Society’s craving for fast fashion has an adverse impact on people and the planet, but the world’s largest apparel companies say they are working to solve the problem. One such firm is Inditex, which owns the popular chain Zara. The Spanish retailer launched a new fashion line, Join Life, for autumn. It says the collection “embraces a woman who looks into a more sustainable future.”
Zara describes the androgynous, mineral- and earth-toned collection of denim, masculine-cut coats and frilled blouses as reflecting the company’s social and environmental commitment. Zara claims a holistic approach to its commitment to environmental and social sustainability.
First, the company says the 6,000 factories spread across its 1,700 suppliers all comprise a sustainable supply chain. During 2015, those factories were subjected to at least 10,900 audits. While the country has a global supplier base, as any major fashion chain would, Zara says 60 percent of the factories with which it works are either based in Europe or within relatively closer markets such as Morocco and Turkey.
Then there is the environmental street cred of the clothes themselves. More sustainable raw materials such as organic cotton, Better Cotton and recycled fibers are a start. For its synthetic fabrics, Zara uses Tencel, a fiber derived from wood and bamboo that the company, along with other fashion companies, say is a more sustainable option than viscose or rayon. And without quite defining what “animal friendly” means, the company says it is sourcing more recycled wool, ceased using angora wool two years ago and does not use leather or other materials from animals exclusively killed for their skins.
As for the boxes in which clothes are shipped or gifted, Zara describes them as “boxes with a past,” with the result that the company presents data suggesting that it has both reduced the number of trees felled and the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. And when it comes to timber and wood, Zara claims anything in its stores from tags to office stationery have some level of sustainability certification.
Finally, don’t forget the site on which you are perusing Zara’s clothes. At least 84 percent of the energy needed to power the company’s web site is supposedly sourced from clean energy. By 2018, Zara has promised that all of its servers and offices will run 100 percent on renewables.
There is no shortage of fashion designers and writers who insist that fast fashion is unsustainable and is enacting irreparable harm to the planet – and as we saw in Bangladesh three years go, the thirst for cheap clothing has resulted in the cheapening of lives and even killing people. So while much work undoubtedly lies ahead, it appears the world’s largest retailers, including Zara’s competitors, are listening to these concerns and are changing how they do business.
For example, H&M claims it is improving the recycling of its unwanted clothes and has strived to stamp out abuse within its supply chain. The pan-European retailer C&A has told TriplePundit that it is working on scaling up more sustainable sources of cotton. Even UK-based Primark, which the sustainable fashion writer Lucy Siegle excoriated for its profit-driven business model at all costs, has jumped on the sustainable fashion bandwagon.
As is the case with many global industries, the garment sector needs to prove it can somehow do more with less. Zara’s promotion of its sustainability chops often comes across as smarmy, but the improved transparency and more conscientious business practices are steps in the right direction.
Image credit: Zara
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.