Federal Minister for Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, is calling on the fashion industry to do better when it comes to fashion production and waste.

Speaking at eBay Australia headquarters in Sydney, Plibersek said there is a large corner of the fashion industry that is too reliant on pushing a throwaway shopping culture. 

“Environmental standards are still woeful,” Plibersek said. “So woeful in fact that the fashion industry is responsible for 10 per cent of humanity’s carbon emissions – more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined.

“It’s the responsibility of Government and the fashion industry to examine how we can be more sustainable in design, the materials used and the role of the circular economy in extending the lifespan of a garment.

“As an industry, there needs to be environmental sustainability of business models and the way products are marketed.”

The latest remarks come eight months after Plibersek issued an ultimatum to the fashion industry, saying if it doesn’t make enough sustainable progress in a year, she will regulate. Those remarks were made at the launch of Australian Fashion Council’s soon-to-be operating clothing product stewardship scheme Seamless, which now currently has eight fashion business members.

Back at the recent eBay event, Plibersek said the other part of the fashion sustainability issue is consumer behaviour, with many still buying into the fast fashion culture that boomed in the 1990s thanks to free trade agreements and the internet.

“The internet really turbo-charged fast fashion both in terms of design and distribution,” Plibersek said.

“Improved affordability of clothes is a good thing. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between a new pair of school shoes and paying the electricity bill.

“But this big shift in the industry was accompanied by a surge in thoughtless design and material selection, and driven by a business model that encouraged a throwaway shopping culture.”

However, Plibersek said shifting consumer preferences is not the only way to fix the issue. 

“If it’s the fashion industry that makes the profits, then it must be responsible for doing better by the environment,” Plibersek said. “That’s why it’s so good to see parts of the fashion industry leading the way on adopting circularity.

“That starts with taking responsibility for design. And given that up to 97 per cent of clothing sold in Australia is designed and manufactured overseas, that means importers and retailers must be more accountable for the products they sell and their effects on nature. Are the clothes they sell destined for landfill after a few wears?

“And for those who manufacture in Australia, it means thinking hard about what they can do to create and sell products that have a longer shelf life, while still being affordable. To design a product that could be re-used, repaired or recycled rather than buried or burned.”

According to Plibersek, some brands have already lifted the bar, implementing re-use, repair and recycling initiatives. 

She said with better design and more responsible materials, manufacturers can use less water to make jeans or t-shirts made from recycled fibres.

“My jeans can be returned to the shop for repairs,” Plibersek said. “My exercise gear can be returned to the shop for recycling. 

“I have suits from an Australian designer that uses lots of remnant fabrics that would otherwise end up in landfill. And purchases are often packed in recycled paper and cardboard.

“Internationally too, we are seeing more and more affordable brands and retailers using better environmental design and sourcing, and taking responsibility for their products when the buyer is done with them.

“Government is not sitting on our hands on this issue. The federal government has put the fashion industry on a watch list - signalling our strong expectation that industry needed to take action to reduce clothing sent to landfill.”

Plibersek than turned her attention to Seamless, applauding the scheme for signing on Cotton On Group and Sussan Group since the initial launch. The two retailers join the original founding members: Big W, David Jones, Lorna Jane, Rip Curl, R.M. Williams and The Iconic.

“I will continue to monitor the progress of Seamless in the lead up to June of this year and very much hope to see more brands and retailers signed on or in discussion with the Seamless management team about participating,” Plibersek said.

“I repeat what I said in June last year: I am watching. If I am not happy with industry progress, I will step in and regulate.”

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