Zara is one of the most popular fashion brands in the world.
But, as the saying goes, it’s lonely at the top. And that popularity has come with significant scrutiny of its business practices.
Zara has been accused of many unethical practices, such as greenwashing and even the use of sweatshops. In this article, we’re going to examine the evidence and find out if Zara genuinely deserves this reputation or is the target of overzealous ecowarriors.
A (Very) Brief History of Zara’s Place in The Fashion Industry
Zara is a fashion retailer that was founded in Spain in 1975. It is now owned by the Inditex group, which is the world’s largest fashion retailer.
Many credit Zara with being the first true fast-fashion brand.
Zara is well known for the speed with which its designers are able to create new collections. It creates new designs and gets them into stores within two weeks. This is much faster than most other fashion retailers.
The company has been known to release over 20 collections in a single year. And, that kind of business model alone already makes it difficult to make a case for Zara’s sustainability.
But, in the spirit of fairness, let’s take a look at what we know about Zara and compare it to sustainable fashion standards.
Does Zara Use Sustainable Materials?
We want to be fair right from the start and acknowledge Zara’s awareness of its environmental impact. The brand aims to create clothes from 100% sustainable materials across all its collections by 2025.
That sets it apart from other fast fashion brands as the first in the bunch to make such a commitment.
But, while commendable, it’s not clear whether Zara will be able to meet its environmental sustainability goals or how it intends to keep itself accountable in this regard.
Also, by setting this goal, the company is essentially admitting that it currently uses unsustainable textiles. Still, as such a massive brand, even Zara’s stated intention is enough to start changing the global fashion agenda towards sustainability.
Currently, Zara’s parent company states that it has increased its use of organic cotton by 91% since 2019. A big jump, but ultimately only adds up to a fraction of Zara’s cotton use. It also increased its use of recycled polyester by over 80% since 2019.
On that basis, we commend Zara, but we’re very eager to see if it manages to come through on its promises.
Does Zara Use Sweatshops?
Unfair labor practices are one of the biggest transgressions in the fashion industry. And while big multinational brands routinely exploit garment workers, most have started to become leery about pushing their luck in this regard.
Zara’s parent company, like many others in similar positions, has been tied to manufacturing and supply chains in Asia that routinely engage in unfair labor practices.
While direct evidence is slim, it’s very difficult to make a case that Zara doesn’t profit from exploited workers.
Unfortunately, Zara’s road to a more sustainable business model necessarily involves this as a foundational step.
Organic cotton and the reduction of textile waste are all well and good but taking a stand against human rights violations is by far a more impressive position.
Is Zara Ethical About Its Waste Production?
Fashion has a waste problem.
It’s an inescapable problem, and it’s difficult to envision a world in which fast-fashion brands start taking on millions of dollars in losses to fix it.
That preamble serves to give context to the fact that Zara produces as much waste as the next fast-fashion brand.
However, it’s fair to give credit to Zara for at least making moves in the right direction.
Zara has made a commitment to reuse and recycle a significant portion of the waste it ultimately produces.
The company is also working on training its product teams toward a bigger focus on reuse and durability.
That said, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that Zara is a pillar of environmental sustainability.
Here, again, we commend Zara for its efforts to promote textile recycling, but that doesn’t change the environmental impact of Zara’s core business model.
Is Zara’s Supply Chain Sustainable?
This is where Zara shows the greatest promise of sustainability.
Zara’s parent company, Inditex, has pledged to “close the loop” and create a circular economy within its clothing empire.
Additionally, the company’s headquarters in Spain is powered entirely by renewable energy sources.
It claims to use 100% recycled packaging and has since at least 2020. And while this seems to be mostly true, there have been reports of transgressions in this area.
Perhaps Zara’s most impressive step away from fast-fashion industry practices is the pledge to send absolutely no waste to landfills from its stores, factories, and logistics centers by 2023.
If the company manages to come through on this front, it will certainly make a substantial impact on its ethical and sustainable ratings.
Zara’s Plans To Join The Ranks of Sustainable Brands
As you can see, Zara has high hopes of becoming a more responsible brand.
And, barring a few obvious failings, it seems to be serious about its commitments.
But, more than the question of Zara’s sustainability, it’s worth asking whether or not fast fashion can ever be stitched together into a coherently sustainable model. Our opinion is probably not.
The two approaches are so diametrically opposed to each other that it’s almost impossible to see such a scenario working out.
So, is Zara a sustainable brand? Not really, and it likely never will be without a complete reorganization.