Over the past twenty years fast fashion has spurred unbridled consumerism, with disastrous consequences for the environment and human rights. In this time period, companies like Sweden’s H&M and Spain’s Zara have gone from middle-size purveyors of inexpensive clothing to juggernauts that operate thousands of stores across the world. In the last ten years they have been joined by new entrants such as UK’s BooHoo, America’s Fashion Nova, and most notably the Chinese giant Shein, which has undergone explosive growth in the past few years. All efforts to stop them have failed. It is now time for governments to step in and regulate fast fashion the way it has regulated Big Tobacco and the automotive industry.

By pumping out vast amounts of clothing in countries where labor laws are lightly regulated, fast fashion companies have become some of the worst offenders when it comes to sustainability and ethical labor practices. Shein is a particularly egregious example because its operations are centered in China, which allows it to keep its manufacturing practices completely opaque and away from the eyes of Western regulatory agencies.

Meanwhile, on the consumer end, the amount of textile waste generated by the developed world has reached truly staggering amounts. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018 Americans discarded 17 million tons of textiles, most of which came in the form of trashed garments.

Much hand-wringing has been done to lament this sad state of affairs, and much blame has been put on the companies themselves. Fast fashion firms have enabled the shift in consumer mentality that has turned clothes-shopping into an addictive form of entertainment, making disposability the norm. Some of the blame should also fall on fast fashion consumers who treat shopping as a competitive sport, buying and discarding clothes at a historically unprecedented rate. According to a 2019 report by the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, “The average consumer buys 60 percent more pieces of clothing than 15 years ago. Each item is only kept for half as long.”

To be sure, the rest of the fashion industry bears some of the blame, but fast fashion, with its ultra-low prices and ultra-fast product churn, has been particularly egregious in enabling irresponsible consumer behavior. According to a 2019 Business of Fashion / McKinsey report, “one in three young women in the UK consider clothes ‘old’ after wearing them once or twice. One in seven consider it a fashion faux-pas to be photographed in an outfit twice.”

All this shopping has paid off handsomely for fast fashion giants. The revenue and valuations of these companies are staggering. Earlier this year, Shein recently raised $2 billion in a fresh round of financing. It is now considering going public, seeking a valuation of $90 billion. After only eight years in business, its annual revenue of $23 billion roughly matches that of H&M.

The media and activists have long waged an unsuccessful campaign against fast fashion, and if there is one thing we have learned from this struggle is that asking businesses to reform and shaming consumers does not work. In response to accusations, fast fashion companies engage in greenwashing practices, such as opening recycling centers and touting their use of organic cotton. Their customers also don’t seem to care. By all accounts Gen-Zers are very concerned about climate change and ethical consumption, but numerous surveys also show that they are the biggest consumers of fast fashion.

That public pressure has failed to curb the rampant rise of fast fashion is unsurprising. Companies are driven by the logic of capitalism that requires forever chasing revenue increases and cost-cutting. And consumers are driven by self-interest, which means maximizing the value of their spending. Fast fashion is especially well-positioned to do both by offering vast volumes of merchandise cheaply and by spurring customer demand through pervasive and persuasive marketing. Shein has been particularly savvy in employing armies of social media influencers and bots to whip up demand. YouTube and TikTok are flooded with videos of Shein hauls.

If companies and consumers are not willing to reform, it falls on governments to step in and regulate this segment of the apparel industry. Some efforts have been made, such as the recent EU initiative that prevents companies from destroying clothing. But this is not enough. Fast fashion should be ultimately seen as a health and environmental hazard and regulated as such. It is time the governments, led by the developed world, do the following; tax fast fashion, demand and aggressively enforce greater business transparency, introduce manufacturing standards, and wage a public campaign about the dangers of fast fashion.

Taxation should be used at all levels, from putting a higher VAT tax on fast fashion garments, the way it’s been done for cigarettes, to taxing practices that contribute to global warming and pollution. Developed economic zones such as the US and the EU should start putting up greater tariff barriers and closing the existing loopholes that direct-to-consumer players like Shein take advantage of. Additionally, regulatory bodies should establish the framework of ethical labor practices that applies worldwide and not just in the West, and demand that the developing world manufacturers abide by these rules for fear of economic and political retaliation. Inspections of manufacturing sights should be done by international regulatory agencies and not be left up to the companies themselves, and fines for violations should be hefty.

We also need a post-”Unsafe at Any Speed Moment,” for the apparel industry. Just like Ralph Nader’s blockbuster led to the US Congress to establish car safety standards, we need to establish durability standards for clothing. The European Union has already proposed such legislation, and the US should follow. Lastly, governments should heavily regulate, if not outright ban, fast fashion marketing, and also institute a campaign that educates the public on the dangers of fast fashion.

The fight against Big Tobacco can provide much of the blueprint. Tobacco producers have been beaten through government intervention, which over time has also shifted cultural norms. In America, in 1964 the Surgeon General officially recognized tobacco’s health risks. A year later Congress required health warnings to be displayed on cigarette packs. In 1988 smoking was banned on most US flights. At the same time the US government sued the tobacco companies, taxed cigarettes heavily, and banned tobacco ads. It took decades, but the result is that smoking is now both expensive and uncool. It is time the governments across the world applied the same level of pressure to fast fashion.

To be sure, this will be an uphill battle, because it will require reeducating the consumer not to act in one’s own self-interest. Unlike tobacco, fast fashion does not pose self-evident health risks to consumers, and while we may feel sympathy for the children toiling in third world countries, these are not our children. It will be hard to shift society’s perception about fast fashion and to wean the consumer off the habit of buying mountains of cheap clothes. But we are learning that this battle cannot be won by publishing articles targeting fast fashion companies or by showing videos of landfills and collapsed factory buildings in far away places. It can only be won at the policy level.