Pingree Leads First-Ever Congressional Effort to Rein In Fast Fashion With Launch of Slow Fashion Caucus

Today, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), ranking member of the House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee, alongside Reps. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.) and Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Calif.), announced the first-ever Congressional Slow Fashion Caucus to curb fast fashion pollution through climate-smart policies. The Members were joined by sustainable fashion industry leaders and stakeholders, including Patagonia, thredUp, the Garment Worker Center, and more for the launch event and press conference on Capitol Hill. 

“For too long, the so-called ‘fast fashion’ industry has been given free range to pollute our planet, exploit workers, and shortchange consumers. In fact, textile waste is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the United States and is responsible for more carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. The launch of our Slow Fashion Caucus marks a new era in the fight against climate change and sends a clear message that Congress will not stand by as the harmful fast fashion industry flies under the radar to destroy our planet,” said Pingree, Founder and Chair of the Slow Fashion Caucus. “It doesn’t have to be this way. As lawmakers, we can create incentives for the apparel industry and consumers to reduce natural resource consumption and engage in reusing, repairing, rewearing, and recycling textiles. I am eager to get to work and thankful for the widespread support of sustainable style advocates, industry leaders, and, of course, my fellow Members of Congress who are joining me in this new effort to rein in fast fashion pollution. This is just the beginning!”

“High-quality American-made clothing isn’t just inherently fashionable – it’s a core part of building wealth in the middle class. When I have to replace work boots every few months, rather than a quality pair that can last for years, my family loses out. The purest form of environmentalism is to use less and be a good steward of your stuff – rather than buying new clothing that’s designed to be disposable,” said Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez. “These items can contain toxic chemicals and PFAS, and they’re predominantly made from synthetic fabrics that shed microplastics, unlike natural fibers. Instead of putting our kids in pajamas with chemical flame retardants, we should be looking to naturally resistant alternatives like wool. I look forward to working with the Slow Fashion Caucus to bring manufacturing jobs home and support a cultural shift toward durable, safe clothing for working families.”

“Los Angeles is home to the dreamers, innovators, and risk-takers of the fashion world, and as such, we have long been leaders in setting sustainable fashion trends to promote fair labor practices and reduce fashion’s climate footprint,” said Congresswoman Kamlager-Dove. “California has been a pioneer in tackling this issue at the state level, which is why I am thrilled to see the effort to promote sustainable fashion coming to the Halls of Congress. I am proud to be a founding member of the Slow Fashion Caucus and look forward to working alongside my colleagues to advance policies that support an ethical, sustainable, and climate-smart future.”

“For too long, greedy fashion corporations have prioritized profits over their workers and protecting our environment. I’m joining the Slow Fashion Caucus because I believe that Congress has a special responsibility to be stewards of our environment and workers’ rights,” said Congresswoman Schakowsky. “As a passionate environmentalist, I’m committed to promoting sustainability across all industries, including the fashion industry. The fashion industry is making more clothing than can be worn and, as a result, there are millions of unworn garments that end up in landfills each year. Further, we must ensure corporations abide by international labor laws and treat their workers with dignity and respect. Workers all over the world deserve to feel empowered and valued. I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues and stakeholders in the Slow Fashion Caucus to address the harms of fast fashion.”

The press conference was streamed live across Pingree’s social media accounts. Click here to watch. 

Founding members of the Congressional Slow Fashion Caucus include: Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-Maine, Chair), Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), and Jill Tokuda (D-Hawaii). 

The Slow Fashion Caucus has already garnered widespread support, including from American Circular Textiles, the Garment Worker Center, Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, Patagonia, ThredUp, fashion designer and slow fashion influencer Kelly Dempsey, and more.

“Consumers demand — and companies should deliver — products that are more durable, multifunctional and, crucially, socially and environmentally responsible,” said Rebecca Goodstein, senior retail environmental activism manager at Patagonia. “Government has a role, too. We need a national revolution around quality, backed by policies and legislation that prioritize the most sustainable raw materials and best manufacturing practices. That’s why my colleagues and I are excited about the launch of this caucus and its goals to strengthen public awareness and encourage textile sustainability.”

“There is a dire need for public policy to help us accelerate the transition to a more sustainable future, just like it has for energy and vehicles. The launch of the Slow Fashion Caucus gives us a powerful new platform to forge ahead,” said Alon Rotem, Chief Legal Officer of ThredUp. “We look forward to working with like-minded organizations and policymakers to advance the fashion policy agenda, change incentive structures to benefit our shared planet and resources, and ultimately create a more sustainable fashion future for generations to come.”

“The Garment Worker Center (GWC) applauds Congresswoman Pingree’s effort to establish a Slow Fashion Caucus to push forward policies that move the needle towards a responsible and ethical fashion industry. GWC organizes alongside US garment workers, primarily in California, the largest garment production hub in the United States, to transform the garment industry, eliminate sweatshop labor, and hold brands accountable for the social and environmental issues they create. We collaborate with multi-stakeholder industry leaders to address egregious issues within the fashion industry through community organizing and state and federal legislation,” said Daisy Gonzalez, Campaigns Director of the Garment Worker Center. “The slow fashion movement must include the needs of sustainable, ethical brands and American garment workers, of which there are 100,000 today. It’s due time for US policy that invests in workers, responsible business, and combats fast fashion. Fast fashion relies on cheap manufacturing to produce trendy, inexpensive, short lived garments that end up in landfills. Cheap manufacturing, more often than not, goes hand in hand with labor rights violations and wage theft. We look forward to engaging with the Slow Fashion Caucus on pivotal initiatives involving ethical labor, domestic manufacturing, sustainability, and environmental responsibility.”

Click here to read more statements of support.

Background:

The rise of so-called “fast fashion” has become an urgent environmental problem. Today, nearly two-thirds of all the fibers we wear and use are made from fossil fuel products. The fashion industry is now responsible for more carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

Fast fashion relies on cheap manufacturing, frequent consumption, and short-lived garment use. This constant cycle of production and disposal is taking a huge toll on our environment. Over the last two decades, in line with the ascension of fast fashion, the rate of textile waste has increased tremendously. In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated 17 million tons of textiles were generated in the U.S. Textile waste is now one of the fastest growing waste streams in the U.S., but only 15% of clothing in the U.S. is recycled or reused, with the rest either incinerated or sent to landfills for disposal.

In addition, over the past several decades, hundreds of thousands of fiber and textile jobs that once sustained communities across America have shifted overseas, harming American farmers and communities in the process. 

Pingree founded the Congressional Slow Fashion Caucus to create climate-smart policies to reduce, repair, rewear, and recycle textiles. 

The Slow Fashion Caucus’ principles to support a circular economy for textiles:

  • Incentivize apparel industry to promote reuse, repair, and recycling of textiles. While the apparel industry is responsible for a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, they also have the power to be part of the solution, and some are starting to take action. Public policy, such as incentives for secondhand purchases or participation in rental models, can make it easier for companies and consumers to do the right thing for the environment.
  • Develop “circular economy” policies to drive the apparel industry to reduce natural resource consumption. A circular economy prevents products such as textiles from becoming waste and keeps materials in circulation by designing products that can be reused, repaired, and recycled. 
  • Promote textile reuse and recycling infrastructure. Existing systems and infrastructure for the collection, reuse, and recycling of used textiles are not well established and do not support consistent, convenient, or widespread collection of the quantity and quality of textiles needed to retain value and support economical reuse and recycling. 
  • Build public awareness of fast fashion’s environmental impact. Additional education is needed on the negative impacts of fast fashion and opportunities to support a circular economy for textiles.
  • Bring textile production back to the USA. As global trends have impacted the economics of producing textiles and apparel outside the US, and as consumer demand for more sustainably produced products has risen, there is a need to bring more textile and apparel production stages back to the US.
  • Support the use of more sustainable fibers. Reducing the use of virgin materials and using more plant and animal-based fibers, such as cotton, flax, hemp, wool, and alpaca, may decrease environmental impacts.
  • Expand initiatives across federal agencies to encourage textile sustainability.President Biden is building a whole-of-government approach to reach the goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emission by 50–52 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Existing government efforts can be further leveraged to curb fast fashion and promote sustainability. 

In June 2023, Pingree and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, called on the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to outline ways the fashion industry and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can better manage discarded clothing and textile waste. The Democratic congresswomen focused on the rise of the so-called “fast fashion” industry as a primary driver of textile waste pollution.

Last year, Pingree also spoke on the House floor about the growing threat of the fast fashion industry.

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