Fashion workers are notoriously exploited. The U.S. might finally pass a law protecting them.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s FABRIC Act would be the first federal law governing the fashion industry’s labor practices.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaks at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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The U.S. fashion industry is finally facing a long overdue reckoning. On Thursday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) will introduce the first federal fashion bill to hold fashion brands to stricter labor standards. Perhaps most importantly, if passed, the bill will do away with the predatory payment models the industry continues to rely on.

Change has been brewing in the fashion industry for some time. Last September, California passed the Garment Workers Protection Act, which mandated an hourly wage and protected against wage theft, and earlier this year, New York introduced the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act. While changes at a state-level are great, the federal government’s intervention in this space is sorely needed.

Gillibrand’s Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change (FABRIC) Act could be the trigger that’s needed. As Vogue reported, the FABRIC Act would protect workers by taking inspiration from California’s bill and acting against wage theft. It would also extend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, meaning that any brands that work with factories that pay less than the federal minimum wage would face penalties.

Eighty percent of garment workers within the global fashion industry are women. That’s a leading factor in Gillibrand’s development of the bill. As she told Vogue, “There are not many industries where women are at the core of the workforce, except for in the fashion industry.”

In an email to Vogue, Cris Lopez, a garment worker and member of Los Angeles’s Garment Worker Center, wrote, “The FABRIC Act is necessary because it will advance the wellbeing of garment workers and their families.”

But those within the industry aren’t only celebrating the increased protections. They’re also pointing towards the FABRIC Act’s overall investment in the industry. For example, the FABRIC Act would include the development of a $40 million Domestic Garment Manufacturing Support Program administered by the Department of Labor. The funds would be earmarked for businesses that want to update their facilities. The bill also looks to invest in bringing more manufacturing back into the U.S.

Per Vogue, Gillibrand noted that the garment industry in the U.S. loses about $30 billion annually due to imports. “To fix this, we need to put a prohibition on predatory payments through the piece rates,” the senator said, referring to a model that pays workers per item they produce. “But we also need to give these companies the incentives to bring the manufacturing back to the U.S. or make it possible for them to start up here in the first place.”

So far, the FABRIC Act has received endorsements from a number of fashion brands and advocacy groups, including Center for the Advancement of Garment Making, Fashion Connection, Skilled Laborers Brigade, and The Slow Factory.