There’s A Big Problem With Australia’s Proposed Fast Fashion Tax

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Australia has a radical overconsumption issue and we need a radical solution to fix it. Two weeks ago, the Australian Institute, an independent think tank, released a report revealing that Australia has officially overtaken the United States as the world’s biggest consumer of fashion per capita. It’s a title we didn’t want but certainly have earned — and it's one we should be ashamed of. 
The report found that Australians buy an average of 56 new garments every year, with each averaging $13 AUD. This figure is far lower than the world’s other high-consuming countries like the UK ($40), USA ($24), Japan ($30), and Brazil ($16). 
The numbers are staggering, but unsurprising in an era when ultra fast fashion brands — which have been found to violate labour laws and produce cheap, poor-quality garments — are booming. “Shein and Temu are expected to make more than $2 billion in sales this year combined,” said Nina Gbor, Circular Economy & Waste Program Director at the Australia Institute in a press release.
Picture your wardrobe and imagine how much space 56 items of clothing would actually take up. This may help to put the gravity of this number into perspective: it’s essentially a whole new wardrobe and works out to be one new item every 6.5 days. But this number also tells us that the rampant hyperconsumption of fashion isn’t really underpinned by genuine need — because no one needs 56 items of new clothing a year. 
This overconsumption is undoubtedly fuelled by the popularity of “haul” content online. On TikTok alone, the terms “shopping haul” and “clothing haul videos” account for 93.2 million and 62.4 million posts respectively at the time of writing. At the same time, ultra-fast fashion brands like Shein and Temu dominate search results, making it difficult to find alternatives. If you’ve tried searching for say a 100% wool coat that will last you for many winters to come on Google, you’ll know the struggle of navigating through the sea of ultra fast fashion products that might only last you a season, if that. 

To save you from doing the maths, the Australian government-backed recommendation of implementing a voluntary four cent levy works out to be 0.0025% of France’s proposed compulsory tax.

So, where do we go from here? The Seamless clothing stewardship scheme, backed by the Australian Federal Government, aims to tackle clothing waste with a four cents per garment levy. This initiative is designed to fund domestic recycling efforts, addressing the 200,000 tonnes of clothing that end up in landfill each year. Under the current Seamless scheme, brands can voluntarily opt in to pay the levy per garment produced from July 1. A few major Australian brands that have opted in so far are Big W, David Jones, Lorna Jane, Rip Curl, R.M. Williams, The Iconic, Sussan Group and Cotton On.
As Gbor notes in the statement released by the Australia Institute, a four cent levy is a good start, but nowhere near tough enough to tackle the issue — and we can't help but roll our eyes at the "voluntary" qualifier either. “It should be increased drastically to at least 50 cents per item," Gbor says. "This, coupled with measures like a fast fashion tax, is needed to put the industry on notice.” The recommendations laid out in the report back this up, with the addition of a few other measures that include banning the export of textile waste within five years; implementing government-funded discounts for people who get old garments repaired; a federal investment to develop an Australian circular textiles industry; and greater support for community op shops and recycling initiatives. 
In addition, the recommendation for a "French-style fast fashion tax" has sparked significant interest among Australians since the report's release. This proposal references a Bill that was backed by France’s lower house of parliament back in March, and is aimed at curbing the rapid expansion of the fast fashion sector and its harmful impact on the environment.
The French bill proposes a tax on ultra fast fashion brands to incrementally increase to €10 (just over $16 AUD) per garment by 2030. Along with the tax, the bill would ban ultra fast fashion brands from advertising in France, among other recommendations that aim to move these brands towards a less environmentally detrimental business model. To save you from doing the maths, the Australian government-backed recommendation of implementing a voluntary four cent levy works out to be 0.0025% of France’s proposed compulsory tax, which could help to explain why many, including the Australia Institute, are dissatisfied with the current Australian approach.
In France too, many questions have been raised regarding the Bill, ranging from what is considered fast fashion in the first place (i.e. whether it would only include brands like Shein or also be applied to European mainstays like Zara and H&M), to whether it’s even legal. It’s a bold measure, sure, but perhaps such a bold response is precisely what’s needed to curb the issue, as we know the most effective way to make a company take notice is by hitting their bottom line. And a voluntary four-cent levy just isn't going to do that.
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