently introduced Americas Trade and Investment Act (or the Americas Act) which hopes to encourage and motivate manufacturers to favour local production over China-based operations.

Campaigning for the New York Fashion Act continues to go ahead, however, with one of the latest updates being that one of its backers, the New Standard Institute, headed to Albany to lobby for the cause. The organisation’s social media also remains active, continuing to push its goal in the hope of one day securing a permanent place for the bill.

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Sustainable Fashion