The words “jump” and “bandwagon” instantly sprang to mind on Friday morning as Zara announced plans to launch an in-house service for British customers to sell, repair and donate second-hand clothes as part of its “environmental sustainability commitments”.
Oh dear. Did nobody on the marketing team pause to consider the irony of a global high street behemoth that releases 500 designs a week bidding to become more eco-friendly while continuing to release, well... 500 designs per week?
Slated to roll out on 3 November through retail stores, its website and mobile app, the Pre-Owned platform is the brand’s first foray into the growing pre-loved fashion market. But most would agree it’s hardly an original move in an industry feverishly scrambling for sustainable kudos.
At best, it is blatant bandwagonism. At worst, it belies Zara’s legacy as an increasingly fast fashion company with a business model not dissimilar to controversial e-commerce labels such as Boohoo, Shein, and PrettyLittleThing.
The Spanish-headquartered retail chain, with 3,000 outlets across 96 countries, recently published an online manifesto under the slogan: “Working towards sustainability.”
It’s all fine and well to be “working towards sustainability”, but it would be an understatement to say they’re still a remarkably long way off.
Zara releases an incredible 24 trend-led collections every year, made up of almost 20,000 individual designs, according to a 2022 analysis from Wear Next. This eye-watering tranche of mass-produced garments leads consumers to see their clothes as disposable, and adds to even more waste from the garment industry that ultimately winds up in landfill.
Wouldn’t a more sustainable starting point be to reduce the number of styles drafted into the production chain in the first place?
It’s not as if the brand has exhausted all potential avenues to climate conscientiousness.
In 2021, Zara was among dozens of major fashion brands linked to deforestation in the Amazon, based on their connection to tanneries and the production of leather goods. More than 50 big fashion brands – including Zara, LVMH, Nike, Adidas, H&M, Coach and Fendi – were found to have supply chain links to Brazil’s largest beef and leather exporter, JBS.
Elsewhere, the company’s animal welfare policy bans fur, angora and animal testing in their clothing, but wool, leather, down and exotic animal hair are all widely used in Zara products.
And while it was ethics rather than environmental issues that landed the brand in hot water back in 2017, who can forget Zara’s unpaid Turkish factory workers, who said they were left with “no choice” but to sew messages into garments for customers to find? Inditex worked with other retailers including Mango and Next to establish a hardship fund for the workers, but the reputational damage was done.
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There is no suggestion that Zara is even remotely among the worst offenders in the oft-critiqued fashion industry – indeed, in 2019 parent company Inditex pledged to create all of its collections from 100 per cent sustainable fabrics by 2025.
But it feels like the brand is missing a golden opportunity to position itself as a legitimate leader in genuine waste reduction.
Instead of a resale platform, why not commit to slashing the volume of products manufactured in factories across Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Morocco, Bangladesh and Armenia, thus showing its trend-beholden fan base that less can really be more.
After all, Paula Ampuero, head of sustainability at Zara, today admitted Pre-Owned is not expected to be profitable in its early stages. If a company valued at almost $14bn (£12bn) has the scope to launch a loss-making division, it has the chance to cut unit volume and prove its commitment to the planet is more than tokenistic greenwashing.
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