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In 2019, Maxine Bédat went digging through a burning mountain landfill outside Accra, Ghana, as she released toxic fumes. It was filled with clothes and accessories from foreign brands – a stark illustration of the billion pounds of used clothing the United States exports each year as Americans continually purge their overcrowded closets, the result of “overproduction and undersupply”. -flagrant evaluation of clothing”. Bédat writes in his book Untangled.
Published last summer and widely commented, Untangled follows the global life of a pair of jeans from the farms where their cotton is grown, to the global factories where they are made, and finally, to their disposal, showcasing the intimate and enormous ways in which the apparel industry is reshaping the world . “We can hear facts. But our psychology works with history,” says Bédat, former lawyer, fashion entrepreneur (she founded the now defunct brand Zady) and founder of the three years New standards institute (NSI), a non-profit organization dedicated to reforming the fashion industry.
But she didn’t stop with the publication of Untangled. In February, the NSI worked with two New York State legislators to introduce the Fashion Sustainability and Social Responsibility Act (or Fashion Act), which would require footwear and apparel companies with more than $100 million in revenue to map at least half of their supply chains and disclose where their greatest social and environmental impacts lie – and reduce their emissions to be in line with the Paris Agreement.
If passed when New York lawmakers meet again next year, the Fashion Act will propel New York to the forefront of efforts to bring much-needed accountability to the fashion industry. Meanwhile, lawmakers in other states have contacted the NSI to explore how similar legislation might work in their states.
For Bédat, books and legislation go hand in hand: one sheds light on the issue while the other mobilizes people to act. “We were trained to think of ourselves as consumers,” she notes. “But we are citizens: it is we who can change the laws.”