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Here’s why a complete ban on fast fashion isn’t feasible

Experts delve into challenges in enforcement, potential economic ramifications, and shifts in consumer behavior.

Here’s why a complete ban on fast fashion isn’t feasible
[Source photo: Krishna Prasad/Fast Company Middle East]

With aesthetic billboards, persistent notifications, and influencers’ discount codes, fast fashion’s appeal is ever-growing despite the unsustainable practices it’s known for. 

Last month, at a watershed moment, the French parliament passed a bill targeting ultra-fast fashion products, such as those sold by China’s Shein. The bill aims to mitigate environmental impact by imposing penalties of up to $11 per item of clothing by 2030 and banning advertising for such products.

The potential of a larger scale EU ban is challenging for an industry that is responsible for approximately $500 billion in losses annually, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, due to clothing that sees minimal wear, isn’t donated, recycled, or ends up in landfills or incinerators.

Moreover, fashion shows contribute approximately 241,000 tons of carbon emissions and generate waste, including plastic water bottles and leftover food. 

The fashion industry predominantly depends on materials like cotton, polyester, and leather, none of which are sustainably sourced or environmentally friendly.

Calls for banning fast fashion brands have grown louder as their detrimental environmental and social impacts become increasingly evident. 

Deborah Bee, founder of Bee&Sons, dedicated to keeping fashion out of landfills, emphasizes that a ban on fast fashion would disrupt the garment industry’s supply chain in many developing nations. “Any alteration to the textile or fashion industry, no matter how minor, could impact entire populations dependent on income from international buyers,” she says.

Despite these challenges, Bee stresses the urgent necessity for change. “The fashion industry needs to understand and act upon the impact of fast fashion not only from an environmental point of view but also from social, political, economic, and psychological perspectives,” she says. 


Fast fashion has become synonymous with unsustainable consumerism because of rapid production cycles, low-cost manufacturing, and incessant trend turnover. Calls to ban fast fashion have reverberated across environmental, social, and economic spheres, sparking debates on the industry’s future trajectory. Proponents argue that such a ban is essential to mitigate the industry’s detrimental effects on the planet, workers, and communities. However, opponents raise concerns about the potential economic repercussions. 

Earth.org reports that if the current trajectory continues without intervention to reduce fast fashion waste, the industry’s worldwide emissions will double by the decade’s end.

A global governmental intervention that unites experts across various disciplines to develop a strategy ensuring swift environmental change while considering the entire supply chain is needed. 

Reflecting on past experience, Bee recounts a visit to a jeans factory in Managua, Nicaragua, 15 years ago, where she witnessed non-unionized garment workers earning less than a living wage. She shares an encounter with the founder of the Body Shop, Anita Roddick, who aimed to campaign for the unionization of workers, only to be dissuaded by the workers themselves, fearing job loss and inability to provide for their families. Bee emphasizes this experience and the importance of strategic, long-term planning for the supply chain. “Without a strategic long-term plan for the entire supply chain, well-meaning interventions can negatively impact the people we are trying to help.”

When considering the impact of a fast fashion ban, one must be mindful of the myriad challenges on the road. 

“From a regulatory perspective – how can a ban be policed? The fashion brands have created supply chains that are so complex and sophisticated that the origins of production are often, in effect, untraceable,” Bee says.

She highlights the intricate web of subcontracting prevalent in garment manufacturing, where factories overwhelmed by orders pass them to other factories, creating a labyrinthine network. In developing countries, where environmental and workplace standards regulations may be lax, ensuring compliance becomes even more daunting. “No brand – however well-intentioned – can be 100% certain that their garments are being made by the suppliers they originally commissioned,” Bee adds.

Moreover, a fast fashion ban necessitates a fundamental overhaul of retailers’ business models, presenting significant economic implications. “Retailers would have to rethink their business models entirely,” Bee says. Brands thrive on the incessant pursuit of novelty, designing garments with built-in obsolescence to drive continuous consumption. 

“Their business models are built on this, and clothes are not designed to last, deliberately, so that they can sell more,” Bee explains, underscoring the entrenched nature of this paradigm.

Exploring the roadblocks to circularity within the fashion industry, experts agreed that despite growing awareness of the perils of fast fashion, behavioral change in consumers is the biggest roadblock. 

“Our society is yet to shift its understanding. So when we offer a solution, we encourage buying quality, wearing it longer, and sending it back for someone else to wear until the end of its cycle,” Gergana Abdulrahman, co-founder of sustainable fashion and lifestyle brand Wild Fabrik, said.

A ban on fast fashion would unquestionably spur innovation, paving the way for a circular economy and lifestyle. 

So, what is the biggest challenge to get there? “The key challenge then sits with consumers,” Bee says. She recounts experiences lecturing fashion students on the pitfalls of fast fashion, only to witness them entering class with bags of cheap fashion brands. “Unless we convince everyone, including ourselves, to stop buying cheap crap, we won’t persuade the retailers to stop making it,” Bee adds.

There is a need for consumer empowerment through informed decision-making to effect meaningful change. “We need to vote with our feet.”

Demanding transparency from retailers regarding sourcing practices and environmental impact is paramount. “We need to know where our clothes are made, by whom, using what fabric, and from where? We need to understand the impact that different fibers have on the environment. We need to listen to the scientists and not the scaremongers,” Bee says. 

Efsun Ibrahim, the marketing strategist at ELEMENTS, an environmentally conscious fashion brand based in the UAE, emphasizes the importance of embracing a critical and forward-thinking approach toward fashion. This entails integrating creativity with responsibility and aiming for a positive impact as the industry progresses. “Fast fashion has encouraged a culture of disposable clothing, where garments are worn a few times and discarded. This contributes to waste and perpetuates unsustainable consumption patterns that harm the environment.” 

Bee adds that we need brands to take responsibility for the impact of garments on the world and the workforce “from the start of production to the end of life of a garment.” 

However, the cost element is a significant obstacle to change in consumer behavior. Normalizing cheap clothing has skewed consumer values, perpetuating a cycle of overconsumption and disposability.

To illustrate this point, Bee compares the cost of goods and average wages over time. In 1980, a pair of high street boots cost $41, while the annual wage stood at $8,327.67, allowing for approximately 200 pairs of boots in a year. Contrastingly, today’s average pair of boots costs $69.39, with an annual wage of $47,126.15, enabling the purchase of roughly 680 pairs of boots in a year – nearly three times as many. This disparity extends beyond footwear to other goods, such as housing, where prices have soared exponentially compared to modest increases in clothing costs.

“Houses are 14 times more expensive, boots have not quite doubled in price,” Bee says, underscoring the disparity between the perceived value of clothing and its true worth. To address this discrepancy, Bee advocates for consumer re-education, emphasizing the need to cultivate an understanding of the value of clothing beyond its monetary cost.

Brands must prioritize sustainability and accountability in the fashion industry while urging consumers to reassess their clothing valuation. By fostering a culture of responsible consumption and recognizing the true cost of fast fashion, stakeholders can work towards a more equitable and sustainable future for the fashion industry and beyond.

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Rachel Clare McGrath Dawson is a Senior Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East. More