All in all, Zara is far from being truly sustainable. While the production of their clothing creates minimal waste and uses sustainable materials, they’re promoting mass consumerism that feeds into fast fashion and is inherently unsustainable. I would give Zara’s women's blend overcoat a measly 1 out of 3. In 72 hours, it probably would not even be in stores any longer, but at the back of a dumpster. While their intentions are good steps are being taken into good supply chain management, Zara’s business practices and brand rely on an unsustainably high turnover rate and feeding the latest fashion trends. Unless it changes that, no real change can be done,
The first product I will be reviewing is the Zara Women Blend Oversized Coat grey, an item designed for semi-casual situations, an informal dress code, and a day at the park. The product is made by Zara and its parent company Inditex, one of the largest fashion retailers in the world, churning out over $30 billion in revenue in 2017, possessing 2238 stores in nearly 100 countries.
I was unable to find a specific mix of what the coat itself is made of but I can assume that, like most of Zara’s products, it is made from a mix of wool, leather, down, and cotton as part of Zara’s commitment to have its clothing sourced only from recyclable materials by 2025. Despite the commitment, the lack of transparency makes me reluctant to rate a high score on this section due to the fact that, like most clothing brands, there is a possibility of microplastic fibers in the clothes themselves or other non-recyclable materials.
The process of making the coat, much like a lot of Zara’s clothing, begins in Spain where teams of designers leaf through trend-forecasting books to put together the store’s collection of pants. Once a design is created, a first prototype is put together by a team of pattern cutters. If the prototype is signed off, a digitized pattern is sent to external factories. In each factory, waste is limited as much as possible by working to squeeze as many clothes into as little fabric clothes as possible. The fabric is laid out under large cutting machines, and the paper is placed on top. The machine slices through the material, cutting out the individual pieces of fabric. The pieces are then sent to external factories to be sewn together before being sent back to Zara HQ for quality control. Finally, it is then sent to a distribution center. Luckily, for speed and efficiency purposes, most of Zara’s manufacturing facilities are located close to another in Europe. That does not mean this does not contribute to zero pollution. The number of output that Zara releases on a weekly basis still releases freight pollution into the atmosphere including particulate matter, nitrous oxide, etc. The fact that, after manufacturing, clothes are transported all over the world, underscores the depth of the pollution. In one article, it was estimated that supply chains cause 90% of a company’s environmental impact.
As a fast-fashion company, Zara’s business model centers around providing new clothing faster than consumers can wear them. Sometimes, Zara can bring new items such as new pants to its stores twice a week. In one WSJ article, it has been said that a typical Zara women’s coat such as this one can take only 25 days from design to production to retail to trash bin. On the other hand, it can take 6 months for other fashion retailers to do the same. While this model allows for lean processing, limited waste, and production, it also encourages too much consumption. The brand releases an incredible 24 trend-led collections every year, 500 designs a week, and almost 20,000 per year, which in turn leads consumers to see their clothes as disposable and adds to even more waste from the garment industry that ends up in landfills.
This model isn’t limited only to Zara. In my opinion, as other rival retailers see the efficiency and profitability of encouraging a faster consumption treadmill, they would be quick to respond to protect their bottom line, even at the expense of the environment.
According to many websites, Zara is a fast-fashion pioneer. New inventory comes in so quickly, it’s much more likely than not a new set of clothes will be in-store every week. Recently, Zara has tried to boost its sustainability image with its launch of the JOIN LIFE movement which includes sustainability commitments, ethical goals, and a new product line. For transparency, Zara has a mixed reputation.
On the one hand, it is more transparent than other fast fashion brands when it comes to supply chain traceability, mandating all subcontractors to receive safety audits and participate in a continual review process. It also has several internal programs designed for worker participation, training and awareness, responsible purchasing practice, worker well-being, and women empowerment. Finally, Zara has published a list of environmental commitments for the next few years to include everything from water conservation to reducing land waste and harmful factory chemicals. For instance, by 2025, 80% of the energy consumed in Zara’s headquarters, factories, and stores will be from renewable sources and its facilities will produce zero landfill waste.
On the other hand, all of Zara’s sustainability information is on the Inditex parent company review. It does not have its own review system which can make it hard to identify the company’s own sustainability actions and environmental policy. I have also been unable to find a detailed list of factories and audits that are publicly available along with any environmental policies and resources.
There is also no evidence on their website that any of said worker well-being programs are present at all of their factories. I was able to find one source stating that in Brazil, 300,000 immigrants work 16 hours a day for one of Zara’s supplies to pay their debt to traffickers. In Myanmar’s Huabo Times Factory, which produces clothes for Zara, one worker claimed that they worked 10-hour days, six days a week, and were regularly expected to work overtime to make enough money. Workers at the factory make around $3 per day, or £2.44.
I theorize that the sustainability drive is limited to only a few factories in a few countries in the developed world with strict regulations while the majority do not have support. This makes it hard to see whether it actually fulfills its PR commitments on a global scale. Other commitments like Closing The Loop, a program offering opportunities for customers to drop off used clothing for recycling, do not have a substantial impact on minimizing textile waste. An average American throws away 37kg of clothes every year and while some are recycled, 85% end up in landfills.
Fashion Revolution, an independent organization that monitors where clothes come from says that Zara needs to be more transparent on its manufacturers and standards, saying that while other brands have published a list of manufacturers and standards, Zara has not. Furthermore, while it is great that Zara is taking steps to be sustainable in production and material choice, the real issue is the sheer volume of clothing on the market, reaching 1.5 billion products in 2017 alone, an unsustainable volume no matter how eco-conscious the materials are.