Brand Impact: ZARA (Inditex)
Not a hot take, but it turns out that Zara really is as bad as everyone says (it’s us, we’re everyone). In our opinion, it’s a lot easier for people to jump on the bandwagon of distaste for retailers such as PLT and Shein because of their super low prices and poor quality. Retailers in the next price bracket, like Zara and Urban Outfitters, are targeted less, or at least for different reasons.
Zara sells some expensive items, which leads people to believe it can’t be as bad as Shein or Boohoo, etc., but there’s a whole host of problems fuelled by Zara that we’re going to break down in this article. Spending £90 on a coat from Zara isn’t any better than spending £80 on 20 items from Shein (and we’ll tell you why).
As we stated in our last brand impact article about Shein, no one compares to its insanely high production rates. Whilst this isn’t a you’re doing amazing sweetie moment, there’s no denying Zara does an excellent job trying to match Shein’s production rate.
Not only that, things are getting worse. Inditex (the company that owns Zara) publicised its profit growth for this year, revealing a 24.5% increase in sales since 2021. Crazy, right?
Why is ZARA so bad?
Zara is part of a huge parent company called Inditex. Inditex, founded in the 1960s, is like the grandma of fast fashion. She invented the responsive model of quickly replicating trends through fast production. Inditex isn’t only responsible for Zara. Zara Home, Bershka, Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Pull&Bear, Stradivarius, Uterqüe and Lefties are all owned by Inditex- basically, it’s the, like, rich-rich grandma.
The finances behind Inditex give Zara the possibility of buying into an ultra-fast production line, massively contributing to the company's success. Zara is unsustainable by nature as it prides itself on the fact the business has reduced the time from concept design to product stocked on shelves to just 13 days. Your two-week holiday in Spain was longer than the time it takes for Zara to design a garment, create a prototype, mass produce it, and stock it. Most fashion brands take almost a year to release clothing items, but Zara seems to be… well built different.
With stores in 96 different countries, not only is it releasing a tonne of different clothes at the speed of light, it is producing an obscene amount of them to fill its increasing number of stores. I think we’ve all walked down Oxford Street and asked ourselves, “am I walking in circles,” because you seem to be met with Zara store, after Zara store, after… you get the idea.
The Devil Works Hard, but Zara Works Harder
In March 2020, data showed Zara released 24 collections per year - two collections a month. Capitalist society has us doom scrolling fast fashion apps when we’re bored, and thanks to Zara’s extremely fast production rate, there is usually always something new for us to see, so we keep coming back for more. The rate it produces new clothes normalises overconsumption and encourages people to buy into trends on a bi-weekly basis. This is a code red– uhh, red flag– girlie pops!!
We’re putting an overall TW here because this stuff can get dark.
As well as Zara’s lack of transparency and unfulfilled sustainability pledges (we’ll get to that later), the working conditions of its garment workers are shocking. Particularly shocking when you factor in the success of Zara, they’re most definitely not strapped for cash, so why won’t they cough up for the people who make their success possible? Make it make sense.
Zara currently doesn't pay a living wage and only provides well-being services for less than 50% of its workers. Its profit margins are enormous, so there’s no excuse why it can fork out to improve its workers’ quality of life. In Brazil, São Paulo, some workers reported having to work 16 hours a day with restricted movement in tiny workshops. (Impact Politics)
In March 2021, Inditex released a report about its workers’ rights which it was pressured into removing just a day later after receiving a huge backlash. The statement read as follows:
We take a zero-tolerance approach towards forced labour of any kind and have stringent policies and actions in place to ensure that it does not take place anywhere in our supply chain.
Shortly after the public saw this statement, Inditex was being called out for the way it treated its workers making clothes for Zara, particularly those working in China. In Xinjiang, China, there were reports of forced labour, particularly impacting Uyghur Muslims living in Xinjiang. Despite censorship efforts and high security, reports stated that Xinjiang labour camps not only subjected workers to awful working conditions, mental and physical abuse, AND they also sterilised Uyghur women.
It’s difficult to hear this information and know that people still do and will most likely always buy from Zara. China defended Inditex, claiming the labour camps were ‘job training centres’ in an attempt to mask the abhorrent reality.
What's the use in @ZARA boasting about organically grown cotton and a target to reach net-zero emissions by 2040 (still too late hun) when they've denied their garment makers the legal minimum wage for 658 days? @ZARA it's time to #PayYourWorkers! https://t.co/gWINpfbxiA— Venetia La Manna (@venetialamanna) January 19, 2022
Not only did Zara enforce incredibly hostile conditions on its garment workers and remove their right to reproduce, but in 2017 they chose not to pay them at all. Garment workers in Turkey resorted to stitching messages into clothing labels to let the public know about their mistreatment. The fact that they had to resort to this shows the extent of the workplace restrictions, as they felt entirely unable to speak up for themselves.
To make matters worse, many of the workers were not paid for their labour. When this source was published in 2021, Zara was yet to repay the debts of over 140 workers. It is still unconfirmed whether they have been repaid as of 2022.
Unwilling to reveal the truth about its unethical practices, Zara is not very transparent (are we surprised?) It’s difficult to tell what chemicals are used to dye its clothes and how much water is wasted in the production process. It has made several empty promises to work on water conservation and reduce landfill waste, but as it doesn’t publish any reports, it’s impossible to track its progress. Inditex also pledged to lower its greenhouse gas emissions and minimise textile waste, but there is once again no conclusive evidence to suggest any effort has actually been made.
In keeping with its lack of transparency, it’s difficult to find any information that directly links with Zara rather than Inditex as a whole. The Inditex chairman and CEO, Pablo Isla describes sustainability as a ‘never ending task in which everyone here at Inditex is involved and in which we are successfully engaging all of our suppliers’. This is strange considering their largest business, Zara, champions mass-produced clothes made from unsustainable materials like cotton and polyester. Pablo, we have questions.
To successfully engage in sustainable practices as a business, Zara would need to adhere to the sustainability regulations that the other companies in Inditex are held to (or seemingly held to, yet we can’t see much evidence of sustainability elsewhere in Inditex either).
It’s not uncommon to be overwhelmed by the ‘never-ending task’ of sustainability, but paying your workers a living wage for a maximum 8-hour shift and using more ethical materials would be a good place to start. We’re open for business as a sustainability consultancy (not for free, obvi)!