Jenn Blog

By Jennifer Pagano

Jenn Blog

“Since 2000, clothing production has approximately doubled globally.”[1]

“Every year, people in the United States throw out more than 34 billion pounds of used textiles.”[2]

“The average U.S. consumer buys 60 percent more clothes than at the turn of the century, keeps them for roughly half as long, and throws away 81.5 lbs. of clothes each year.”[3]

“Overall, the fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of global emissions, according to the UN – more than the aviation and shipping combined.”[4]

          The statistics speak for themselves. Yet, in addition to being responsible for considerable greenhouse gas emissions, exploiting natural resources, and enabling unfair wages including unfair working conditions for workers, the fashion industry also plays a hand in fostering the recent overconsumption culture wherein “fast fashion” is in high demand.

          Fast fashion is a manufacturing method that mass produces catwalk-inspired clothing for a low cost with the goal of meeting consumer demand as fast as possible.[5] This allows consumers of all economic means to walk into a number of accessible stores, or easily go online, and load their shopping bags with several inexpensive items without breaking the bank.

         The business model of fast fashion is based on producing inexpensive clothing, including accessories, that are quickly produced and sold in high volumes to consumers.[6] Fast fashion companies prioritize speed and cost over the quality and durability of these textiles. Therefore, they often rely on low-wage labor in countries with weak labor protections and environmental regulations.[7] This business model is incredibly profitable because companies can manufacture garments at a low budget. As a consequence of this high profitability, the low selling prices are still considered a high markup.[8] For example, Inditex, the parent company of fast-fashion brand, Zara, and one of the wealthiest clothing retailers in the world, made $32.6 billion in revenue during the year of 2022.[9]

How Does This Happen?

          Fast fashion companies often rely on complex and opaque supply chains that can make it difficult to track the origin of materials and the conditions under which the garments are produced.[10] Such companies tend to operate on a global scale, sourcing materials and production from all over the world.[11] This can involve multiple tiers of suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors, each with their own supply chains and subcontractors.[12] As a result, it can be difficult for fast fashion companies to ensure that all of their suppliers are adhering to labor and environmental standards.

          Another reason for such high profitability, is that fast fashion companies are, well… fast. These companies often place a premium on low costs and high speed.[13] To keep costs down, fast fashion companies may prioritize suppliers who can offer the lowest prices, even if those suppliers have a history of labor violations or environmental harm.[14] The quick turnaround time required by fast fashion means there may be less time for monitoring and auditing supplies. Further, the fast fashion industry is notoriously competitive, with companies vying to bring new products to market as fast as possible.[15] This can create pressure to cut corners and prioritize speed over ethical considerations. Such factors can contribute to a lack of transparency and accountability in the fast fashion supply chain. This can make it difficult for consumers, regulators, and other stakeholders to know where their clothes come from, and whether they are being produced in a sustainable and ethical way.

          For example, Fashion Nova, a popular fast-fashion retailer, has faced several legal issues in California related to its labor practices and environmental impact. The company was sued by the Labor Commissioner’s Office in California for failing to pay its workers minimum wage and overtime, as well as failing to provide proper meal and rest breaks.[16] The lawsuit alleged that Fashion Nova had misclassified workers as independent contractors instead of employees, depriving them of basic labor protections.[17] In 2019, the company agreed to pay $1.75 million to settle the lawsuit and to reclassify some of its workers as employees.[18] In addition to the labor violations, Fashion Nova also faced scrutiny for its environmental impact. In 2019, the non-profit organization Center for Environmental Health (CEH) issued a notice of violation to Fashion Nova for allegedly selling clothing with high levels of toxic chemicals.[19] The company later agreed to pay $250,000 to settle the allegations and to implement new testing and disclosure protocols.[20] The company’s legal issues in California are just a small highlight of the ongoing concerns about labor practices and environmental impact in the fast-fashion industry.

          That said, do not despair fashionistas, because change is in the air. Governments and legislators appear to understand that companies need regulation. They are implementing several regulatory proposals in the United States over the past few years which are intended to drive sustainability in the textile and fashion industries. Here are some of the major pieces of proposed bills that have made or are making their way through the legislative pipeline.

Garment Worker Protection Act

           The Garment Worker Protection Act: The Garment Worker Protection Act (GWPA) is an anti-wage theft and brand accountability bill that made California the first state in the country to require hourly wages for garment workers.[21] The bill bans piecework, a practice that allowed manufacturers to pay workers per garment, not by hours they work.[22] The Act also created new recordkeeping requirements for manufacturers and brand guarantors.[23] The GWPA is intended to prevent wage theft; it has mandated fair pay and helped to improve working conditions for the roughly 45,000 garment workers employed in California.[24]


          The FABRIC ACT: The Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change Act (the “FABRIC Act”) is America’s first federal fashion bill introduced in the U.S. Senate in 2021.[25] The purpose of the bill is to “re-weave” American garment manufacturing to advance the development of sustainable and innovative fabrics.[26] The bill also aims to promote job growth in the textile and apparel industry. Furthermore, it proposes to increase trade opportunities for U.S. textile and apparel manufacturers.[27] With five more key points placed inside the Act, some look to set an hourly pay rate for garment workers and end piece rates nationwide.[28]

          This act would affect thousands of Americans, as the United States garment sector is a $9 billion industry employing 95,000 people.[29] Garment workers in America are some of the lowest paid in the country, with a take home pay of $300 per week.[30] Breaches of the wage regulations under this bill could lead to noncompliant employers facing fines up to $50 million.[31]

The Fashion Act

            The Fashion Act: The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act is a state bill that, if passed, would make New York the first state in the country to hold some of the world’s largest brands in fashion to account for their environmental impact.[32] This bill would require fashion companies that generate more than $100 million in revenue to disclose their supply chains across all production tiers; including, where these supply chains create the most impact.[33] They would then be required to reduce those effects in line with targets outlined in the bill. (For example, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.)[34]

            This act would affect nearly every large American and international fashion brand, almost all of which do business in New York. These fashion brands range from high end brands such as LVMH and Gucci, to fast-fashion companies such as Zara, Shein, and Fashion Nova.[35] If passed, major fashion brands would be required to reduce their negative impacts at a pace set by legislators.


          Overall, the fast fashion industry is facing increased scrutiny and regulation in the United States, as consumers and lawmakers demand more sustainable and ethical practices. Because fashion has become a more profitable business as consumption volume grows, the industry will probably not change its practices without legal regulation. As the industry gets put on the hot-seat for its significant contributions to pollution, it is likely that legal regulation is coming soon. Working through these issues has the potential to lead to major progress in the fashion industry. While there is still much work to be done to address the environmental and labor issues associated with fast fashion, these legal developments represent an important step toward a more sustainable and just industry.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you have any feedback, criticism, or corrections, please direct them to

[1] Morgan McFall-Johnsen, The Fashion Industry Emits More Carbon then International Flights and Maritime Shipping Combined. Here Are the Biggest Ways It Impacts the Planet, Bus. Insider (Oct. 21, 2019),

[2] Esme Stallard, Fast Fashion: How clothes are linked to climate change, BBC News, (July 29, 2022),

[3] Fast-Fashion Post-Holiday Autopsy: How the Industry’s ‘Dupes’ and Fast-Fashion Apparel Boom is Fostering Environmental Disaster, Goldberg Segalla, (Jan. 6, 2023)

[4] Esme Stallard, Fast Fashion: How clothes are linked to climate change, BBC News, (July 29, 2022),

[5] Wu, Megan, The Fast Fashion Fad, Pop Culture Intersections 45, 1 (2020).

[6] For example, Zara, a popular fast fashion brand, produced over 450 million items in 2018. Vivienne Walt, Fast-fashion giant Zara faces a huge challenge in the climate crisis. Can its heiress-turned-leader make the brand fast, cheap and green? Fortune, (Oct. 6, 2022)

[7] Bick, R., Halsey, E. & Ekenga, C.C. The global environmental injustice of fast fashion. Environ Health 17, 92 (2018).

[8] Jasmin Malik Chua, The Environment and Economy Are Paying the Price for Fast Fashion—But There’s Hope, VOX (Sept. 12, 2019, 7:00 AM),

[9]Forbes, Companies: Inditex (2022),

[10] Bick, R., Halsey, E. & Ekenga, C.C. The global environmental injustice of fast fashion, Environ. Health 17, 92 (2018).

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Christian Bryant, Sweatshops are still running in the US, but labor laws are changing, ABC Action News, (Feb. 16, 2023)

[14] Id.

[15] Bick, R., Halsey, E. & Ekenga, C.C. The global environmental injustice of fast fashion. Environ Health 17, 92 (2018).

[16] Natalie Kitroeff, Fashion Nova’s Secret: Underpaid Workers in Los Angeles Factories, NYTimes, (Dec. 16, 2019)

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Kitroeff, supra note 16.

[21] Gwendolyn Gissndanner, California’s Garment Worker Protection Act Serves as a Victory Against Rampant Wage Theft and Signals a Call for Accountability in All Supply Chains, OnLabor, (Nov. 17, 2021)

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Christian Bryant, Sweatshops are still running in the US, but labor laws are changing, ABC Action News, (Feb. 16, 2023)

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Bryant, supra note 25.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Nicole Greenfield, New York Is Exposing the Fashion Industry for What It Is: a Climate Nightmare, NRDC, (Feb. 13, 2023)

[34] Christian Bryant, Sweatshops are still running in the US, but labor laws are changing, ABC Action News, (Feb. 16, 2023)

[35] Id.