One writer’s quest –– to get President Joe Biden to appoint a fashion czar –– has been received with open arms by sustainable fashion.
“Individual brands can only do so much, and I’m a little bit tired of hearing the same story over and over that they’re trying to push things in the right direction when at a global level we’re confronting climate change, we’re seeing all of these microplastics end up in the ocean. These are enormous consequences that the fashion industry is wreaking havoc on the world,” said Elizabeth Segran, senior staff writer at Fast Company. Segran first raised the idea of the fashion czar (or high-level policy adviser) to the public last week.
“When I saw the article take off, there were some people who sort of laughed and said: ‘a fashion czar? –– is this person going to manage the makeovers of the White House,’ which to me was so instructive,” Segran said. “When [people] think about fashion, they don’t think about this massive polluting industry the way [they do] when you talk about the oil industry –– immediately people are thinking about the terrible consequences of the sector. [With fashion], people still think of it as going to the mall and going shopping.”
Before the letter was even drafted, wide-reaching support came from the industry across social media, championing support for a so-called fashion czar.
Rachel Kibbe, founder and chief executive officer of Circular Services Group, a consultancy specializing in waste and circularity, (now a signatory), took to LinkedIn to share her list of recommendations including the need to decouple economic growth from production, mandatory extended producer responsibility and right to repair built into every product, plus transparent and fair wages.
Brands like Everlane, ThredUp, Rebecca Minkoff, Allbirds, Reformation, Mara Hoffman, Cuyana, Aday, Clove, The Big Favorite, Amendi and Solgaard have signed the letter. Lawyer Hilary Jochmans, who specializes in sustainable fashion policy and counts more than 15 years of political and government experience in Washington and New York, is spearheading the effort after outreach to Segran. The letter may be sent out as soon as Friday to arrive on President Biden’s desk.
“Fashion should be asking what kind of change they want to effect and with their industry and with their government,” Jochmans said. Previously, she founded an initiative called PoliticallyInFashion, a grassroots initiative bridging brands with fashion policy, (Swedish-American label Amendi was the first to sign on earlier this month).
Signatories of the fashion czar request believe the move would signal a commitment to humane labor and environmentally sound practices “as well as a recognition of the role of fashion as a driver of the U.S. economy.”
Why is the Biden administration poised to enact this leadership in fashion? It comes down to a sense of global altruism.
“It seems so clear to me that there needs to be some coordinated effort [in fashion], and for the past four years it has seemed really impossible to even have a conversation like this,” Segran said. “The Biden administration has expressed a desire to show leadership in, for instance, climate change. One issue with fashion is the fashion supply chain is so vast and complex, and each garment that we own has gone through so many different countries and so many different hands that no one country has wanted to take responsibility for that sector because their country only represents a small part of that whole global industry.”
Signatories to the letter also spanned journalists and academics, among them sustainable fashion experts like Lynda Grose, chair of fashion design at the California College of the Arts and Kathleen Grevers, director of education at Fashion Revolution USA. Countless other sustainably minded fashion organizations have joined, including Custom Collaborative, Fashion Revolution USA, Fibershed, Sustainable Brooklyn, The New Fashion Initiative, New Standards Institute, The OR Foundation, PoliticallyInFashion, Remake (the nonprofit behind the #PayUp campaign), Sustainable Fashion Forum and Fashinnovation, among others.
The request for a fashion czar is in line with moves of past U.S. presidents who have appointed czars to coordinate on behalf of industries like auto manufacturing, energy, or for more near-term crises.
“It’s not just some part of the economy that’s just chugging along. We are at a moment of crisis and this requires action across multiple dimensions,” Segran said. “I imagine a role of this czar going across multiple parts of the executive branch, so somebody who would look at both the environmental consequences of the fashion industry but also be thinking of things like labor.”
Though she has yet to identify her own top pick, Segran remains hopeful and optimistic as to the administration’s response.
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