Story at a glance
- The fashion industry is responsible for millions of jobs as well as a significant amount of global carbon emissions.
- Brands including Everlane, ThredUp and Allbirds have signed an open letter asking President Biden to appoint a fashion czar.
- The effort seeks to promote an environmentally friendly clothing industry that practices humane domestic labor practices.
Dozens of fashionistas are imploring President Biden to appoint a fashion czar, which would be at least one step above the fashion police. But this position has nothing to do with preventing another “tan suit” controversy and everything to do with preventing a climate catastrophe.
The fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of annual global carbon emissions, according to the World Bank, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. It's projected to get even worse, surging more than 50 percent by 2030, if the industry doesn't change.
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"Even though the United States is no longer where most of the world’s clothes are made, we are still responsible for our part in the fashion ecosystem," wrote Elizabeth Segran, an author who first proposed the idea in an opinion editorial for Fast Company. "For one thing, some of the world’s largest fashion brands are headquartered here—we’re also the breeding ground for the next wave of fashion labels with innovative new business models and materials. But all of these companies rely on foreign manufacturing. And perhaps more importantly, American consumers have huge spending power."
Here are some of the numbers: In 2017, American consumers accounted for nearly $380 billion of the spending that drives the $2.5 trillion global industry, each spending an average of $1,883 on about 68 garments a year — more than half of which is made from plastic and doesn't decompose. On the production end, more than 1.8 million Americans are employed by the fashion industry, although more than 95 percent of clothing sold in the U.S. is imported. And while it’s tempting to focus on human rights abuses abroad, workers in the United States have been the victims of exploitative labor practices and COVID-19 outbreaks.
All this, argue Segran and other experts who have signed the open letter, calls for action on the federal level to address environmental, labor, health and domestic production issues in the fashion industry. Signees include Everlane, ThredUp, Allbirds, Reformation and other companies that have fashioned their brand around sustainability and ethical practices, but are not beyond reproach.
Critics have pointed out a lack of accountability among brands that claim to be sustainable as well as varying definitions about what is or isn't sustainable. Hence, a fashion czar: a political appointee who could coordinate and advocate for policy in the fashion industry, much like John Kerry, Biden's climate czar, does for international climate efforts.
“As fashion week gets underway in the US, a spotlight will shine not just on the clothes being shown, but also the practices and policies of the industry. We stand ready to work with you to advance the creation of a Fashion Czar and to promote this vibrant, creative, and economically important industry,” said dozens of industry brands, experts and organizations in an open letter to President Biden.
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