This New York Fashion Week, more than 30 designers presented collections that were in some way climate-conscious — not far off half of the total on the official calendar.
The engagement, particularly among emerging designers, is a positive sign for an industry that ranks among the world’s most environmentally destructive. But as the city shifts focus to a major climate summit taking place this coming week, fashion’s presence on the schedule has faded.
New York Climate Week, which runs alongside a meeting of the UN General Assembly, connects global policymakers, executives, financiers and advocacy groups and helps set the tone for the even larger annual COP climate summit each November.
This year, the stakes are higher than ever. A summer of record-breaking temperatures has given way to a September punctuated by deadly storms and catastrophic flooding. The latest report from the UN’s climate research group said the world is way off track on tackling climate change and “radical” transformation is needed across all sectors to stave off the worst impacts. The earth is now outside the “safe operating” limits in six out of nine planetary boundaries deemed critical to maintaining the climate’s stability and resilience, according to a study published Wednesday.
The implications for the fashion industry are substantial. According to a new report from investment firm Schroders and Cornell University’s Global Labour Institute, which examined the implications for four key manufacturing hubs, climate breakdown could wipe out some $65 billion in export earnings in just those countries by 2030 if nothing is done to adapt.
To be sure, fashion’s role in the climate crisis is often overlooked in wider conversations and the climate summit circus can be more pomp than substance. But these are systemic issues that no one company or industry can solve alone, and in a city that counts as one of fashion’s capitals, the industry has an opportunity to be a bigger part of the conversation.
Here’s what’s on my radar this coming week.
The New Rules of Doing Business
On Wednesday, an unusual mixing of policymakers, influencers and fashion folk gathered at New York’s Edition Hotel to rally support for the New York Fashion Act, among the most comprehensive of a suite of bills taking aim at the fashion industry’s environmental and social impact around the world.
Though fashion-specific regulation won’t be a particular focus of this week’s climate summit, the macro policy discussions set to play out among world leaders will reverberate through the industry.
On Monday, California passed a bill (endorsed by fashion’s biggest American trade groups) that will require large companies operating in the state to disclose their carbon emissions — a landmark piece of legislation in the US.
Meanwhile, momentum is building behind efforts to directly regulate the fashion sector. The EU is considering some 16 pieces of regulation focused on the fashion industry, with a variety of bills also on the table in the US at both the state and federal level. A bill to improve workplace protections in American factories was reintroduced in DC on Thursday, while the New York Fashion Act has gained 84 co-sponsors ahead of the state legislature’s next session.
“The brands are not going to regulate themselves,” said Anna Kelles, the New York State Assembly member spearheading the state’s push to regulate fashion. “We need an equal playing field.”
Money on the Table
New York is one of the world’s top financial capitals and finance is a big topic at Climate Week.
While the cost of climate change is increasingly clear, there’s also a growing amount of money on the table for technologies and companies that can help with a green transition — and waning patience for high-profile commitments with little behind them.
For its part, the fashion industry is facing more scrutiny from investors who want to understand brands’ exposure to climate risks — both reputational and physical. It also needs to plug a multi-billion-dollar funding gap for solutions that could help it meet climate goals.
Actively engaging to make those investments now will likely ultimately be cheaper than waiting to act.
Pushing for a Just Transition
Alongside the typical line up of executives, climate experts and policy wonks, this year’s roster of events looks to give more space to under-represented communities, often among those most affected by environmental destruction.
Climate justice, which seeks to address the imbalance between the countries and corporations most responsible for climate change and the populations most harmed by it, is a growing theme. The major achievement of last year’s COP summit was a last-minute deal to create a loss and damage fund to help cover the costs of climate damage in poorer countries in the Global South.
Fashion is substantially exposed, with many of its largest manufacturing hubs among the world’s most climate vulnerable places.
Nature Moving Up the Agenda
As the climate breakdown becomes increasingly apparent, efforts to prevent and reverse nature loss are moving up the agenda.
Several major fashion companies have been early movers in the space, with Kering, LVMH and H&M Group among a handful of companies road testing a framework developed by the Science-Based Targets Network to help companies assess their biodiversity risks and impact.
That work is running alongside the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures, which is set to publish its own framework this week, moving a step closer towards a set of standards for setting and monitoring nature-based targets similar to companies’ goals on emissions — and raising expectations for how corporations navigate the topic.