While some argue that Zara is not fast fashion due to its higher price range, the reality is that it is. Indeed, Zara is regarded as the originator of fast fashion. The phrase “fast fashion” was popularized in the 1990s by the New York Times to characterize Zara’s ability to move a garment from design to retail in less than 15 days.
Zara may appear to be growing more “sustainable,” yet the majority of their initiatives are insufficient, especially for a global fashion business with significant financial resources, influence, and resources. I’ll take a thorough look into their greenwashing in this piece and propose some alternatives.
For context, Zara is owned by Inditex, and I will be examining Inditex’s sustainability reports in lieu of Zara’s lack of a sustainability website (a red flag in itself). Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho, Zara Home, and Uterqüe are among Inditex’s other brands.
A Comprehensive Examination of Zara’s Ethics and Sustainability
Zara does have some objectives in place, like sourcing all textiles responsibly by 2025. They state as follows:
- Their cotton will be recycled, BCI (Better Cotton Initiative) certified, or organic.
- Their viscose and wood-based fibers will be derived entirely from sustainably managed forests.
- All synthetic fibers will be recycled completely.
- Currently, they are still employing virgin synthetics, as well as traditional viscose and cotton. Synthetics emit microplastics and degrade over hundreds of years. While recycled synthetics are preferable, they still shed microplastics. Conventional viscose manufacturing can result in deforestation and frequently includes the use of harmful chemicals. Cotton grown conventionally consumes a lot of water and can contribute to soil deterioration and water contamination due to pesticides.
Zara also has a recycling program and a goal of sending no waste to landfills by 2023, but these efforts fall short of the genuine spirit of circularity when new designs are released everyday and ongoing consumption is encouraged. It is really extremely usual for fast fashion manufacturers to offer a recycling scheme, since it enables buyers to rationalize more purchases. Zara is, however, evasive about what happens to the items once they are sold. They state as follows:
“Before clothing is reused or recycled, it is sorted. Clothing made entirely of cotton, wool, or polyester may be recycled to create new fabric. The remainder of the clothing will be used into building or automobile materials. Items that cannot be reused or recycled owing to health or safety concerns or the poor quality of their components undergo a thorough waste management process.”
I’m wondering as to how much material is recycled vs what is downcycled and what their “waste management method” is. Regrettably, a significant amount of “recycled” or donated apparel ends up in the Global South.
Zara also makes no mention of colors (which might be hazardous), water, or textile waste. However, the primary concern continues to be their overproduction.
Zara’s Ethics and Sustainability
Zara does have a code of conduct that prohibits forced or child labor, pays a living wage, and maintains safe working conditions. That sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Regrettably, they have been implicated in the use of forced labor, implying that extremely serious things are sliding past their audits. It is one thing to establish a code of behavior; it is quite another to adhere to it.
Zara is not a constant supporter of charitable activities. They do collaborate with a few organizations through their recycling program, and in 2020, they will distribute 10,000 masks to Covid patients and health care staff in Spain. They claimed in 2020, during the height of BLM demonstrations, “We are making fiscal contributions to groups actively against racism, bigotry, and inequality, particularly among Black communities.” It is unknown which organizations they gave to or how much they contributed.
The majority of Zara’s goods are available in sizes XS-XL, while select popular pieces may be available in XXL or XXXL. Size inclusiveness is a significant issue in fashion, and it would be fantastic to see a globally recognized brand expand their size.
They do not stock adaptable apparel for disabled individuals. Similarly, this is a concern, and Zara has the opportunity to truly lead the way by creating flexible styles.
Zara has certain rules in place to promote gender equality in the workplace, but does not appear to prioritize racial equality or diversity. They displayed three black squares with the slogan “we stand for equality” during the BLM demonstrations in 2020, which accomplishes little.
Zara makes use of animal-derived materials such as leather, cashmere, and wool. The majority of the leather appears to be approved by the Leather Working Group to ensure better sustainable methods, and Zara specifies that the leather must come from “animals reared for food, never for their skin.” Nonetheless, using virgin leather benefits the brutal meat business. Unfortunately, imitation leather (which Zara also employs) is not eco-friendly due to its plastic composition. Alternatives such as plant-based or recycled leather are preferable.
Zara’s wool must be free of mulesing (a painful technique) and originate from appropriately handled sheep, although it is unclear how Zara checks this. Their wool does not appear to be certified. Additionally, there is no additional information on the cashmere.
On the plus side, Zara does not use fur or synthetic materials designed to resemble fur, and they discontinued mohair in 2020.
Is Zara fast fashion?
Zara is undeniably a quick fashion business with some quite significant ethical and environmental challenges. I would avoid purchasing there if possible, especially given the availability of sustainable brands with comparable size ranges and cost. Those are the ones I’ll recommend below!
That yet, I know that avoiding fast fashion entirely is a privilege, especially if you need to purchase in-store, are pressed for time, or want something really unique (along with the pricing and sizing issues I mentioned already).
I’m not here to pass judgment on anyone’s purchases. Regardless of where you shop, I advise you to be careful of your purchases and to extend the life of your clothing as much as possible.
Finally, please do not feel awful if you were unaware of Zara’s unethical actions; greenwashing efforts are quite effective in duping consumers. The critical point is to continue doing what you can in terms of personal consumption and holding businesses responsible.
Alternatives to Zara That Are Ethical
Consider buying used before purchasing new. While I like independent secondhand stores, there are also some excellent internet sites. (If you’re concerned about thrifting’s gentrification, this piece explains why thrifting is accessible to everyone as long as you exercise caution in specific situations.)
If you’re unable to locate what you’re looking for used, the following sustainable brands provide comparable pricing:
Armedangels—aesthetically and economically comparable to Zara, but made with really sustainable materials and laborers given a fair wage (masculine- and feminine-presenting options).
For Days—versatile and reasonably priced organic cotton streetwear with a closed-loop manufacturing process (masculine- and feminine-presenting options).
Pact—relatively inexpensive clothing produced of GOTS- and Fair Trade-certified cotton (masculine- and feminine-presenting options)
Kotn—polished designs created by a Canadian firm that invests in Egypt’s cotton agricultural sector; B Corp certified (masculine and feminine-presenting options)
And here are some more pricey but equally wonderful brands (the fashions are typically more intriguing as well):
Mayamiko—bold items crafted in Malawi from locally sourced cloth by artisans earning a livable wage. (use code LILYFANG10 for a 10% discount)
Hackwith Design House (up to 4X)—beautiful staple pieces hand-sewn in Minnesota.
Tradlands (up to 5X)—cozy knits and flowing skirts manufactured by fair-wage employees
Loud Bodies (up to 10X)—beautiful gowns crafted at a tiny workshop in Romania from natural fabrics.