Fast fashion: France seeks to slow down wasteful industry | Fashion Trends - Hindustan Times
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Fast fashion: France seeks to slow down wasteful industry

By | Posted by Akanksha Agnihotri
Apr 08, 2024 04:39 PM IST

France introduces new law to regulate fast-fashion giants, requiring environmental impact disclosures and eco-scores.

France is working on a new law to better regulate fast-fashion companies. Experts and activists welcome the measure — although some would have preferred a different method. France's fast-fashion bill was voted through unanimously in the lower house of Parliament recently, creating a rare consensus in the National Assembly, where the government lacks an absolute majority and often faces stiff opposition.

Fast fashion has come under scrutiny for its massive environmental costs.(java)
Fast fashion has come under scrutiny for its massive environmental costs.(java)

But that unanimity doesn't mean everybody welcomes the government's method. The new rules will affect companies that roll out a certain minimum number of products per day — a threshold to be defined later on by decree. The government is targeting fast-fashion giants like manufacturer Shein and online platform Temu, both based in China.

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Such companies will have to post clearly visible messages on their websites indicating their products' environmental impact and inciting customers to recycle items— or else face fines of up to €15,000 ($16,160). A new eco-point system will evaluate fashion companies. Those that perform poorly will have to pay a levy of initially €5 and then, by 2030, up to €10 per item.

And the government will ban publicity for fast-fashion companies and their products from 2025. Infringing that law will carry penalties of up to €100,000. The bill still needs to be greenlighted by France's Senate and could come into effect over the coming months.

'We have won a cultural battle'

However, for Julia Faure, fashion designer and president of the group En Mode Climat which includes roughly 600 companies that produce fashion in a sustainable way, the draft law is already “great news.” "We have won a cultural battle, as fast fashion is an environmental, social and cultural disaster that wipes out everything but the luxury sector in the market, just like a huge juggernaut," she told DW.

Faure thinks the government is sending the right signal when fashion made of cotton and produced locally gets a good eco-score while products manufactured far away and from synthetic fabrics are badly marked. "And yet, we need to stay alert and make sure the threshold through which fast-fashion companies are defined is not set too high," she added.

But Philippe Moati thinks that this threshold shouldn't be too low, so as to make sure it doesn't include French brands. He's a professor of economics at Paris Cite University and the founder of Paris-based market research company ObSoCo.

The right method?

And he disagrees with the government's method. "The draft law stigmatizes these brands' clients who, according to a study we are conducting, are the less educated and less well off. It's important for them to be able to afford fashion to feel they are part of society," he told DW. The economist estimates that what he calls "ultra-fast fashion" makes up for about 3% of France's fashion market — exact figures don't exist.

Moati advocates that fast-fashion businesses should be regulated more strictly, but with existing tools. "The government should implement French laws such as the two-year guarantee for fashion items, the ban on selling under-cost and the obligation to calculate discounts using realistic reference prices," Moati noted.

"Plus, we should levy import duties on all textile imports — not just those costing at least €150 as right now," the expert urged, adding that ultra-fast fashion did have the upside that it produced a very small series of products which also meant there were practically no unsold items. Shein, Temu, Zara and H&M either declined or failed to answer requests for interviews with DW.

France could lead the way

Gildas Minvielle, director of the Economic Observatory at Paris-based fashion school Institut Francais de la Mode, thinks time will tell if the government's approach is the right one. "This is uncharted territory — we need to test what works and what doesn't," he told DW. "In any case, though, it's crucial to remind consumers of fast fashion's devastating impact on the environment."

For him, the unanimous vote in parliament shows French politicians have understood there's urgency for action. "The draft law is a reaction to the deep crisis which the pret-a-porter sector [designer clothes sold ready-to-wear] has been going through since 2022 with numerous brands filing for bankruptcy," he said.

"France, the home of fashion, could now lead the way. These rules should be widened out to the whole of Europe as the fashion market is a European one," he said. There were some dissenting voices in the National Assembly such as Antoine Vermorel-Marques, a parliamentarian in the department of Loire in central France for the conservative party Les Republicains.

"Fashion companies in my home county used to employ around 10,000 people in the 1980s, but that number has gone down to 2,000 after they outsourced production to Asia," he told DW. "Only recently they started to re-hire workers, as there's a trend to buy more locally produced items. Fast fashion has now created new downward pressure on costs — we need to take countermeasures," said Vermorel-Marques.

And yet, the politician doesn't welcome all the paragraphs of the draft bill. "The ban on publicity will stymie the market instead of regulating it. We should just focus on the eco-point system that'll allow us to take into account negative externalities, i.e. have companies pay for their products' negative environmental and social impact," he underlined.

'More measures needed' for climate targets

But Pierre Condamine, spokesman of the group Stop Fast Fashion which includes several NGOs fighting for the protection of the environment, thinks the new rules don't go far enough. "The threshold defining fast fashion should be directly enshrined in the bill and be low enough to also encompass French companies such as sporting goods retailer Decathlon," he told DW. "Companies should also have to pay a minimum levy if they get a negative eco-score, something that's so far not included in the plans."

He added that fast-fashion companies should have the obligation to publish their sales figures for France. "That's the only way we can actually understand what we are facing and try to work towards fulfilling the Paris Climate Agreement," Condamine stated, urging French citizens to buy "not more than five new fashion items per year — and not 50 like it's currently the case."

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