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French fast fashion ban: could the UK follow suit and how would it work?

Katie Ross
10 April 2024

In response to France’s lower house of parliament voting to ban fast fashion advertising and tax fast fashion items, speaks with senior industry players to examine the likelihood of similar legislation at home, and how to make it as responsible and effective as possible.

It comes as no surprise that the nation which spawned the likes of Chanel, Dior and Margiela is haute on the heels of fast fashion. And unlike Maison Margiela’s iconic Tabi split-toe silhouette, there was absolutely no division in France’s lower house of parliament on 14 March. A “kill bill” targeting fast fashion as a catalyst for hyperconsumption and hyperproduction – setting its sights particularly on ultra fast fashion companies such as Shein or Temu – was approved unanimously. 

The legislation is threefold: it imposes a ban on all advertising for the aforementioned fast fashion platforms, and an annually increased tax on their clothing, reaching a maximum of €10 (£8.57) per item by 2030 (although this cannot exceed 50% of the original price). Finally, it demands that fashion retailers include each item’s environmental impact near the product's price.

The law has not come into force yet, so its efficacy remains to be seen. But can it translate to the UK market? Industry veterans weigh in to give the clearest picture of the likelihood of the implementation of similar legislation at home, and what needs to be done in order for aims of sustainability and responsibility to be upheld. 

Emily Gordon-Smith, content director & sustainability lead at trend forecaster Stylus, tells that a clear definition of fast fashion would need to be established in order for such legislation to be successful, combined with criteria to assess the environmental impact of a brand and its products, “such as the amount of items produced, their sales cycles, materials used and pricing,” she says. “France may well set a precedent-type framework for this that could then be adopted by the UK.”

Gordon-Smith adds that the international sharing of such efforts would be the most efficient way to tackle the issue. “The monitoring and scoring of global brands could be via open-source information to avoid individual governments working in isolation and wasted resources in multiple assessments of the same businesses,” she says. “Ultimately, an international agreement on regulation would be the way to go.”

Tamara Cincik Fashion Roundtable

Tamara Cincik, Fashion Roundtable

The looming general election must be taken into account, points out Tamara Cincik, founder and CEO of responsibility think tank Fashion Roundtable, who does not believe the current Conservative government will follow in France’s footsteps any time soon. 

“They rejected any call for extended producer responsibility [EPR – putting legal onus on the manufacturer to reduce its waste] to be part of UK policy remit, so I can’t see greater regulation being part of a systems approach from the current government,” she says, adding that she thinks the opposition parties would be more inclined to adopt anti-fast fashion legislation.

Simon Platts, former senior menswear buyer at Next and responsible sourcing director at Asos, founded end-of-life product management platform Recomme in May last year. MPs both from government and the opposition who’ve been part of the APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group for fashion and textiles, have told Platts they believe “the UK needs a position on how its going to handle overconsumption and overproduction”. 

But what shape should these measures take and where does the buck stop when attempting to champion responsibility and sustainability throughout the muddied trail from garment worker to consumer?

One concern is that consumers at the bottom end of the market will be badly affected by a tax on ultra fast fashion items, and while Cincik notes that a higher price point will naturally affect all consumers, Gordon-Smith clears up any confusion: 

“This type of legislation is actually designed to deter the over consumption of relatively financially comfortable shoppers who buy without thought and consistently fuel the fast fashion machine.” She explains that the poorest consumer is not the problem as they are more concerned with product longevity and functionality. “There is an opportunity here for benevolent brands to reframe value and serve those who are financially vulnerable without it costing an environmental fortune,” she concludes.

And how would the legislation affect garment workers in the Global South? “I think [the ban on algorithm-based marketing] is smart,” says Cincik. “However, while fast fashion is questionable because of fair wages, it is also an income generator for people in garment work so you have to be very nuanced about that.

“If you ban fast fashion outright, where do those workers go for work? You have to take a much more systemic approach which builds up secure work for garment workers and for those in the supply chain rather than just banning fast fashion, which could then lead to more people [particularly women and girls] being in poverty.” 

Simon Platts

Simon Platts

Platts agrees, but says that some of the responsibility lies with the consumers themselves. “Brands sell things that people want, and if people want cheap clothes, they are prepared to close their eyes and ears. I can’t think of one customer that doesn't know that if a product is too cheap to be realistic, someone has been harmed along the way. You can’t say you didn't know.”

“There’s no simple answer,” he concludes. “We’re so far down the road of exploiting people and planet that there is going to be collateral damage.” 

Cincik says the shift needs to be cultural and psychological, rather than simply changing advertising policies. “You can’t shame people into not shopping. I just don't think that works as a tactic. And is that the tactic the fashion industry wants to use? Surely you want to train people in the same way that you do with marketing and do something that entices them towards that change rather than shames them.” 

One more systematic approach is tax incentives and stricter measures for brands and retailers. 

Cincik wants to see more UK-made products, with tax incentives to support that. “If you had a tax incentive to support sustainably made localism, and understood those production routes between suppliers in the supply chains more locally in the UK, I think you could have a stamp of ‘Made in the UK’, made transparently, made ethically, which I think would be powerful for some consumers. But that would be at a higher price point as some people are buying British brands and paying that higher price point not realising that they are still made in China.”

Platts also believes that rather than an outright ban, tackling brands’ inner workings via legislation is essential for change, such as incentives to change their supply model and create more easily recyclable products. 

“Then, for example, if brands want to sell to Europe, and they don't deal with the things they've got to deal with internally, then legislation will make it so that they can't sell. And then they might start to change. 

“The only way that we're going to see movement and progress, I believe, is through legislation. And then ultimately, law, alongside incentive to do better. It doesn't all have to be stick. It should be a little bit of carrot as well.”

With the backdrop of an impending general election, whether or not the UK government will follow in France’s footsteps hangs in the balance. But when the day comes, industry veterans agree that the UK government must design bespoke, transmutable policy that addresses every complexity of the issue, rather than hastily manufacturing a one-size-fits-all bill.

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