22/09/2016
Can Zara ever truly be an ethical brand?

Words by

Eliza Sholly

After numerous accusations of ripping off independent designers, fast-fashion retailer Zara is attempting to make amends.

The international powerhouse is trying its hand at sustainability, creating a new fashion line made entirely from environmentally-friendly materials.

According to the Zara site, “the collection embraces a woman who looks into a more sustainable future” and is produced using environmentally-conscious materials like organic cotton, recycled wool and Tencel, a recycled fabric derived from wood cellulose. Zara says that its Tencel is sourced from sustainably managed forests and that the farming process for its organic cotton uses 90 percent less water than usual cotton.

The range itself is very true to the Zara aesthetic. We see a lot of autumnal coloured dresses, blouses and jackets, with hints of denim throughout.

As well as this tangible collection, the Spanish company is also launching a social campaign using the hashtag #JoinLife. This includes the ‘box with a past’ initiative, that sees a selection of artists creatively transforming Zara cardboard boxes into works of art.

For a brand like Zara, which has nearly 2,000 stores in 88 countries, this has the potential to transform their supply chain in a number of positive ways. By implementing transparency in their processes, Zara can impact a vast system of suppliers, factories, transport operators and brick and mortar stores.

However, it seems a tenuous stance to take, considering Zara has long perpetuated the trend of cheaply and quickly-produced goods, typically made from easily-produced materials and sold at a low price point. Does such a notable fast-fashion retailer have the ability to merge sustainability to its brand identity? Do the two not cancel each other out?

In 2011, perhaps Zara’s biggest international competitor, H&M, released its take on a sustainable range. Titled the Conscious Collection, it employed similar organic cotton, Tencel and recycled polyester materials. Understandably, the Conscious Collection received backlash for similar reasons.

Criticism aside, efforts like these do help to create a domino effect in the industry, generating further conversation around sustainable practice and encouraging more and more brands to enact sustainable efforts.

Meanwhile, the introduction of ‘sustainable’ lines can also be used as a marketing tool. A recent Nielsen study revealed that 75 percent of millennials would be willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings.

Given Zara’s positioning in the media of recent times, we must question what degree of its reputation can be salvaged with a few sustainable initiatives?

At the very least, it would be hard to convince local designers of the retailer’s commitment to ethical practices, after a number of them have had their work blatantly stolen by Zara.

Nonetheless, let’s celebrate this is a step in the right direction. Because however small, it’s still a positive step.

zara.com

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