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What The RealReal Was Up to in Washington

The RealReal has urged members of the Senate and House of Representatives to consider the “colossal” and “negative” footprint that fast-fashion leaves on the planet.

Speaking at a recent Congressional briefing entitled “Fashion and the Environment—How to Achieve a Circular Future,” the San Francisco-based luxury consignment retailer warned of the “accelerated rate” at which thousands of low-quality, mostly petrochemical-derived garments are ending up in the landfill.

“Since our founding, The RealReal has been committed to protecting our planet; sustainability is one of our founding core values,” Allison Sommer, The RealReal’s vice president of public affairs and business development, told lawmakers. “The precipitous rise of fast fashion is a major contributor to the acceleration of the climate crisis.”

The RealReal, which was joined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Goodwill Industries International, spotlighted the “power of reuse” as a circular waste-management solution that creates jobs across the United States and helps mitigate climate change. Depending on whose numbers you believe, the fashion industry emits anywhere between 2 percent to 10 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse-gas output.

“We need to be doing more to hold these brands accountable for wasteful overproduction of poorly made, often critiqued as ‘disposable’ items, and instead encourage circular models,” Sommer added.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that more than half of fast-fashion pieces are purchased and then chucked in less than a year, contributing to the roughly 11.3 million tons of clothing that Americans send to landfills annually.

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“The Ellen MacArthur Foundation envisions a fashion industry where products are designed to be used more, made to be made again, and made from safe and recycled or renewable inputs,” said Dacie Meng, the U.K. think tank’s policy and institutions senior manager. “We appreciate the opportunity to join the briefing today to discuss how we can be working together with policymakers and industry to make fashion circular and help tackle global challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss.”

Senate recycling caucus co-chair Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, acknowledged the textile industry’s “significant impact” as a “major source of global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the source of many of the microplastics that are ending up in our ocean.”

“At a time when we need all hands on deck to combat the climate crisis, leaders in the fashion and textile industry have an important role to play to promote sustainability and transition toward a circular economy,” he added.

“On behalf of the House Recycling Caucus, I want to thank The RealReal, Goodwill and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for highlighting the incredible benefits of working toward a circular economy,” House recycling caucus co-chair Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey, continued. “As chairman of the energy and commerce committee, I am working to support a sustainable, circular economy. Including textiles and the fashion industry in the equation is a great step forward and I appreciate the partnership of these groups.”

Goodwill, which has been in the reduce, reuse and repurpose business for more than a century, stressed the importance of public, private and nonprofit partnerships in advancing solutions that can power a circular textile economy.

“Through a business model of collecting and selling donated goods, Goodwill organizations help communities extend the life of usable items and divert them from landfills,” said Brittany Dickinson, the Maryland-headquartered charity’s manager of sustainability. “Today’s briefing was the first of many conversations we will have with lawmakers and partners on the critical issue of sustainability, contributing to the economic health of communities, preserving resources, and protecting our environment.”

The RealReal is also a founding member of the newly formed American Circular Textiles policy group, or ACT, whose remit is to advance textile-waste legislation in the United States. Other organizations involved in the group include Rent the Runway, ThredUp, Trove and SuperCircle.

The working body grew out of the reuse community’s criticism of New York’s Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, ​​which it felt wasn’t prioritizing reuse over recycling as the primary way to decouple industry growth from virgin resource extraction.

“The ACT coalition was formed to drive positive, scalable and cross-stakeholder solutions to the fashion waste problem,” Circular Services Group founder Rachel Kibbe, who led the call for amendments, said. “We believe that education, coalition building and ultimately advocacy are the key to successfully addressing this challenge. We’ve had productive conversations with Hill staff since our announcement and look forward to building on these dialogues.”

By year’s end, ACT plans to publish a position paper, directed to local and state legislators, that outlines industry-supported policy mechanisms that can boost textile reuse, which it says should be the apex of the circular economy waste hierarchy.