Home » Calls for Australia to follow France as it gets set to tax ultra-fast fashion

Calls for Australia to follow France as it gets set to tax ultra-fast fashion

If you look at the label on the clothes you’re wearing right now, chances are they’re made from a synthetic fibre.

And they were almost certainly made overseas.

Australians are now the world’s biggest fashion consumers, new research has revealed, with each person buying more than one new item of clothing per week.

About two-thirds of those garments are made from synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon, and thousands of tonnes will end up in landfill every year.

The fashion scene is similar in France — but that could soon be set to change.

The European country is expected to take the landmark step of targeting the ultra-fast fashion giants that mass produce synthetic garments.

And sustainable fashion advocates say Australia should follow France’s lead.

Trending away from ultra-fast fashion

Advertising ultra-fast fashion will be banned under a bill that unanimously passed France’s lower house of parliament, while each item will come with a penalty of up to 10 euros — about $16 — by 2030.

A few years ago, fast fashion burst onto the global retail scene with higher volume and lower cost production.

Newer ultra-fast fashion brands and retailers, like Shein and Temu, have reduced the design and manufacturing process to mere hours.

“What we’re seeing now is companies that are producing 7,000 to 10,000 items per day,” said Amanda Butterworth from Fashion Revolution, which was part of the campaign for the new legislation in France.

“These increased volumes and low prices influence consumer buying habits, creating buying impulses, it’s creating a constant need for renewal — which we know has environmental consequences.”

Ultra-fast, or throwaway, fashion companies like Shein target Gen Z consumers via social media influencers, intensive advertising — and even a “reality” competition show featuring Khloe Kardashian.

Slowing down fast fashion

Ultra-fast fashion sells for as little as $2.50 for a coat, according to Nina Gbor, circular economy and waste director at the Australia Institute think tank.

She’s calling for Australia to follow the trend in France and tax ultra-fast fashion.

“One of the reasons it’s so cheap is because there’s a lot of modern slavery being used in making those clothes, where people are exploited and … work 16 to 18 hour days,” Ms Gbor said.

“We need to consider when we’re buying our clothing how the clothes are made, what materials are being used, the toxic chemicals in the clothing.

“You realise that cheaper is not always better.”

Ms Gbor said Shein and Temu were projected to make $2 billion in sales in Australia alone this year.

“What this means is the over-consumption and waste crisis is actually going to get worse unless there’s reform,” she said.

About 200,000 tonnes of clothing are discarded in Australia each year — with most ending up in waste dumps here or after being exported overseas.

Clothes in a landfill.

Thousands of tonnes of clothing donated in Australia is sent overseas.  (Supplied: OR Foundation)

An immediate halt to exports of discarded clothing and a levy on each new item sold would help develop a homegrown textiles recycling industry, Ms Gbor said.

While France’s bill still needs to move through its Senate, the legislation will define ultra-fast fashion based on production volumes, turnover speed and other criteria. 

Reviving Aussie natural fibres

The fashion and footwear industries produce up to 10 per cent of global carbon emissions and are responsible for one-fifth of industrial wastewater pollution.

And just three in every 100 garments sold in Australia are made here.

Sustainable fashion, farming and environment groups say it’s time to slow down fashion and change consumer buying habits.