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Style Maxine Bédat Urges the Fashion Industry to Make a Change Now, Not in 2030

19:40  29 april  2021
19:40  29 april  2021 Source:   vogue.com

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a person posing for the camera: New Standard Institute founder Maxine Bédat © Photo: Courtesy of Maxine Bédat New Standard Institute founder Maxine Bédat

Maxine Bédat is the director of New Standard Institute, a non-profit working with scientists and citizens to make the fashion industry more sustainable, ethical, and equitable. Her new book, Unraveled: The Life and Death of a Garment, debuts on June 1st.

With the buzz of Earth Month coming to an end, and just about every brand celebrating their latest “sustainable” project or collection, it’s a good time to do a status check on the fashion industry. Where have we been, where are we now, and where are we going? How are we coming to grips with our industry’s massive social and environmental footprint?

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A lot of people have a lot of ideas about how to solve fashion’s environmental woes: circularity, natural fibers, recycled plastic fibers, zero-emissions fibers. But when we dig into these solutions, the marketing material doesn’t match the research. “Futuristic” circular solutions—the kind built on recycled materials or future recyclability—are getting significant buzz, but they truly are of the future. Right now, there are actually no scalable solutions for turning most of our old clothes into new ones.

What’s more, focusing on this mythical future is a distraction from the very real present. Let’s talk about how the system of creation, distribution, and sale happens now, rather than wait for technology to (hopefully) make the big advances we’re counting on.

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To research my new book, Unraveled, I’ve spent the better part of two years traveling around the world to follow the journey of how our clothes are made. On cotton farms in western Texas, I witnessed chemically-ravaged soil pushed to the brink by a fashion industry with an insatiable desire for more. But I also met a farmer who’s merging traditional farming methods of the past—like crop rotation, which can improve soil health—with cutting-edge technologies of the future, like an artificial intelligence tool that surgically applies herbicide to dramatically reduce his chemical use.

I followed a conventional cotton bale as it made its way from Texas to China, where most of the world’s textiles for our clothes are produced. There on the factory floor, I saw raw cotton being spun with polyester to create endless reels of fabric; our industry makes enough to wrap around the earth 1,219 times. I snuck to the back of those factories and gasped for air as fumes from the chemicals flowed directly into a river adjacent to the plant. I met Chinese citizens who could recall a time (just one generation ago) when their rivers were clear, full of fish, and clean enough to bathe in; now, they’re black and acrid, yet remain a water source for the farms that grow their produce.

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After the fabric was finished, I went to Bangladesh to meet some of the women who turn it into clothing. One was Rima, a climate refugee whose story highlighted a tragic irony: After torrential rains flooded her family’s farm, she was forced to relocate, only to find work in an industry that is contributing significantly to those climate disasters.

Then I made my way back to the U.S., where I met the people responsible for getting the clothes into our closets: the distribution center workers. We don’t tend to think of them as part of the industry, but they are an essential piece of the puzzle, and their way of working is fast becoming the norm. In massive warehouses, I saw women and men (most of them Black and brown) trapped in a cycle of low wages and demanding work hours, forced to operate like machines—and one day, they’ll likely be replaced by them.

That might seem like the last step, but as we know too well, our closets are rarely the final destination for clothing. So I made my way through the waste distribution and donation systems to find myself in Ghana, where black clouds and flames engulfed a landfill full of textiles and caused one of the largest environmental catastrophes in the country’s recent history. Another tragic irony: That cancer and climate change-causing smoke cast a cloud over the very same port that transported people who were enslaved to America, where they picked the cotton that eventually began this never-ending fashion cycle.

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Make no mistake: This is the fashion industry today.

And after all of that, I love fashion. I love the power it has to project who I want to be in this world, and I have enormous respect and admiration for the creative community that puts their heart and soul, sweat, and tears into making things of beauty. I continue to page through Vogue, just as I did as a child, and let my mind wander through the worlds they create. But fashion must square itself with a planet and society at its breaking point, and it’s abundantly clear that brands’ current efforts and futuristic visions are wildly insufficient.

Now is the time for legislative solutions, to create the guardrails for a modern fashion industry that can thrive within human and planetary bounds; whether we like it or not, they are one and the same. We need legislation that creates a legal duty of care that extends to a company’s supply chain; that requires companies to operate those supply chains within the bounds of the Paris agreement (what are called Science Based Targets); and that requires companies to pay the workers who make our clothes a living wage.

This is the work we are spearheading at New Standard Institute. We invite lovers of fashion to join this conversation so that by next year, we won’t need to rely on CGI and far-out visions, but can instead celebrate the genuine progress we’re making today. Time is of the essence.

  Maxine Bédat Urges the Fashion Industry to Make a Change Now, Not in 2030 © Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Designers commit to bringing New York Fashion Week back in a big way this fall .
New York Fashion Week, which will return with in-person runway shows, will culminate with the star-studded Met Gala in September.The Council of Fashion Designers of America, or CFDA, announced in April that New York Fashion Week is set to be held in-person with runway shows running from September 8 through September 12.

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