Change is in the air. Momentum in the fashion industry is building. And for the first time since 1938 the status quo of the US garment industry is being challenged. As we speak, federal legislation is being debated that has the potential to regulate and revive the US domestic garment industry with the aim of making it a ‘global leader in responsible garment production’. It is called the FABRIC Act. Let’s find out more about it…
What is the FABRIC Act?
The Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change (FABRIC) Act was introduced to the US Senate on May 12 by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The Act seeks to create a fair and robust domestic garment manufacturing industry in the USA by:
This legislation would thread the needle of protecting workers’ rights putting an end to abusive pay rates, and ensuring equitable compensation for garment workers, while also making historic investments in domestic garment manufacturing so we can not only make American, but buy American.”
Who is behind the FABRIC Act?
The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and supported by a raft of designers, brands, manufacturers and not-for-profits including Remake, Mara Hoffman, Workers United, Ferrara Manufacturing, THR3EFOLD, theco-lab, Reformation, Nisolo, ThredUp, Everlane, Garment Worker Center of LA, Fashion Revolution, Slow Factory and many more.
How will the FABRIC Act change the fashion industry?
The goal of the FABRIC Act is to create a fair and robust domestic garment manufacturing industry in the USA. The three main ways it seeks to achieve this are:
1|. Fair pay for all US garment workers
The FABRIC Act seeks to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and abolish piece-rate compensation in the absence of a minimum wage. Under the current piece-rate compensation system, unscrupulous manufacturers can pay garment workers as little as $2.77 per hour which is well under minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The Act will set a minimum wage ‘floor’ to be paid to all garment workers within the industry and render it illegal to pay workers under this set wage. Piece-rate compensation can only be paid on-top of the minimum base wage to incentivize and reward workers for their performance.
“I’m so happy because we will all have the opportunity to have a fair salary wherever the sewing factories are. We will have the opportunity to earn more, pay for our family’s food and pay our rents more easily. This effort is about everyone being treated equally and with dignity”
2|. Encourage supply chain transparency
Under the Act, brands and retailers will be held accountable for labor violations within production, alongside their USA manufacturing partners. This will ensure that brands can no longer distance themselves from ‘how’ their clothes are made and encourage them to conduct a thorough due diligence assessment of their production partners. To help brands and retailers with this task, a national registry of manufacturers will be kept which will record compliance with the new labor laws - highlighting any manufacturers who violate them.
Workers can hold fashion brands and retailers responsible for the labor practices of their US contractors which will bring about a level of legal accountability that has been sorely lacking in this modern apparel industry”
3|. Revive garment production within the USA
It's no secret that the US garment industry has been in steady decline over the past five decades with production increasingly off-shored to the cheapest bidder. Sadly this decline has cost thousands of American garment workers their jobs. At its peak in 1973 the US garment industry employed 1.4 million workers while today there are fewer than 93,800. In Manhattan alone, there has been an 84% decline in garment jobs between 2001-2020. The FABRIC Act is seeking to reverse this trend by incentivizing garment manufacturers to re-shore their operations in the USA through the tax credits and grants:
This legislation will help ensure that when we go to our closets in the morning and look for something to wear, we can find clothes that were actually made in America and made fairly."
What legislation is currently in place to regulate the fashion industry?
The FABRIC Act builds upon momentum created by a raft of legislation introduced within the USA in the past two years including California's SB62, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, and the New York Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act. The FABRIC Act will complement and strengthen these efforts by introducing a federal law to safeguard working conditions and pay for garment workers across the entire country.
"We are thrilled that Sen. Gillibrand understands the important role the fashion industry plays and the need to protect domestic workers. The FABRIC Act will be a part of a suite of legislation that needs to pass to address the social and environmental issues facing the fashion industry."
What’s not to like about a bill that will protect US garment workers from wage theft while seeking to revive the US garment industry? If this bill is passed, perhaps it is possible that the US could become the global leader in responsible fashion production after all. So, in the words of Ayesha Barenblat, CEO and founder of Remake...
It is time for us to lock arms as activists, as legislators, as garment workers and as brands to pass the FABRIC Act”
FABRIC Act Legislation Update - June 14th
"Despite the grassroots efforts and national and international press attention, there was not a hearing or a vote and the bill will not see action this year. The chief Senate sponsor of the Fashion Act is not running for re-election to the state legislature, opting instead to run for the House of Representatives in a new Congressional district. When the legislature re-convenes in January, another member of the legislature would need to introduce the bill in order for it to advance." Hilary Francoise Jochmans, Politically in Fashion Newsletter
To get behind the FABRIC Act go to thefabricact.org.
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