Gluesenkamp Perez, Colleagues Launch Slow Fashion Caucus to Support Working Families, Fight Harmful Impacts of Fast Fashion

Jun 28, 2024
Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez speaks at the launch of the Slow Fashion Caucus.

Yesterday, Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (WA-03), along with Reps. Chellie Pingree (ME-01) and Sydney Kamlager-Dove (CA-37), announced the first-ever Congressional Slow Fashion Caucus to curb the harmful impacts of fast fashion through policies that benefit working families and ag producers. The lawmakers were joined by sustainable fashion industry stakeholders and garment workers for the launch event and press conference.

Fast fashion relies on cheap manufacturing, frequent consumption, and short-lived garment use. Over the last two decades, the rate of textile waste has increased tremendously – and only 15 percent of clothing in the United States is recycled or reused, with the rest incinerated or sent to landfills for disposal.

Microfibers from synthetic textiles used in these clothing items are responsible for up to one third of microplastics released, and every load of laundry releases them into the environment. In addition, over the past several decades, hundreds of thousands of fiber and textile jobs have shifted overseas, harming farmers and rural communities in the process.

The Slow Fashion Caucus’ founding principles include:

  • Bringing textile production back to the United States.
  • Incentivizing the apparel industry to promote the reuse, repair, and recycling of textiles.
  • Supporting the use of more sustainable fibers. 
  • Promoting textile reuse and recycling infrastructure.
  • Developing circular economy policies to drive the apparel industry to reduce natural resource consumption.
  • Building public awareness of fast fashion’s environmental impact.
  • Expanding initiatives across federal agencies to encourage textile sustainability.

Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez frequently alters her clothing, buys used, and supports local repair shops. She also introduced bipartisan legislation to study the impacts of microplastics in biosolids used for farming and to shield ratepayers from the cost of PFAS cleanup.

“High-quality American-made clothing isn’t just inherently stylish – it’s a core part of building wealth in the middle class. When I have to replace work boots every year, rather than a quality pair that can last for years, my family loses out. The purest form of environmentalism is to use less and be a good steward of your stuff – rather than buying new clothing that’s designed to be disposable,” said Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez. “These items can contain toxic chemicals and PFAS, and they’re predominantly made from synthetic fabrics that shed microplastics, unlike natural fibers. Instead of putting our kids in pajamas with chemical flame retardants, we should be looking to naturally resistant alternatives like wool. I look forward to working with the Slow Fashion Caucus to bring manufacturing jobs home and support a cultural shift toward durable, safe clothing for working families.”

“For too long, the so-called ‘fast fashion’ industry has been given free range to pollute our planet, exploit workers, and shortchange consumers. In fact, textile waste is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the United States and is responsible for more carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. The launch of our Slow Fashion Caucus marks a new era in the fight against climate change and sends a clear message that Congress will not stand by as the harmful fast fashion industry flies under the radar to destroy our planet,” said Rep. Pingree, Chair of the Slow Fashion Caucus. “It doesn’t have to be this way. As lawmakers, we can create incentives for the apparel industry and consumers to reduce natural resource consumption and engage in reusing, repairing, rewearing, and recycling textiles. I am eager to get to work and thankful for the widespread support of sustainable style advocates, industry leaders, and, of course, my fellow Members of Congress who are joining me in this new effort to rein in fast fashion pollution. This is just the beginning!”

“Los Angeles is home to the dreamers, innovators, and risk-takers of the fashion world, and as such, we have long been leaders in setting sustainable fashion trends to promote fair labor practices and reduce fashion’s climate footprint,” said Rep. Kamlager-Dove. “California has been a pioneer in tackling this issue at the state level, which is why I am thrilled to see the effort to promote sustainable fashion coming to the Halls of Congress. I am proud to be a founding member of the Slow Fashion Caucus and look forward to working alongside my colleagues to advance policies that support an ethical, sustainable, and climate-smart future.”

The Congressional Slow Fashion Caucus has already garnered widespread support, and other founding members include Reps. Grace Meng (NY-06), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Jerrold Nadler (NY-12), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Kathy Castor (FL-14), Jared Huffman (CA-02), and Jill Tokuda (HI-02).

The following are Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez’s full remarks, and they can be viewed here:

“Powerful institutions want you to feel silly for caring about slow fashion. But the truth is, the churn of cheap, disposable goods is a very useful tool for extracting wealth from the middle class.

When I have to replace my work books every year, instead of the 5 years that used to work, American tradespeople lose. When heritage brands are bought and gutted, downstream, it means it’s suddenly a lot harder to find a belt that’s not just bonded leather.

We need to start thinking about the life-cycle cost of wearing something – the cost to wear it.

When vegan leather and fabrics that shed microplastics are marketed as the earth-friendly choice – something to feel good about – local agriculture suffers and we end up with microplastics in breast milk.

When regulators are sold on the necessity of flame retardants in children’s pajamas instead of natural alternatives like wool – or the utility of stain-proofing workers’ uniforms, people are exposed to toxic chemicals that have lifetime impacts.

When we see youth cancer rates spike, we all have to ask, ‘Are the tradeoffs of convenience really worth it?’

So, what do we all do? At one level, the answer is simple, you buy less stuff. Ignore trends, follow your own sense of style. Learn to dye and alter and maintain your clothes. Go to garage sales and hold them yourselves. Demand higher quality goods and hold bad players responsible for manipulating markets. Learn how to see and respect quality craftsmanship, and if you can, buy American. Stop buying and producing fuzzy microplastics, if not for your own self, for the salmon that my community relies on. 

In the language of economists – support a strong secondary market for quality goods. In the language of normal people – spend your money on higher quality used stuff.

Ask yourself, ‘Who was paid to produce this? A farmer or an oil baron?’

In conclusion, I look forward to working with the Slow Fashion Caucus to get things done for families who work for a living and can’t afford to be a source of wealth for the big players and not our own communities.”

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