NSI's founder and executive director, Maxine Bédat.

New Standard Institute, a new sustainability organization designed to help the fashion industry “achieve critical, science-based environmental, and social objectives,” has another aim in mind: Awaken consumers’ innate power, and convince them to take action.

NSI’s founder and executive director, Maxine Bédat, well-known for cofounding sustainable fashion platform Zady, said of the organization, “We are lovers of fashion and concerned citizens, aware that leading scientists have determined we have 11 years to change course, with regard to climate change, if we are to avoid catastrophic damage to our planet. The fashion industry has spoken, [and] they say change can only start from consumer demand.”

Bédat added that in a recent survey of fashion chief executive officers, it was found that fashion companies “attribute the major responsibility for driving the industry towards sustainability to consumers above any other group,” again drawing attention to consumers’ power to effect change. “You drive consumer demand and have the ability to drive change in this industry,” she added.

Perhaps the organization’s greatest differentiator is its Information Platform, launching in the fall, that will serve as a global resource for the fashion industry, offering facts, research and reports, as well as profile companies and organizations that are leading environmental efforts through the development of sustainability solutions, organizations and industry conferences and events.

And its call-to-action, a petition that consumers can sign to “ask the fashion industry to achieve science-oriented sustainable targets” by 2030, can be signed here.

Here, Bédat discusses the New Standard Institute and how fashion can “make sustainability sexy.”

WWD: What need does the New Standard Institute fill for the fashion industry? Why is now the best time to launch it?

Maxine Bédat: The fashion industry is not making sufficient progress with regard to sustainability to exist within planetary bounds. As the recent Pulse report finds, the rate of sustainable progress is in fact slowing, all within a time when leading scientists conclude that we have less than 12 years to make these significant changes before a climate catastrophe. The fashion industry needs an objective science and data-driven voice in the space that can serve as a resource for sustainability efforts and help separate legitimate progress from greenwashing. 

WWD: How does the New Standard Initiative differentiate itself from sustainability organizations in the fashion industry? What are its guiding principles?

M.B.: NSI is a friend of the industry but not developed by the industry. We envision a vibrant and equitable apparel industry that harnesses its $2.5 trillion power to take a leadership role in improving environmental and social standards and business practices on every level from fiber to closet, ensuring that our people, our markets and our planet thrive.

WWD: What initially attracted you to sustainable fashion? 

M.B.: My background is in law and the United Nations. When at the U.N., as that institution was setting up its own guiding principles, the Millennium Development Goals (which is now today the Sustainable Development Goals), I began to see how our clothes are intimately connected to those global challenges. So, something that had once been very personal — how I dress, which is something I have always paid attention to for the aesthetic and image it projected — I came to understand as a significant means to impact the world more broadly. The fashion industry is critical — both in that it, as an industry, has a massive social and environmental footprint, and that fashion is a design medium that plays a significant role in dictating a cultural conversation. Fashion can play a leading role in making sustainability sexy and painting a positive vision for our future.

WWD: In your opinion, what fashion retailers, brands or solution providers are truly innovating in the market today? Why?

M.B.: We’ll share more about that when we launch of the Information Platform. But true innovations and innovators are creating changes that get to the core of the business and address water, chemical use, land management or energy use.

WWD: Would you describe some of the self-described critical, science-based environmental and social objectives NSI has set out to achieve?

M.B.: We are advocating for sustainability objectives — sustainability for people and planet. This means a thriving fashion industry that stays within planetary bounds with regard to water use, chemical use and management, energy use, and labor practices that ensure safety of workers and sustainable wages. NSI cannot achieve the objectives, only the industry can.

WWD: What can we expect to see from NSI in the coming months?

M.B.: Our Information Platform will launch in the fall, and before then we will be engaging with consumers to help drive change. We’ll be adding more vital influential names to our advisory council alongside Cameron Russel, Arizona Muse and Amber Valletta.

These next few weeks I travel to Bangladesh to further widen NSI’s first-hand experience and understanding of the vital role social impact has within the context of sustainability; and documenting this experience too. We’ll also be developing conversations with the investment and donor community to build a sustainable future for the industry.

For more Business news from WWD, see:

Fashion Brand Vida ‘Redefines Growth,’ Addresses Consumption

At the Source: Peruvian Manufacturing in Focus

Field Notes: Holistic Sustainability

Google Moves Sustainability Needle With ‘Your Plan, Your Planet’

Change Agents: Denim Brands Working to Transform the Industry

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