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Plibersek calls to reduce fast fashion in Australia

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Tanya Plibersek said the “fashion industry is on a watch list” and called for greater take-up of the scheme.
Fast fashion Australia

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has called for the fashion industry to do more to address ‘fast fashion’ in Australia.

Last year, Plibersek announced a voluntary scheme to improve fashion sustainability. At this stage, just 20% of the country’s biggest clothing producers have signed up to the scheme.

This week, Plibersek said the “fashion industry is on a watch list” and called for greater take-up of the scheme.

Here’s what you need to know.

Context

The average Australian buys 56 items of clothing per year, according to the Australian Fashion Council (AFC), the peak national body for the fashion and textile industry.

It estimates around Australians buy 1.5 billion new items of clothing per year, and about one in eight items are reused.

More than half of new clothes bought in Australia are made from synthetic materials like polyester.

Synthetic materials are cheap to make but produce significant carbon emissions, according to the Sustainable Fashion Collective.

Voluntary scheme

In June last year, Plibersek announced ‘Seamless’, an industry proposal to reduce fast fashion in Australia. It is currently in development.

The goal of the initiative is to make the fashion industry ‘circular’, meaning clothes are repaired, reused, or recycled instead of going to landfill.

The government is working with the AFC to transition to “circularity” by 2030.

The Seamless initiative is a voluntary scheme, meaning retailers can choose whether or not to join it. When it is fully set up, retailers who sign up will pay a levy of four cents for every piece of clothing they sell.

This money will be used to fund improved manufacturing and recycling practices.

Some large manufacturers, including Big W, The Iconic, and Cotton On, have already signed on.

More regulation on fast fashion in Australia

With just 20% of the country’s biggest clothing producers signed up, Plibersek said she wants to see more retailers register with Seamless.

She has also threatened to introduce harsher, mandatory regulations for all retailers.

Plibersek said the “fashion industry is on a watch list”.

Retail response

The CEO of the Australian Retailers Association Paul Zahra told TDA that “low-cost” clothing has a “significant role” in a cost of living crisis because it is more affordable.

He said there needs to be a collaboration between the “industry, consumers, and government” in order to move the scheme forwards.

“Without this co-investment by government we simply cannot reach the end objectives,” Zahra told TDA.

Instead of a levy, Zahra suggested a tax incentive and reducing levies to “encourage better product design.”

A spokesperson from Kmart told TDA it “fully supports” the implementation of measures towards a circular fashion industry.

However, it hasn’t yet signed up for Seamless. Kmart said the initiative doesn’t go far enough to “fund the real and operational costs” of better sustainability practices.

Kmart called the limited recycling resources in Australia a “major roadblock to reducing clothing waste.”

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