Zara’s Join Life ‘eco-edit’ aims to use more sustainably sourced materials to ultimately create more sustainable garments. It is great to see that Zara is thinking about their sustainability, however I am concerned that this collection could be a form of ‘greenwashing’, acting to distract consumers from the fact that these clothes are probably un-ethically produced, and that majority of Zara’s clothes, outside of the ‘eco-edit’, are environmentally damaging. I say un-ethically produced, as in the past few years, there have been multiple human rights related accusations against Zara including: ‘slave-like’ working conditions in factories, incidences of cultural appropriation, and mistreatment of marginalised groups – all indicating that for the most part, the company is still favouring profit over sustainability. Whilst a 100% recycled cashmere jumper or recycled puffer jacket may make us feel better about buying new clothes, without social justice across the supply chain, these ‘eco-edit’ clothes cannot be considered sustainable.
As mentioned above, the aim of Zara’s Join Life collection is to use more sustainable materials in their garments including ecologically grown cotton, TencelTM Lyocel (a natural man-made fabric made from “sustainably sourced” wood pulp) or recycled fibers i.e. polyester, among others. These materials are meant to have a reduced impact on the environment by decreasing the amount of new raw materials used, as well as reducing the water, energy and natural resources consumed. The use of more sustainable materials is definitely welcome; however, the number of resources needed to recycle is also significant. Zara provides no information on the resources used in the recycling process nor the biodiversity impact of their garments – both of which are important when assessing environmental sustainability.
Additionally, most garments in the Join Life collection typically contain less than half of recycled materials. Zara’s annual garment production and turnover of clothes is large and despite an increase in the number of recycled materials, a large portion of new raw materials are still required. Accordingly, I noted that many of their products are made from polyester – a material made from the non-renewable resource petroleum. Polyester – both recycled and non-recycled release micro-plastics into water sources, having negative implications for biodiversity and the health of several organisms, including humans. I believe that Zara is taking a step in right direction by introducing more sustainable materials into their products, however, more could be done toward reducing their environmental impact in terms of what their products are made of.
It is a well-known fact that Zara is a fast fashion brand - which due to the sheer number of garments that such brands produce, are inherently unsustainable. Zara’s massive production and global nature means that there are significant environmental impacts associated with not only the creation of their products but their shipping and the disposal of the garments. Whilst Zara clothes do not seem to be made to last longer, to increase the circularity of their products, Zara has set up a collection system where people can take back clothes they no longer want, to give them a second life. This is potentially environmentally friendly; however, these clothes often end up in African countries and in fact, in Zimbabwe where I live, there is a whole shop dedicated to selling second hand and reject Zara clothes that have been imported into the country. Whilst some of the clothes do get given a second life, African countries like Zimbabwe do not have the facilities e.g. recycling plants to deal with the amount of clothes that are being exported to them. As a result, landfills are unfairly filling up at an ever-increasing rate – contributing to environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in countries that did not even produce the clothes.
Zara states that the garments in the ‘eco-edit’ line are made with processes that allow them to reduce emissions and the use of chemicals in production processes. According to the company, the use of technologies like renewable energies or of tanneries certified by the leather working group (a seemingly trustworthy non-profit that encourages sustainable and appropriate environmental business practices in the leather industry), allows Zara to perform washing, dyeing and tanning processes in a more sustainable way. From statements like these, it seems as though Zara has achievable environmental goals in place to improve their production process. However, the company’s targets are not specific nor quantifiable e.g. on greenhouse gas emissions. Whilst the creation of an ‘eco-edit’ is encouraging, it is responsible for only a small percentage of garments in comparison to Zara’s overall products - 30% to be exact. This means that 70% (which is quite significant) of the garments that Zara produces are not being produced in the same ‘eco-conscious’ way. Thus, I am concerned that Zara is greenwashing us with their Join Life collection.
Lastly, in the past, Zara has been accused of anti-Semitism due to the release of products including a handbag with a ‘swastika-like’ symbol. Zara claims that the release of the products was accidental. Nevertheless, Zara comes across as careless and irresponsible and the incident suggests that very little thought or effort goes into stocking the company’s shelves. More recently, Zara and its parent company Inditex have been accused of using a pattern distinctive to the indigenous Mixteca community of San Juan Colorado. Such cultural appropriation without due credit is disrespectful and simply unacceptable. The fact that Zara has made mistakes like these makes me question the company’s priorities and ethics and their ability to create entirely sustainable products in the future.
Zara does not provide much information on the factories that they use, or the people who make their garments and to me it seems as though the Join Life collection does not place much importance on social issues. On further research, although I did find a statement from Zara and its parent company Inditex claiming to have “a zero-tolerance approach toward forced labor of any kind”, there have been several accusations of ‘slave-like’ working conditions in Zara factories. A particularly disheartening outcome of my research was the discovery that Inditex maintains relations with Huafu Fashion and Luthai textiles – two major textile companies that are in collusion with China’s state-sponsored system of forced labor targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic marginalised groups. Despite Zara’s claim that they have no connection to these textile companies, it has repeatedly been proven that they do, increasing my distrust of the brand. As consumers we have the power to stop the fashion industry’s exploitation and abuse of marginalised groups for commercial means. While we may not be directly contributing to human rights abuses, by supporting Zara, we are supporting the very system that capitalises on the injustices faced by the Uyghurs and other marginalised communities.