Designing Change: How Fashion Policy is Creating a More Sustainable Industry

By conscious style consultant JeLisa Marshall, Community Organizer for ReMake Seattle and a dear friend of Cura.

On the surface, fashion - with all of its glitz and glamour - may seem frivolous and fun. However, a deeper view will reveal a less exciting yet important truth. The industry is full of incidences of exploitation that constantly put human lives at risk.

The Rana Plaza collapse is a major example. On April 24, 2013, a factory in Bangladesh collapsed due to structural issues that were ignored despite callouts and concerns from garment workers. Nearly 1,200 workers lost their lives. Shortly after, the Accord and Rana Plaza Agreement were established to provide safety measures and ensure the families affected were compensated for their losses. Today, ten years later, the industry still needs to do more.

The average garment worker in Bangladesh earns the equivalent of $74 USD per month, which is not nearly enough for such high-risk and high-value work. It should be five times that amount to account for the cost of living in the country. Due to a lack of legally-binding policies for worker protection, brands, designers and retailers alike can choose to self-regulate or self-report on building and safety incidents which often obscures systemic issues such as pay inequity and unfair treatment leaving them largely unaddressed.

These systemic issues not only exist in high-volume, garment-producing countries like Bangladesh, but in the United States as well. Manufacturing practices like the piece pay rate are used to prioritize business profits over the safety and wellbeing of garment workers. Just two years ago, in 2021, business documents showed some garment workers in California were paid under $3 per hour.

As a result, activists rallied together to urge the government to set the state minimum wage as the pay floor. This led to the formation of Senate Bill 62 and after collecting signatures from over 100 brands and calling many government officials, it passed. In 2022, California became the first state to require the legal minimum wage be paid to garment workers.

To expand upon that progress, upward of 80 activists and constituents from several organizations including Remake joined forces in Washington D.C. on September 12, 2023 to support the Fashioning Accountability for Building Real Institutional Change (FABRIC) Act. The bill was originally introduced in 2022 by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) to eliminate the piece pay rate across the U.S. and guarantee an hourly rate in accordance with state laws. Its key components are:

- Enforcing minimum wage standards, ending wage theft
- Combating factory violations with workplace protections
- Increasing transparency of brand practices
- Revitalizing domestic manufacturing with a multi-million dollar grant program

It was reintroduced this year ahead of midterm elections to garner more support. The group met with 20 U.S. Senators to share personal stories from working in the industry - to include garment worker testimonies - and explain why improving domestic manufacturing and workplace protections are necessary.

Currently, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Cory Booker (NJ), Dianne Feinstien (CA), Alex Padilla (CA), Bernie Sanders (VT), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Tammy Duckworth (IL), and John Fetterman (PA) and Representatives Jerrold Nadler (NY), Rashida Tlaib (MI), Barbara Lee (CA), Eleanor Holmes (DC), Nydia Velazquez (NY), Deborah Ross (NC), Adam Schiff (CA), Tony Cardena (CA), and Stephen Lynch (MA) have co-sponsored the bill.

Along with endorsements from local fashion businesses like The Cura Co., the FABRIC Act stands to create a more sustainable industry. Washington has 17 endorsers and the list is growing!

You too can help further the change by signing the petition or calling your U.S. Senator or U.S. Representative and encouraging your family and friends to do the same. You can also share information about the bill on social media by using the action kitavailable online.

In whichever way you decide to support, please use your voice to let your elected officials know why it is important for the fashion industry to have policies that prioritize jobs with dignity. What you say matters just as much as what you choose to wear.