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Meet the woman pioneering lasting change in fashion – State of the Planet

Meet the woman pioneering lasting change in fashion – State of the Planet


For years, Maxine Bdat, the general director of New standards instituteled the fashion industry revolution, aiming to establish sustainable and ethical practices as the standard.

A key force and co-developer behind the Fashion Sustainability and Social Responsibility Act (S7428A), Bdat helped introduce this bill to the New York Legislature in January 2022. Called New York Fashion LawThe legislation would require clothing and footwear companies not only to disclose their environmental and social impacts, but also to set and meet science-based targets on carbon emissions, conduct due diligence on human rights people in their supply chain and correct water pollution problems resulting from harmful chemicals. and dyes.

Head of a woman in front of a white background
Courtesy of Maxine Bdat

Currently, the majority (69%) of all clothing is made from synthetic fibers, including polyester, which comes from crude oil. Collectively, the fashion industry produces a staggering 100 billion pieces of clothing per year, contributing to 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the combined emissions of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, by At this rate, projections indicate that the fashion industry's carbon footprint could reach 26% of all emissions by 2050. In keeping with this year's Earth Day theme, “Planet vs. Plastics,” legislative efforts aim to improve transparency regarding the use of synthetic materials and mitigate these statistics before there is irreversible damage to the environment.

For Bdat, the New York Fashion Act represents the culmination of his extensive research career in the fashion industry. While her professional journey began in law, she shifted her focus to apparel when she founded the Bootstrap Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping artisans in developing countries. As his interests in supply chains and textile production evolved, Bdat transformed the project into a for-profit business, Thing, with the mission of educating consumers about the clothing they buy. She also wrote the acclaimed book, Untangled: the life and death of a garmentwhich follows a blue jean staple of the American wardrobe throughout the supply chain.

The Fashion Act has gained momentum, with the support of more than 80 lawmakers, but as the legislation is in its third session in the New York State Legislature, Bdats' work is not finished. After three years of effort, Bdat continues to actively lobby and rally behind the legislation to increase citizen awareness.

When I called Bdat at his office, I could hear the members of the New Standard Institute buzzing like bees in the background, a reminder of the power of collective action. Below is a condensed version of our conversation.

Can you tell me about your past research and engagement with stakeholders across the fashion supply chain? How did this lead you to co-develop legislation?

My understanding of the issues stems from the research I conducted for my book, Unraveled: Life and Death of a Garment. I traveled extensively throughout the supply chain and it became increasingly clear that voluntary sustainability initiatives alone would not be enough to overcome market forces.

It also became clear that legislation was the only viable solution, and not just for the fashion industry; it was a broader societal reminder of the purpose of laws: to establish regulatory frameworks that guide market behavior. The fashion industry has clearly stood out as a sector lacking these fundamental regulatory safeguards. We found ourselves trapped in a relentless race to the bottom.

What pieces of legislation helped inspire and shape the NY Fashion Act?

We looked at California in several ways. The California Transparency Act, which attracted the interest of Alessandra Biaggi (former New York State Democratic senator from her home district of the Bronx/Westchester), for example, requires companies selling in California to disclose their modern policies in matters of slavery, but she did it. This did not have much impact due to limited enforcement by the Attorney General. This is more about disclosure than real change.

However, California has inspired us in other ways, most notably with its energy efficiency standards legislation, which laid the groundwork for companies like Tesla and the broader electric vehicle revolution. This demonstrated the potential for state-level legislation to drive global change, given the significant market size of states like California and New York.

As one of the world's largest economies and the fashion capital of the world, New York has the opportunity to hold fashion companies selling into our market accountable to the planet and its people, and contribute to global change Of the industry.

Our goal was to ensure that New York State did not chart its own course by establishing separate standards that would only increase reporting requirements without driving real action. With the Fashion Act, it was crucial for us to increase accountability while aligning with broader efforts in the United States, where possible.

Because the legislation has global implications, we reached out to various stakeholders around the world, including cotton producers, labor groups, manufacturers associations and brands.

We have also built a strong coalition that includes ambassadors and celebrities [Jane Fonda, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and more] who actively engage with citizens on this subject.

piles of clothes in a warehouse ready for disposal
Fast fashion generates tons of textile waste. Photo: AAM

In your opinion, are there any provisions likely to lead to changes in purchasing behavior?

There are environmental requirements, such as a mandate for companies to set and achieve science-based targets to reduce emissions within planetary boundaries. However, a single-use fashion company, for example, will struggle to achieve these goals with its current business model.

It is often claimed that consumers are not the drivers of change. But to what extent does marketing promote a disposable shopping culture? It's an unfair battle. In fact, a significant portion of Meta's growth over the past quarter came solely from platforms like Shein and Zara. These companies heavily influence consumer behavior, making it unrealistic to expect individuals to resist a system that bombards them with messages urging them to consume disposable products.

Are there socio-economic implications to these changes in economic models?

Messaging [about keeping prices low] is often used by the industry to push back against anyone advocating change. However, when we delve deeper into the subject, we realize that these clothes are of such poor quality that they cannot be worn more than once. This raises questions of fairness. Why do companies sell products that don't last?

There is also a problem in the way sustainability is perceived and regulated. It is often used simply as a selling point to justify higher prices. I understand that sustainable brands tend to have higher prices, but implementing sustainable practices shouldn't automatically translate into exorbitant costs. It's about finding a happy medium where quality clothing is accessible to everyone.

In your opinion, what are the responsibilities of citizens in holding brands accountable?

Through my work, I have seen the impact of a simple email sent by a citizen to a legislator or of participating in advocacy activities such as rallies or advocacy days.

Lawmakers are often inundated with information from special interests. It is therefore crucial that they also hear the citizens' point of view. We must realize that while it is our responsibility to act, we also have the power to lead change. This understanding wasn't ingrained in me growing up, but it's something I've learned to appreciate through this work.

All stakeholders, including garment workers, unions, environmental organizations, brands and manufacturers, need to understand each other's perspectives. We must understand their world and their concerns. Even if we don't always agree or agree on everything, it is imperative that we recognize and respect each other's points of view.

What are your hopes and expectations for the intersection of law, brand responsibility and consumer behavior over the next decade?

I really hope that we can get to a point where we have sensible regulations in place, where consumers no longer need to become experts just to make a purchasing decision. We need common-sense rules that allow the industry to thrive while staying within planetary boundaries and respecting labor rights. This may seem like an ambitious goal, but it is completely achievable if we work together.




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