Unlike seemingly everyone else, Zara’s arrival on Australia’s shores didn’t exactly filled me joy. In April, with my GQ magazine hat on, I was among the media invited to preview the Sydney store prior to the official opening.
In a way, it’s easy to understand the fuss. From a retail perspective, Zara is impressive: the sheer size of the collections and clever merchandising is the very model of 21st century consumer choice. From a fashion perspective, also, it’s hard to argue with the chic, on-trend looks, insanely affordable prices and a quality that has plenty of showroom appeal (though anecdotes of how long that lasts after the first wash tend to vary).
From a sustainability point of view, it’s a different story. A 1,400 square metre space over three floors (the new Melbourne store is even bigger), packed to the gills with product, new collections dropping in store on a fortnightly basis. And there are about 1,700 stores just like them around the world.
Moving through the store, labels were surreptitiously checked: Made in Pakistan, Made in Bangladesh, Made in Tunisia… for a brand churning out millions of units globally, they sounded like just the kind of places with just the kind of labour controls ripe for achieving the kind of price tags I was seeing. Of course, there is no evidence to support this assumption besides a natural inclination to think the worst of mega, mass-market brands.
Hence, a story about the retail behemoth at Telegraph.co.uk this week came as a pleasant surprise. The company’s HQ uses wind and solar power, using recaptured energy to power the steamers used to press garments before they are shipped in run down, reused shipping boxes as employees scoot around the huge complex on company-supplied bicycles. There is a Zara store in Rome which is set to score platinum LEED accreditation, an apparently high standard for sustainability in architecture. And that store design is expected to roll out across other locations.
So it’s not necessarily bad news at Zara. Although the Telegraph story raises similar questions about Zara’s supply chain, it points out that the business has made a squillion dollars by responding to customers and being a leader in the retail world. To its immense credit, The Telegraph goes so far as to advocate a campaign by Zara fans to request traceable, sweat-free fashion.
A mass label with open, ethical production and a growing sustainable sensibility? Sounds good. How about, Zara?
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