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Laura Wise headshot

Zara Reboots Its Strategy to Compete with Sustainable Apparel Brands

By Laura Wise

Fast fashion is polarizing. Younger shoppers are attracted by the low prices and chic looks, but they are also becoming more concerned about these apparel companies’ environmental and social impacts. To that end, Zara, a popular clothing chain that has recently faced its struggles attracting millennial and Gen Z shoppers, says it is making some changes.

Last week at its annual meeting, Inditex, the parent company of Zara, announced that the apparel manufacturer and retailer would ramp up its sustainability efforts. The chairman and CEO of Inditex, Pablo Isla, announced to a packed room of shareholders that 100 percent of the cotton, linen and polyester used by all eight of its brands will be organic, sustainable or recycled by 2025. 

Zara, the most popular and visible of the company’s brands in many countries worldwide, plans to stop using synthetic fibers derived from fossil fuels in its clothing, accessories, and shoes globally. This is a substantial commitment from one of the biggest companies in the retail business today that is projected to continue growth in revenues, but is facing setbacks in some markets.

Depending on the source cited, Inditex is the second- or third-largest apparel retailer in the world, and it has set this aggressive new target in part because of the reality the fast fashion industry is facing. There is no shortage of critics who say no matter what a fast fashion company like Inditex, H&M, C&A or Uniqlo does, these companies can never be “sustainable.”  Nevertheless, the reality is that companies are faced with two consumer demands that are tough to merge: fashionable yet sustainable clothes . . . that are competitively priced.

Fast fashion companies have tried to respond in kind, but part of their challenge is their sprawling, complicated supply chains. H&M has strived to be “climate positive,” for example, and Zara made a commitment to be “toxic free” by 2020. Both brands have had their struggles with labor problems in their supply chains and volatile social issues as well. 

Past criticisms aside, Indetix is charging forward with its sustainability agenda. Isla highlighted the fact that “the culture of diversity, innovation, and creativity that is shared by the entire Inditex team is driving the forward-looking values of sustainability and innovation.”

Along with its aggressive target around clothing production, Indetix has set new goals around the operation side of the business as well. The company says it will fully eliminate plastic bags at all of its stores by next year, a milestone already reached with its brands Zara, Zara Home, Massimo Dutti and Uterqüe. By 2023, the company is planning to eliminate all single-use plastics for customer sales.

The sustainable fashion movement is growing, and given consumer trends, will be here to stay. Zara’s competitors and other fast fashion giants, such as H&M, continue to come out with similar commitments. However, smaller, newer fashion companies such as Everlane and Reformation have been built from the ground up with sustainability in mind. Younger companies will continue to challenge large fashion retail brands. Meanwhile, Isla says Inditex will continue to shift its focus to sustainable transformation as a way to promote growth. “Sustainability is a never-ending task in which everyone here at Inditex is involved,” he noted.

Image credit: Mike Mozart/Flickr

Laura Wise headshot

Laura Wise writes and speaks about business, philanthropy, corporate social responsibility (CSR), technology, and entrepreneurship. You can check out her portfolio here

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