Conscious Style Podcast

79) The Role of Fashion Legislation | Elizabeth Cline

Episode Summary

In recent years, there's been an exciting increase in sustainable fashion legislation and reforms working to clean up this industry — from garment worker protections against wage theft to supply chain due diligence to greenwashing enforcement. In today's episode, Stella interviews author, educator, and activist Elizabeth Cline to dive into all things fashion legislation: historical context, what's going on now, why it matters, and how you can get involved. Plus, hear about: + Why we need to move away from the binary of individual versus collective action, + How historic changes in the law have influenced the fashion industry, + The role of fashion legislation in creating a more equitable fashion future, + And how investing in the lives of garment workers is part of the overlooked solution to fashion's climate impact.

Episode Notes

In recent years, there's been an exciting increase in sustainable fashion legislation and reforms working to clean up this industry — from garment worker protections against wage theft to supply chain due diligence to greenwashing enforcement.

In today's episode, Stella interviews author, educator and activist Elizabeth Cline to dive into all things fashion legislation: historical context, what's going on now, why it matters, and how you can get involved. Plus hear about:

+  Why we need to move away from the binary of individual versus collective action

+ How historic changes in the law have influenced the fashion industry

+ The role of fashion legislation in creating a more equitable fashion future

+ And how investing in the lives of garment workers is part of the overlooked solution to fashion's climate impact





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Episode Transcription


How can we actually hold the world's most powerful fashion brands accountable? What would it really take to bring the fashion industry within planetary boundaries? How can we start to stem all of the waste created by fast fashion (and other sectors of the industry)? 

Sustainable fashion legislation — from due diligence laws and minimum wage mandates, to fines on greenwashing — is starting to make a real impact in this industry — but we have a long way to go.

Today's episode is the first of our new segment, which is focused on fashion and climate.

You'll hear Stella interview author, educator and activist Elizabeth Cline to dive into all things fashion legislation: the historical context, what's going on now, why it matters, and importantly: how you can get involved too.

Something I loved that Elizabeth Cline touched on in this conversation with Stella was considering advocacy and organizing as a career path. I think that often when we think about sustainable fashion jobs, we think about design, or sustainability management at a brand, or founding your own brand. Which are all really incredible, but there's also a huge variety of potential career paths within the industry that don't often get discussed or thought of as often.

This is top of mind for me because Stella recently wrote up a fantastic guide to 101 Sustainable Fashion Careers and it is just full of ideas with possible career avenues in this space, such as organizing. We're talking design, tech, sustainability-specific jobs, operations, marketing, and much more. There are even jobs specific to the secondhand fashion space in there. 

If you're interested in checking that out, you can also download that ebook for free on our sister site at No space or dash in ebook. I will also drop the link in the episode description!

It's a pretty incredible resource. I found it really inspiring. And it was beautifully designed by Conscious Fashion Collective's social media manager, Nao. So I will leave the link to download in the episode description. I think you will really enjoy it!

And while you're hangin' out in the episode description, you can also find the link to subscribe to our free weekly sustainable fashion breakdown, The Conscious Edit. You can join thousands of other changemakers who receive these newsletters where I share reads and recommendations on slow fashion and sustainability. These newsletters get a lot of great feedback from subscribers and I'm sure you'll love them too if you like this podcast. You can also sign up at or again the link is in the episode description.

Ok let's get to this week's conversation because it’s a really great one. 

One quick thing to note is that at the time of recording Elizabeth Cline was working at Remake. But she has since moved on to focus on teaching at Columbia University as well as some other projects.


Welcome to the Conscious Style Podcast. I'm Stella and today I'm feeling so honored to be in conversation with Elizabeth Cline about:

+  Why we need to move away from the binary of individual versus collective action. 

+ How historic changes in the law have influenced the fashion industry, 

+ The role of fashion legislation in creating a more equitable fashion future, 

+ And how investing in the lives of garment workers is part of the overlooked solution to fashion's climate impact. 

And if you're unfamiliar with Elizabeth, she is a well known author, educator, and activist in the sustainable and ethical fashion space. She's the author of two incredible books, Overdressed, and the Conscious Closet, and also a professor of fashion policy at Columbia University. And as the Director of Advocacy and Policy at Remake, she leads pressure campaigns and helps push fashion legislation like the FABRIC Act, and SB 62, which is also known as the Garment Worker Protection Act. 

And I'm so so excited because Elizabeth's work has been fundamental in shaping my understanding of systemic change in the fashion industry, and how to get there practically. 

Elizabeth, welcome. 


Thank you, Stella. And I have to say, it sounds like we're going to be covering my entire body of work over the last few years. So I hope I can keep up and like give good explanations for everything. But I'm yeah, I'm just excited for the opportunity to talk about legislation and fair wages and the move from individual action to collective action. So yeah, I'm excited to get into it. 


I think it's going to be great. And before we get into all these very big, systemic and necessary topics, I was wondering if you could start us off by just telling us a bit about yourself, and what led you to work at this intersection of fashion and sustainability?


It's such a good question. And it's something you know, I've been writing about labor rights and sustainability for over a decade. And you know, I often stop and ask myself and say, you know, why? Why have I dedicated my life to this issue? 

I think for those of us who are interested in it, it's kind of obvious. It's like, this wellspring topic where you could keep digging and digging and digging and never reach the bottom. Like, it's just kind of endlessly fascinating. And fashion, of course, is so personal and creative, that it's a fun thing to be interested in as well. 

But I think for me, it really started in part because I grew up in Georgia, in a manufacturing town. I grew up in a town that manufactured carpet. And so I kind of yeah, had that proximity to industry from an early age and got kind of interested or was able to see supply chains, or kind of was just like surrounded by, yeah, industry as a child. 

And then when I got to college, that was kind of where everything started to click in. In college, I was part of the anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s. And for those who are younger than I am, and perhaps aren't familiar with that social movement, it was a movement in the late 90s against free market fundamentalism and corporate capture. 

So you know, it was we were protesting the emergence of these global institutions like the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, that were essentially promoting this idea of capitalism without any rules. 

You can't protect the environment, you can't protect labor rights, because that's going to constrain the market. And that was my first introduction to organizing, like being part of a social movement and learning what it was like to work with other people to make change. 

And then within that, I was also part of the anti-sweatshop movement on my college campus at Syracuse. And that was the first long term campaign I worked on, which was to get our.. try to get our school, Syracuse University to sign on to the then newly formed Worker Rights Consortium, which was the first legally binding agreement to get colleges and brands to commit to labor rights in their supply chain. 

I know this is a lot but like after I graduated from college, I had to deal with the reality of getting a job and not knowing how to square social change and organizing with needing to work. So I did a little bit of everything when I got out of school, I worked in Communications for labor unions, I worked at New York Magazine for a long time writing about culture. 

And then it was finally, about a decade ago when I broke out on my own as a freelance writer. And that's when I could really just spend all of my time just writing about this one topic, which is, how do we make this incredible and simultaneously awful industry better?


That's really fascinating. And I'm like connecting the dots in my head, because it all makes sense in the work that you do now. And I really love that your introduction to social change was through collective organizing. 

Whereas I feel like for a lot of us, myself included, it kind of goes the other way. I started with individual actions and very, like incremental. And then I started realizing, especially in fashion, that I wanted to be a part of something bigger, and you know, something that touches on more systemic issues on a broader level. 

I remember asking you for your take on this binary of individual versus collective action for an article I was writing last year, on the role of fashion legislation and catalyzing accountability and systemic change in the industry.

And I wanted your take on it and you shared such profound perspectives on the topic.

And I know that you also shared that we need to kind of reframe this debate to move from privatized social change to public social change. I was wondering if you could just share a bit about what each of those are and their significance. And then how we can move towards public social change?


Well, I think what's interesting, and this kind of gets to what you were saying about the moment that each of us is born into, you know. We get born into a generation that you know, has a certain political culture. 

In like the last 30 years were very shaped by market solutions to everything you know, like we're gonna it voting with your dollar is the most powerful thing you can do to make change. If you want to, yeah, if you want to make the fashion industry more sustainable, you start a brand. That's just kind of like the water that we're all swimming in, or we were swimming in. 

But I think what's really interesting about the way that people frame individual action. Well, let me start with this, like, of course, individual action matters. When you look back throughout history, let's just take some of the most iconic, well-known individuals who changed the world. I mean, Frederick Douglass Rosa Parks, Rachel Carson, Chris Smalls, who just led the Amazon organizing campaign. 

Individuals do play a very important role in shaping social movements. And even when I think about a campaign like the California Garment Worker Protection Act, which I know we're going to talk more about in this conversation. 

Within social movements, a lot of times it really is just a handful of people who are like driving the truck and keeping it on the road. So what we need to do is reframe how we think about individual action, because usually when I hear people talk about it, what they're mostly referring to is consumer choices.

Whether or not you buy meat, whether or not you fly too much whether or not you're consuming too much fast fashion, like it's very focused on consumption. And how we consume is of course important. But it's a very limited political tool because, quite frankly, we live in a marketplace-based society. 

You have to work in order to make money to buy the things you need to survive. And so we're always going to be up against the fact that maybe we don't have enough money to make different choices, or we don't have enough time to make other choices. 

So when we think about individual action, I would rather us think about what does it mean to participate as an individual within a social movement in the public sphere. And by the public sphere, I just mean, outside of the marketplace. Let's stop putting so much emphasis on how we consume and start figuring out how we can build power to make change.


Completely. And I think, as you were saying, it almost makes well, not almost it does make the movement more inclusive, because it decenters the need to have the funds to make choices that align you with a movement and instead, you know, really returns the idea of people power, and just you existing can make a difference. 

And I remember you saying there are things that we can all do. It's not like, you know, sometimes the wording of public social change may seem like a big concept, but there are small actions that we can all take, for example, signing petitions or getting involved in campaigns or sharing educational resources in our own capacity. And that's all kind of part of that larger picture. 


It's a good point because even me bringing up these iconic social, social movement figures like Rosa Parks, like that's intimidating, you know. You're like I'm not Rosa Parks, how could I ever? How could I ever participate in social change? 

But my point is more that one: our power is not, is not primarily in the way that we shop. It's in coming together to build movements. And yes, we can participate in movements in big and small ways. I mean, even in the campaigns that I work on, it requires a multitude of talents from people who are good at marketing and social media. 

People who are good at building business support. People who are good at writing stories. People who are good connectors. Like you have to have people who know how to bring people together, like everybody has a role to play. 

And it ranges from like a really low lift, like you were saying signing a petition, all the way up to deciding oh, I want to, I want to change my career or pursue a different path in life. 

You know, I would, I would personally like to see more people go into full time organizing, running for office at the local level. I understand these aren't the most lucrative careers. But in order to address some of these systemic issues, we need more people who are working in the public sphere. Yeah, in organizing.


Yeah, for sure. And I think also just maybe a greater awareness of how to work in those spaces. Because I think, even if I think about wanting to go into organizing full time, I'm like, what is the pathway? How do we get there?

So it's also just really great to speak to people like you and know that it's one, possible, but also that there is like a way that you can shape your life around it and still, yeah, like you said, it's not the most lucrative, but it's so fulfilling, and fills you up in so many different ways that are also just as important in life.

I was wondering if you could share a bit more about, you know, how fashion intersects with historic changes in the law, because I think we don't kind of unpack and create those connections, enough around links between law and fashion, because it's sometimes feels like such a lawless industry with a lack of accountability on many, many fronts.


Yeah, absolutely. 

So I am so lucky to be able to teach this class, fashion policy at Columbia. And one of the first things that I wanted to do when I started putting it together was to have my students explore the connections between the fashion industry and pivotal changes in US law. 

And this required me to do a lot of my own research and homework and then I also put it on my students to go out there and like, make connections. And it's been such a wonderful learning experience. 

And it started from the premise that of course, we can assume this industry is at the center of pivotal changes in US law in the 1800s and the 1900s, because cotton and textiles were the dominant industries in the US. The reason why the US got rich is off of the labor of enslaved people in the cotton industry, and how that industry was tied into textile production in the north, and to exports that funded colonialism throughout Europe and Africa and Asia. 

So that connection is very clear and very obvious. But then, or maybe it's not so obvious to some people, but I think it's a conversation that's coming up more and more. 

But then when you start looking at, for example, suffrage — women's right to vote — that movement in the United States was very heavily organized by garment workers. Most of them were immigrant women in the Northeast. And I mean, women's suffrage was a movement that took all kinds of women coming together and men to fight for change, but the garment workers were very important and vital. 

And another example is the New Deal. So the New Deal in the 1930s in the United States, was when the US got its very first minimum wage law. It was the first time that we abolished child labor. So believe it or not, those things were still going on not even 100 years ago. And those laws absolutely came out of organizing and sweatshop conditions in New York City. I feel like I'm pouring a lot of information on you. But I could go on and on and on, I'm kind of like right there in the middle of everything.


I'm just soaking it in. But that's amazing. And like, as I was saying earlier, you kind of just have to connect the dots. Because everything comes from somewhere, even just hearing you speak about how garment workers were already present in the women's suffrage movement and the colonial history with textile production and cotton production. These movements and these social struggles go back so far. 

And I think that's like what really makes me question and also just interrogate the systems behind our clothing. Because I think it's easy to obscure and we're not necessarily meant to go back all the way and question these things behind the many things that adorn our lives, right? It's not just textiles, I mean, a lot of our objects and our homes and the way we live have these long histories. 

But I think just hearing you speak was such a good reminder of how fashion is not just fashion, like there are so many lives and histories and communities behind these struggles and experiences that we don't think about everyday. So thank you for sharing that. I think that was really useful context.


It's just it's the most I think, foundational industry. It's fashion is the foundation of modern — whatever you want to call it — modern industrial capitalist society started with this industry. And even today, you know, it's a $2.5 trillion dollar industry that employs hundreds of millions of people around the world. And it's still very, very central in a lot of the most important policy conversations today. 

I'll just give you one example. Obviously, the FABRIC Act and the Garment Worker Protection Act are directly about the fashion industry. But even if you look at the European Union, they are working to pass what's known as a Human Rights Due Diligence law, which would require corporations to understand their human rights impacts in their entire supply chain. So their factories, raw material producers and to take responsibility for those impacts. 

And what is often forgotten is that one of the main things that galvanized that conversation and that push for policy and to mandate corporate accountability around human rights was Rana Plaza. So the factory collapse in Bangladesh 10 years ago, this year. So still today, fashion — it's right there in the middle of I think some of the most dynamic and important policy conversations.


For sure. And I think that's what got me so curious and fascinated about this industry is because it is a melting pot of so many different intersections of social and environmental, and historical and cultural issues and considerations, which the overlaps are really interesting. And like you said, everything is connected, in a way. 

So, as we stand now in a very different, I guess, fashion system in some ways, but in other ways, not different too. How do you view the role of fashion legislation in moving towards a more just fashion future?


It's really, it's really, really important. And I want to start by saying that government action is an imperfect solution. But it's one of the best tools that we've got, for really important reasons that I can go more into. 

But I mean, if you look at… let's start with the conversation about needing to not romanticize government action too much. One of the reasons why government action is so important and relied upon is because the government has power of enforcement. 

They are the ones that can compel companies to do something or not do something. They have the power to fine companies to sue companies. And that power is of course we can see throughout history, a double edged sword. But that's the reason why people look to the government is because they have the power to compel. 

I think for fashion, one of the main reasons why it's really important to have more regulations, is I think it's necessary to create a more level playing field for the multitude of companies who are trying to do things right.

Also, like, you know, whether we realize it or not the kind of infrastructure that society is built around, comes through the government and through law. It's kind of like the DNA of how everything operates. So short of overthrowing capitalism in our economic system and our political system, this is the tool we have right is trying to change laws and regulations. 

I also think that government action, in principle, in principle, we live in a democracy, right? So when you add, so it is, in theory, inclusive. Whereas if you look at industry initiatives, like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition that produces the Higg index, or the Better Cotton Initiative, like Textile Exchange, all these very well intentioned, multi stakeholder initiatives, they're not accountable to us, and we don't have any input into how they operate. 

So this is the kind of more idealistic important promise of government action, which is that our voice matters. And I'll say, personally, in my experience, and I know we're going to talk more about the New York Fashion Act, this is a great example. 

I have absolutely no influence over how the Higg Index operates. But when I wanted to speak out, or have my voice heard about the New York Fashion Act, I was able to reach out to a lawmaker here in New York, and get a meeting with that lawmaker. 

So the process is, again, theoretically — obviously, democracies can and are deeply flawed, we have to constantly be working to hold our government to those principles — but in theory, our voices matter. 

And then the other thing I think I was starting to touch on is like, I think that these regulations are really important for creating a level playing field. Because in a sustainable fashion movement, it's easy to think that everybody in the world is as principled as we are. 

But what I see is that a lot of sustainable brands and bigger companies that are trying to do things more sustainably, they're constantly being undercut by unethical actors. So you know, even H&M I know, widely criticized, but they have put a lot of money into trying to improve their ethical and sustainable standards. 

And then you get a company like Shein that comes in and just completely takes over the past fashion market, and threatens the work that bigger companies have done. So regulation is very important for creating standards and a level playing field. So those of us who have principles can thrive, and those that do not are actually like reined in.


Totally, I completely agree. And I think you've already touched on a few really, really important pieces of legislation that you've personally been involved in. And this is a perfect time to dive a bit more into those. 

And I was wondering if you could start with the Garment Worker Protection Act, or SB 62, which required a lot of overcoming corporate lobbying? And could you share a bit about the significance of this act, and really what it took to overcome that lobbying in the process?


I appreciate that question. I never, I never get to talk about fighting. And I really enjoy it. So it's something that I appreciate the opportunity to talk about. 




Um, I mean, the campaign to win the Garment Worker Protection Act, I mean, it was beautiful. Like I will be lucky if I ever get to experience something like that, again, in my life. Like the amount of kind of just broad public support, and work that everybody across the sustainable fashion movement put into winning that. 

I mean, everything from sharing a post about it on social media, or participating in a Twitter storm. For those based in the United States, calling elected leaders. It was such a beautiful collective effort, and I think showed kind of a new, a new way of organizing for the sustainable fashion movement, because it brought together sustainable brands, our community, the sustainable fashion, movement, influencers, the media, and, of course, our elected leaders together towards his common purpose behind, of course, the most important participant of all — the garment workers in Los Angeles. 

But to your point, when we started out, no one thought we could win it. Because it imposes or I don't think that's even a fair word — it creates a culture of shared accountability in fashion where brands are asked to share in the liability if for some reason their factories are under paying their garment workers and paying them below the minimum wage. 

Which I think from our perspective, it's like such a no-brainer, you know. If there's wage theft or people are getting paid poverty pay, of course people should share in the accountability of that solution. 

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But when we started out, yeah, we were told like, this is impossible. It's impossible, because it's putting businesses on the hook for costs. And I think that the common wisdom is that companies will never sign up for anything that, you know, increases their costs, or their liability. 

But what we discovered is, a lot of businesses do not feel that way. A lot of businesses in the fashion industry, and people in the fashion industry, believe in a really different kind of industry, and they're ready to fight for that different industry. We had a lot of business support for SB 62, the Garment Worker Protection Act.

What the groups that were out there saying, this kind of accountability is not what industry wants were these corporate-led industry associations, like the American Apparel and Footwear Association, and the California Chamber of Commerce. And they're controlled by huge corporations. You can go and look at who's on their boards of directors. 

In fact, I encourage you to go look at who's what companies are on the boards. And what we discovered, when those industry associations started lobbying against the bill, is that they do not even represent their membership. What they do is the leadership of those industry associations, reflexively fight against any kind of labor or environmental policy that would increase costs or add a layer of regulation to industry. 

It's just like, they have this playbook. It's very stuck in the past. It's really cringy. And like, just old school mentality of regulations are bad, labor protections are bad, environmental protections are bad. And so one of the things that we did in the Garment Worker Protection Act is when the American Apparel and Footwear Association came out against the bill, we just started emailing members like companies. 

It's been too long. So I'm not going to say any names of companies off the top of my head, because I'm afraid I'll misremember. But we just started reaching out to their members and being like, are you guys opposed to this bill that's just trying to enforce minimum wage for garment workers?

And most companies, were like, we have never even heard of the Garment Worker Protection Act much less, you know, we're not taking a position on it. In the AFA, the American Apparel and Footwear Association, most of their members don't even produce clothes in the United States. 

So this really was a kind of disgusting political calculation on their part where they were just like, California shapes policy, globally. So we can't let the cat out of the bag in California, we have to like, squash this in California, so it doesn't spread is what I think that it was about for them.

I mean, I could go on and on about this, but I feel like I probably said enough to whet people's appetite. The industry associations are just, you know… They're not as powerful as they seem, luckily. And I don't think that they really represent most people in the fashion industry. 

But their narratives are very, very toxic. It's like zero sum thinking, you know, we can't have good jobs and economic growth and environmental protections and labor rights. That's what they try to make people see through fear. And our campaign was built around a message of hope and like painting a very different vision of what the fashion industry could be in our story and our vision, one.


That is so fascinating. And it's also these dynamics that you don't see from the outside. I didn't know that that's what it took to really push for a law. I mean, I knew it was complicated to get policy, sworn in, and all of that. 

But it's all of these dynamics that you don't quite get a look into from the outside. And so it's really interesting to hear you speak about that. And like you said, these opposing narratives, and I think we are often yeah, not led to believe that we almost have learned that hope doesn't always win. 

But like, it's so good to know that there will be stories where it does triumph over these massive corporates, because I think that hearing about the power that corporations have sometimes just feels overwhelming to me, especially. So the story of the Garment Worker Protection Act, and its success has been super inspiring in my journey as well in the movement. So yeah, thank you for sharing that backstory.


I mean and as it should be. It was grassroots. None of us… we didn't have any funding like we it was just like a group of people who came together behind this bill, because they believed in it and worked really hard to get it passed. And I think that it's it will, it should and will serve as like a blueprint for how to make change going forward.


Right. And I'm really hoping that these laws do exactly that. They set a blueprint for showing what grassroots action can achieve. And also the type of precedent setting that is needed in the industry, which is also why I wanted to chat a bit about the FABRIC Act.

Which is also protecting garment workers against wage theft, and simultaneously encouraging localized production. And you've been involved in this process as well, which is incredible. But could you speak a bit about why this Act is also kind of precedent-setting and the process to endorse it?


Yeah, absolutely. Again, I just really appreciate being able to dig into all of this. So the FABRIC Act is the successor bill to the California Garment Worker Protection Act, it takes the core principles of SB 62, to the federal level in the United States. 

So again, it has that really central piece of shared accountability along the supply chain. So if for whatever reason, a garment worker in the factory in the United States isn't paid the minimum wage, or they work overtime — illegal overtime, they work too many hours — and they're not paid for it, then there's a process of accountability to make sure that they get paid back. 

And that's very important for American garment workers. Wage theft in the US fashion industry is not just a California issue. Unfortunately, it happens almost anywhere that garments are produced, including, of course, globally.

But I think, for us, the brand accountability piece that's the thing that we're trying to, we're hoping will reshape the conversation in policy globally. And I'm gonna go into the weeds here a bit. But what that kind of principle, legal principle, even just introducing policy, influences how lawmakers write policy and other places. 

So like, you know, as the EU looks at their due diligence laws, they can look to us and say, well, on the federal level, they're considering brands being on the hook for wage theft, like, you know, they're taking it that far. So why shouldn't we consider that here in the EU? These kinds of ideas become contagious, which is really the good kind of contagious in a political sense. 

But it also, again, is very genuinely about this hope and vision that we can reclaim the American fashion industry and rebuild it around sustainable and ethical principles. And we already have 200 endorsers for the FABRIC Act and over 130 of them are businesses and manufacturers and new ones come in every day. 

And it's everybody from like, kind of well-known sustainable fashion companies like Mara Hoffman and Reformation to American manufacturers like Scitex, which produces for like maidwell and Everlane, to Ferrara manufacturing in New York City, which they produce for, I think they helped make the Olympic uniforms. 

So it is a combination of like setting this really important precedent, and really hoping and believing that we can do something different here and give the companies that are in the United States who are doing things right, a fighting chance to create a new kind of industry in the US.


100%. And I like the way you spoke about contagion, because that's exactly how I view these laws and also the processes of getting them enacted, because I'm hoping that the more we see this, we see it's possible, that it spreads, and that the movement also grows in the type of collective action that we can all kind of be a part of. 

And we've been talking a lot about labor, which is obviously an incredibly important part of the fashion industry and of the sustainable fashion movement. I'm interested now to like dip a little bit into the intersection of labor and environmental issues, or labor and climate breakdown. 

What are your thoughts on how investing in labor and also paying living wages, how are those parts of you know, an often overlooked solution to climate breakdown and tackling fashions carbon footprint?


This is one of my favorite things to talk about of late. So there are a few ways that you know, fair wages are connected to the climate movement. I think the first connection is perhaps the more obvious and literal connection, which is that I mean, people in their own communities are their own best advocates for their environment. 

So if you pay people fairly in a garment factory, Bangladesh, yes, they're going to use that to put food on their table and feed their children and pay school fees and all of those things, but it also means that those communities are able to invest in environmental protections. So that's the first connection. It's a, whatever less colonial top-down approach to sustainability. It's like pay people fairly, they will protect their own environment. 

But I think one thing you're referencing here is I wrote this article in Forbes. I think it was last year that was really built around the fascinating kind of research and theoretical work of Roland Geyer in his book, The Business Of Less. 

So Roland is a professor at UC Santa Barbara, I believe. And he was making a very interesting argument. And I will do my best to tease it out here. 

So it's actually easier to understand it by thinking about why trying to fix the environment by making products greener doesn't get us where we want to go. Like you have to start there. Because if you think about the way that companies approach sustainability, making their energy systems more efficient, reducing waste, increasing recycled content, most of what they're doing is also making the product more efficient and cheaper. 

And even if it doesn't make the product cheaper, if there's cost saving somewhere in the system. This is like getting into economic theory, but I think you guys can handle it. That means that there's more money in our economy that people go and spend on stuff. So it like encourages the system of endless growth and consumption, okay? So there's that.

Investing in people. So in labor, the work that we put into products, has no environmental impact, really, per se. So what Geyer was kind of advocating for in his book and that I expounded on in my Forbes story is if we build an economy around people powered processes and paying people fairly, it means it shifts all that that money that's currently going into our economy into consuming products, which have an inherent environmental impact into something that is less impactful, which is us. 

So that could be like, we could shift the fashion industry to, yes, an industry that pays living wages, but also an industry that is even more labor intensive, like going back to repairing more. You know, resale businesses are very labor intensive. Anything that requires a lot of people is going to be greener than something that requires a lot of stuff.


That was great. When I first heard Roland speaking about his argument on another podcast, I think it was the Conscious Fashion Podcast [Conscious Chatter Podcast], and I'll link that episode below. My mind just immediately expanded. 


Well one thing, I mean, Roland's book ended up inspiring Remake to change our theory of change. So now, you know, we say that paying living wages is the key to solving the climate crisis. 

And I think the way that we talk about it is much simpler still, which is like, we all know that fashion brands, one of the main ways they're able to overproduce is by paying people poverty wages. So if you pay people more, companies have to change their business model. 

I'll give you a concrete example. I had a big American corporation come and speak — a fashion brand, come and speak to my class last semester. I can't say who it was. But you've definitely heard of them. One of the students was like, what would happen if your company were to pay living wages? And they were like our company, as you know, it would not be able to exist. Like they would have to change their business model? 





Yeah. And that's the thing about exploitative fashion, it's going to take a change in business model. So I think that's why hearing about Roland's argument, and then also hearing you expand on it was just like, this is exactly what it's going to take. 

And also, I think, sometimes in this movement, we like to not separate sustainability from ethics or environmental issues, from labor issues. But there has been a tendency in the past to do that, I think we're getting better. 

So this kind of idea of how labor and investing in labor and also giving people the agency to be active as you were saying, in their own lives, and affect change in their own families and communities and spaces is just so important in this movement. So yeah, thank you for explaining that. 

I wanted to ask you, as we've been talking about all these very big topics. It's just are there a few practical ways that we as citizens and fashion lovers can leverage our everyday actions to transform the apparel industry and participate in these lawmaking and policy changes that we've been discussing?


Yeah, I think that the easiest thing that people can do is to look around wherever you live and join either an advocacy organization or political coalition that's working on either getting someone elected or passing a law. I can't tell everybody what's going on in your area. 

But to give some examples in the US, like there's a coalition organizing behind the New York Fashion Act. There's a coalition organizing to amend the Federal Trade Commission's greenwashing rules. And of course, everyone is always invited to join Remake. 

We give people easy ways to participate in supporting the FABRIC Act. And if there's something that you want to partake in, that doesn't exist, don't be afraid to create it yourself. Every day, our political organizing world, we're just making it up as we go, you know. And like demanding a seat at the table in a place in the conversation. So have the audacity to ask to be a voice in the conversation because you have a right to be there.


Yes, I love that the audacity. We all need to awaken it within ourselves.

And to end the for the episode, which has been really, really amazing, and I have, yeah, just learned so much and enjoyed listening to you speak so much. But I'll ask you the question that we ask every guest at the end of the podcast, which is what would a better future for fashion look like to you?


Yeah, I used to answer these kinds of questions, envisioning this almost like space age, totally futuristic version of the fashion industry. But, you know, I really think it's just an industry, based on abundance, where the, what sustainable brands, consumers who care about sustainable and ethical fashion, and garment workers are all thriving. 

And moving away from zero sum thinking that I was describing earlier, that's really based around fear, like this idea that we can't have jobs and prosperity, and protect our environment and our climate, and protect labor rights. Like we absolutely can have all of those things. 

So I think if anything, I just want to see the future of fashion and I'm talking about in 2023, like tomorrow, s us all just starting from that premise that we don't have to compromise and we don't have to negotiate on those very fundamental things.