checkout complete detailed article on Have the proposed laws on fabrics and fashion unsettled the US retail bear?
Fashionistas are stunned, retailers scared, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is fighting politicians who are proposing (what many feel) is a landmark case of government over-regulation of the industry.
Sure, politicians mean well, and everyone wants to support Made in America, protect the environment, and oppose forced labor, but the many financial penalties, mountains of paperwork, and disruptions included in new and proposed legislation will eventually will translate into a diminished fashion industry or (potentially) a slow death of Lingchi per 1,000 cuts.
It’s true enough that the fashion business is never dull, but no one expected so many liberal politicians to pour kerosene into an already struggling retail industry. Politicians may have forgotten about the many retail bankruptcies in recent years or the struggles with international supply chains. Perhaps punishing retail and fashion is a step too far, and perhaps issuing industry-wide guidelines would be appreciated as a better way to corral everyone into being on the same page at the same time.
Obviously, some politicians just don’t trust the fashion and retail industries. Apparently, they turned to the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) world for inspiration to outline labor rights, human rights, sustainability, and the environment, and it may come as no surprise that retail industry executives generally loathe reject incoming legislation. – mainly out of fear that their brand or corporate identity will be criticized in the media. Fashion is just a hugely big target with headline appeal, and gives advocates the exposure they crave. Frankly, if the clothing story is correct, people have been making clothing since Adam and Eve left the Garden, and most manufacturers generally do it well (with the occasional unfathomable disaster along the way).
New York City, by all accounts, is the fashion capital of the world, so it’s completely ironic that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was the one to launch the latest salvo by introducing proposed legislation through the Senate of the US which is aptly called the Fashing Aresponsibility and B.building Rgoose meinstitutional Cchange the law or FABRIC ACT. Senator Gillibrand’s announcement was huge with media attention from Vogue.com and Harpersbazaar.com, but she didn’t delve into the details of the bill or the millions of dollars it would cost to establish it. The bill came with little support from Congress and was seen by some as promoting the position of NGOs and unions to promote new standards for domestic manufacturing while inadvertently criticizing the fashion industry. The legislation is intended to “amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to prohibit paying apparel industry employees by the piece and require apparel manufacturers and contractors to register with the Department of Labor ”.
To make the bill more palatable, it was caged with multi-million dollar incentives to bring the garment assembly business back to the US. To make the bill more frightening, there is the potential for costly civil liabilities for brands or individuals that could be associated (directly or indirectly) with paying any factory below the required wage. The idea of a guaranteed federal salary doesn’t ruffle feathers. The problem for anyone who understands apparel manufacturing is that the piece rate is usually the main incentive to cut costs by producing more units in a given period of time.
What remains curious about Senator Gillibrand’s presentation is that the bill is designed to protect jobs and wage violations in New York (and elsewhere). However, New York State data (from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics) indicates that only 5,140 people are employed as sewing machine operators in the state, plus the only co-sponsors of the legislation are Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker. As a point of comparison, New York City is home to 900 fashion-related businesses and host to 75 major trade shows. The Gillibrand camp’s argument is likely to be that this legislation is federal, not state, and that her office deals with the country as a whole. While that may be true, California SB62 recently changed the piece rate to an hourly rate, and they have 15,220 workers engaged in sewing garments (according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics). However, Senator Gillibrand’s federal bill would return to the state minimum wage, so California’s new rate of $14 or $15 an hour could encourage a shift of production to a place like South Carolina, where it costs only $7.25. per hour. The other piece of labor-focused interest is that, remembering that the piece rate is often seen as the driver of productivity, it’s still quite interesting that both Gillibrand’s “Fabrics Act” and California both contain provisions that restore the piece rate if there is a collective agreement in force.
Senator Gillibrand’s federal legislation follows new state legislation introduced by two New York State politicians: Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblywoman Anna R. Kelles. They introduced the Fashion Social Responsibility and Sustainability Law (the Fashion Law) to ensure that “labour, human rights and environmental protection are prioritized.” Senator Biaggi also said that “New York State has a moral responsibility to serve as a leader in mitigating the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry.” Her state legislation looks at fashion companies who does business in New York State with over $100 million in revenue to map 50% of their supply chain, and also add things like a list of the annual volume of material they produce by material type, plus average worker wages or priority suppliers, and the salary compared to the local minimum wage and the living wage. In addition, any citizen can bring a civil action against a person or company that is alleged to have committed an offence, and the fine can be quite high.
The goals or objectives of these bills are generally good and any criticism could be tempered, but a key issue is that important parts of the retail and fashion industries were not necessarily included in the creation of the bills. The very idea that politicians feel compelled to exercise control over private industry trying to legislate sanctions to achieve the goals they created – is a weak premise. There seems to be a total disregard for the fact that industry executives at most clothing brands, retailers and manufacturers are actually trying to do the right thing. It is even more irritating when informed and intelligent people (with experience in the industry) deliver quotes to the media about the fashion business being one of the least regulated industries.
Anyone in the world of fashion will tell you that the industry is highly regulated. Some industry insiders (with a sense of humor) might even tell you that five-pocket jeans were invented by the federal government, as a permanent place to put your hand in your fashion pocket. Before former President Trump’s tariffs, the fashion industry paid about 50% of all tariffs collected on all products entering the United States. In addition to additional fees (taxes), textile chemicals are regulated, sewage is regulated, labor is regulated, labels and buttons are regulated, as is sewing thread. Domestic and foreign factories are monitored for wages, workers’ rights, and human rights. Industry problems arise, but often stem from unregulated subcontractors, and any new legislation is unlikely to change that kind of misbehavior. One thing that is clear is that these attempts to micromanage private industry are making it harder (and more expensive) for big-name companies to survive.
While politicians now seem compelled to go after their own tax-paying constituents, it would be helpful if someone took a look at what the federal government does when it comes to sourcing clothing for the military and government uniformed occupations. the berry amendment requires that all garments made for the military must be produced entirely in the United States. However, the government often orders clothing from sewing machine operators who are incarcerated in the federal prison system, and then pays them between $.23 and $1.15 an hour compared to the minimum wage outside. from the prison walls. The government claims that using prison labor prevents recidivism, but how can inmates graduate from prison to become sewing machine operators? Take a look at an independent government corporation called UNICORN (formerly Federal Prison Industries) which is part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which is part of the Department of Justice. In 2021 they had sales of $127,956,000 in clothing and textiles, and the question remains: To level the playing field, is Senator Gillibrand also looking to create an hourly minimum wage or collective bargaining agreement for federal prisoners as well?
The mission of reputable fashion companies is to produce stylish, high-quality products responsibly. They focus on manufacturing and productivity, human rights, workers’ rights, diversity, the environment, sustainability, circularity, and quality. Politicians, lately, must feel that this is not good enough.
First came the Smoot-Hawley Act in 1930 that created the fad base rates that actually helped push America into the great depression. The industry survived Smoot-Hawley and eventually moved to operate globally, while always bringing fashion and value to America. There have been challenges along the way, with the previous quota system, the introduction of the World Trade Organization and OSHA regulations. However, in more recent times, the fashion bear has been affected by tariffs from Trumpian China and the difficulty of working to support the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) which affects a large percentage of the supply that arrives. from China.
Looking at these regulations and the proposed Fabric/Fashion Laws, politicians might want to slow their progression or spend more time including fashion industry executives in the making. One thing is to suggest guidelines and quite another to legislate, sanction and criticize the constituent companies.
Some who care about the future of the fashion industry worry that many of these potential new laws and proposals could create a massive retail industry. lingchi – which, according to ancient history, is a slow and painful death caused by 1,000 cuts.