Fashion Revolution Day 2015

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Today around the world, we are commemorating the tragedy at Rana Plaza, Bangladesh, where over 1,000 garment workers lost their lives after the building where they worked collapsed around them. Fashion Revolution Day was created to remind us of that day and raise consumer awareness about the continuing problems - both environmental and labor - associated with the fashion industry. Teams in 67 countries around the world are together challenging global fashion brands today to commit to transparency across the length of their value chain, from farmers to factory workers, to their buyers and consumers.

Today, we are to wear our clothes inside-out, to expose the labels of the manufacturers and we're asked to post pictures of ourselves on social media with #whomademyclothes to raise questions about the practices that went into making them. Zady, a small apparel company that went into business to combat the fast fashion craze by providing a platform for companies that care about timeless style and solid construction, is leading the U.S. participation in the Fashion Revolution Day movement.

I participated in a panel on Fashion Revolution Day on Tuesday night in New York City, at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), where I was privileged to sit with Eileen Fisher (herself!!.. such a down to earth and a very cool lady). Eileen Fisher is all over environmental sustainability, quietly delivering more than 70% of her cotton clothing as organic, dying her silks with dyes certified by a "green chemistry" firm called Blue Sign, and taking back her clothing in a recycling initiative, among other things. My favorite moment with Eileen on the panel was when she described her eureka moment on this issue and realized she was the CEO with her name on the door, and she could just say YES to things that were important to her to do. How liberating! That's the only time I've ever had a flash of wishing I were a CEO of something.

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© Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

The other panelist was Paul van Zyl, the CEO of a company called Maiyet, "a fashion luxury brand with a conscious", as they call themselves. And they're not kidding. A South African, Paul started his career as a human rights lawyer in that country and served as the Executive Secretary of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. After that experience he co-founded the International Center for Transitional Justice and worked in over 30 countries, helping to promote accountability and reconciliation in countries that have undergone conflict. His work across the globe convinced him that promoting entrepreneurship and employment in these countries was a neglected dimension in building sustainable peace and inspired him to enter the private sector to promote beautiful items made from artisans around the developing world. Read some good coverage of Maiyet here.

So what am I wearing?! Who made my clothes today? Target. Yup, Target. Sustainable apparel for more typical shoppers with clothing budgets like mine.

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Readers of my most recent blog know that Target has been a stellar participant in NRDC's Clean by Design program, an initiative we launched a few years ago to clean up the textile industry in China. So I've got on a pair of their Mossimo jeans, a denim blend with 20% recycled polyester that comes from recycled plastic bottles. The denim fabric itself was dyed in a Chinese factory called Lucky, which has worked under the Better Mills Initiative, run by an NGO named Solidaridad that I very much admire. Through that program, Lucky has recently reduced its water use by recycling both cooling water and treated wastewater back into their process and has met China's new stringent discharge standards that many other factories are spending time bitterly opposing. Lucky supplies H&M and C&A (a large European department store) as well as Target. Bravo!

As to the tee shirt? It's a super soft Merona long-sleever (because it is freezing cold here today!) manufactured for Target by none other than Pacific Textiles, a top star in NRDC's Clean by Design program in China in 2014. At our award ceremony in Shanghai ten days ago, Pacific was awarded recognition for undertaking the Most Innovative Overall Project in the program and also for achieving the Best Overall Economic Return. The factory had perfect attendance in our training workshops, handed in all its homework assignments, and the results really showed. Bravo, Pacific!

Everywhere I go to talk about sustainability in the fashion industry, I'm confronted by people who think that it must be too expensive, only affordable for luxury brands. And though it is true that some important aspects of environmental protection, such as properly operating your wastewater treatment plant, cost money, it is also true that there are enormous opportunities to reduce environmental impact and actually save money. That's because resources (water and energy) and chemicals cost money, and pollution occurs when they are wasted. And that's what NRDC's Clean by Design program is all about - process efficiency improvement efficiencies that reduce wastes to save money.

We all have a long road ahead of us to bring the bulk of the fashion industry into acceptable labor and environmental performance around the world. No one is perfect, not even close, and the countries where this industry has moved have little capacity to protect themselves from the dangers. But, companies like Zady, and Eileen Fisher, Maiyet - and Target - are making real strides in environmental protection and on the right path. Hats off to them today, I'm proud to show my label and be part of the movement.