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French lawmakers approve bill penalizing fast fashion

France’s lower house of parliament on Thursday approved a bill seeking penalties on ultra-fast fashion products, sold by companies like China’s Shein, aimed at helping to offset their environmental impact.

The bill calls for gradually increasing penalties of up to 10 euros ($11) per individual item of clothing by 2030, as well for a ban on advertising for such products.

All voting lawmakers unanimously approved the bill, which will head to the senate before it can become law.

The popularity of fashion retailers Shein and Temu — which scale up orders based on demand thanks to ultra-flexible supply chains — have disrupted the retail sector while established players like Zara and H&M continue to largely rely on predicting shoppers’ preferences.

“This evolution of the apparel sector towards ephemeral fashion, combining increased volumes and low prices, is influencing consumer buying habits by creating buying impulses and a constant need for renewal, which is not without environmental, social and economic consequences,” the bill said.

Shein said in a statement to Reuters that the clothes it produces meet an existing demand, which allows its rate of unsold garments to remain consistently in low single digits, whereas traditional players can have up to 40% waste.

It added that the only impact of the bill would be to “worsen the purchasing power of French consumers, at a time when they are already feeling the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.”

Writing on X, France’s environment minister, Christophe Béchu, described the bill as a “major step forward,” adding: “A big step has been taken to reduce the textile sector’s environmental footprint.”

Workers make clothes at a garment factory that supplies Shein in China's southern Guangdong province in July 2022. - Jade Gao/AFP/Getty Images
Workers make clothes at a garment factory that supplies Shein in China's southern Guangdong province in July 2022. - Jade Gao/AFP/Getty Images

The bill comes as the French environmental ministry said it would propose a European Union ban on exports of used clothes, in a bid to tackle the worsening problem of textile waste.

Last year, the country launched a repair scheme to encourage people to mend old clothes and shoes rather than throw them away. The French government pledged 154 million euros ($168 million) to the initiative, which reimburses shoppers up to 25 euros ($27.20) for every garment they have repaired. The non-profit group tasked with running the scheme, Refashion, says that 3.3 billion items of clothing, household linen and footwear went on the French market in 2022. At the time, the country’s ministry of ecology said that French people throw away 700,000 tons of clothes — two-thirds of which ends up in landfills — each year.

Among the world’s most polluting industries, fashion accounts for between 3% and 5% of global carbon emissions, according to consultancy McKinsey’s State of Fashion report. Around half of all fibers produced by the industry are forms of oil-based polyester, the report added.

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