Zara Announces Sustainability Initiatives — But What About Its Factory Workers?

Photo: Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images.
This has been a year of change for Zara. In January, the fast-fashion retailer introduced a new logo (garnering mixed reactions), and on Tuesday, Zara execs announced the sustainable initiatives they agreed on during the Fourth of July holiday. Vogue is reporting that the CEO of Inditex (Zara’s parent company), Pablo Isla, Zara's founder Amancio Ortega's daughter, Marta Ortega, and an unnamed member of Zara's design team gathered at Zara's headquarters in Spain to figure out how to make the brand sustainable.
"[We are] always looking for ways in which we can do better: working on new technologies, new ways to work with recycled materials, and helping create new fabrics that our designers, as well as others in the industry, can work with in the future,” Marta Ortega tells Vogue. “It’s the right thing to do, both morally and commercially, and it's an approach that we’re absolutely committed to."
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What exactly is the approach, though? According to Vogue, Zara is counting on its eco-conscious Join Life collection that will account for 20% of Zara’s offerings by the end of 2019, as well as a commitment to Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals for its supply chain (including not using fibers from endangered forests) by 2023. Additionally, before 2025 is up, Zara claims all of its collections will be made of 100% sustainable cottons and linens, and 100% recycled polyester. The retailer is also working toward zero landfill waste from its facilities, and achieving 80% renewable energy use for its HQ, distribution centers, and stores.
However, there was one major component missing in its initiatives: its factories. Customers have found handwritten notes inside the pockets of in-store merchandise from disgruntled factory workers in Istanbul, Turkey. Zara's factories are integral to its business model; it’s why the fast-fashion brand is able to produce its merchandise at such a rapid pace. Zara: The Story of the World's Richest Man, a documentary produced by Prime Entertainment Group last year, found that Zara can spot trends and create products based on them in less than 15 days. In most of the fashion industry, it takes 40 weeks to get something on the market; Zara can get items out within 2 to 4 weeks. One particular factory in Tunisia, North Africa produces 1,200 pieces per day, 150 pieces per hour. Each worker is timed (there is a woman with a stopwatch to make sure things are running smoothly), and it’s called "working to the minute," which means it should take 38 minutes to finish one shirt; if it takes longer than that, the plant begins to lose money. The shirt will then be sold for 29 euros, three times the manufacturing cost, according to the documentary. Employees who perform well will earn a 45 euro bonus at the end of the year.
No telling yet how those employees factor into Zara's sustainable initiatives but we've reached out to Zara to find out and will update this story if/when we hear back.
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