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The Australian fashion industry is making a stand with the launch of Seamless (the National Clothing Product Stewardship Scheme) spearheaded by the Australian Fashion Council in 2023.

For the past twelve months, our founder Courtney Holm has been in the Product Stewardship Scheme’s reference group of industry representatives, inputting on the design of the scheme. Throughout this time, we've spent time in consultation, attended town hall meetings, read through the reports compiled by the consortium and delivered feedback alongside stakeholders ranging from industry bodies, producers and big businesses.

As of June 7th 2023, the scheme was officially announced along with its new name, Seamless, by Hon Tanya Plibersek MP. Seamless will see that Australian fashion businesses who make clothes pay a 4c levy on each item of clothing they produce in order to fund better collection, sorting and recycling of textiles and address the 200,000 tonnes of Australian textiles that get landfilled each year. This is a huge move for the Australian fashion industry and a welcome one for those of us pushing for change and seeking industry alignment on extended producer responsibility and circularity. However, it wasn’t all collaboration-happy.

Only six large fashion businesses (out of the 30 who were petitioned to sign on) have stepped up, marking their commitment in a tangible way with a $100,000 down payment (which will be deducted from their first year of levy payments). Some of these might surprise you with Big W, David Jones, Rip Curl, The Iconic, Lorna Jane and R.M. Williams taking the courageous first step towards a local circular fashion industry, despite any apparent flaws or current shortcomings. This action speaks far louder than the greenwashed marketing trickery we have come to expect from most large businesses in the clothing space. So we’re commending these six foundation members for their commitment. What's really interesting is who's not on the list. 

 

"...these businesses are taking a punt that there won't be any immediate consequences and their customers won’t care, but I think they’re wrong."

 

So why didn't more fashion brands sign up? While we aren't going to name and shame yet (some might still sign up after receiving consumer, industry and government pressure) the ABC alludes to who some of them are in this article. Many of these large businesses, who position themselves as leaders, not laggards, have failed to report to duty. I’ve said it before, the circular economy is a team sport, no one brand or business can achieve it alone, no matter how good they think their sustainability initiatives are. By not signing on, these businesses are taking a punt that there won't be any immediate consequences and their customers won’t care, but I think they’re wrong.

Individuals care deeply about this and won’t stand for household name brands to sit back and do nothing while others pay the way. I know countless micro businesses and SMEs who will sign onto the scheme in a heartbeat, but they aren’t the ones whose clothes are filling up landfills both locally and abroad. As citizens, we need to show we care about this and put pressure on all fashion and apparel businesses to join Seamless. And there are powerful ways we can do it.

 

"For too long businesses have allowed individuals to take the pressure for making minuscule individual changes to reduce their carbon footprints or waste, but we all know the biggest impacts are on the business end of town. It’s time for them step up."

 

Citizens can make their desires heard by flooding the social media accounts of these large businesses, respectfully asking them to sign on to the Seamless scheme. We can stop shopping with them until they do and write an email into the business HQ to explain why. We can spread the word to people in our spheres of life. We can show support to the businesses who are doing the right thing, prioritising buying from small and local businesses, shopping second hand and buying less while buying for longevity - all great practices anyway. I think customers care very much indeed. For too long businesses have allowed individuals to take the pressure for making minuscule individual changes to reduce their carbon footprints or waste, but we all know the biggest impacts are on the business end of town. It’s time for them step up.

Businesses must have a total mindset change and start planning for a circular future, prioritising the planet and people within it if we're to make a dent on the insurmountable pollution and environmental destruction the textile waste in our country is generating. I still have hope that it can be achieved at a voluntary level, but perhaps truly the only way to ensure its success is to regulate it.

In order to get it off the ground quickly, the scheme is initially voluntary with a view to transition to co-regulation, but Plibersek made is quite clear that if we didn't see 60% industry adoption in the next 12 months, that she would fully regulate the scheme. If that is the case, it’s a sad day for consumer trust in the business ecosystem.

This is huge news for the country as we’ve now created a blueprint for schemes just like it around the world. We have an opportunity to lead in the circular economy and move away from being a country of over-consumers and into one of informed and conscious citizens. Bottom line - support small businesses whenever possible and if we do need to buy something from one of the big guys, let's prioritise the ones who have committed to circularity right now, without regulation. To the businesses who haven't signed up I say, now is the time to step it up and lead and there's no time to waste.

To read more about Seamless - download the report here.

Or visit the Australian Fashion Council.


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