Zara: Fashion Saviour or Creative Killer

Zara: Fashion Saviour or Creative Killer

After an adventure to Scotia Bank to get a new debit card, I stopped in at Zara’s for a quick peak at the new fall merchandise. This store is one of the motivating factors behind my blog; it’s provided a horribly two-faced dilemma that plagues me constantly. It has become the mecca of low-priced high-fashion inspired goods, updated every week with every subtle change in trends. It’s amazing, I love almost everything about it – save for the pants being made for super skinny legs or a large bottom, and the shirts are not cut for my uber-athletic shoulders, but otherwise everything is great. And it’s forever renewing.

I think the best thing about Zara’s is that it has brought interesting cuts, fabrics, designs and colors to a larger portion of the population, which is something that’s pretty hard to argue with. In truly considering this angle, it means many of us who have less money –for a variety of reasons – can dress well, as we should be able to, and experiment with all manner of different looks. It breaks down class barriers and promotes a renewed culture of dressing up every day, something that we’ve lost over the past couple of decades. And honestly, why shouldn’t all of us be able to have style? Although I think there is a place for the luxury industry, I don’t think that we should always have to pay overly-inflated prices just to get a piece of clothing with some thought to the design and fabrication.

Another positive angle to note is that the uniformity that stems from the masses buying the same stuff from Zara’s also unleashes a society of uniqueness. The opponent of Zara’s would completely disagree with this point, emphasizing instead the conformity of the masses to one style, but ultimately I think it goes both ways. It has often been said that rules and restrictions are the key to sparking creativity. This goes for anything in the arts, so why would it not also apply to fashion and the masses? As the majority of people fall into the middle class to varying degrees, we will of course be purchasing clothes from many of the same stores, especially if we want to be fashionable – another common thread in our generation. People have always strived to be as similarly different as possible – we all want the same trends and clothes but we also want to stand out. So in applying that theory to Zara’s and unique style, I think we can definitely say the mass collections promote differentiation. Designer’s like Rachel Zoe often point out that you don’t need to go nuts with trends but instead “…you wear it the way that becomes the most you.” (Interviewed by Amy Spencer for Glamour, September 2012). I bet if you did a study of 100 women in the same age bracket you would find that a) they would be wearing many of the same pieces and b) no 2 women would be styled the same way. That’s also a contributing factor to the fast expansion of the accessories industry, because you can wear that same black sheath dress but with a necklace, a belt and heels and it transforms into someone else’s style.

On one hand, you could argue that that means we are still all dressed alike because we are wearing the same clothes from the same places just in different colors and variation and in essence means we are exactly the same. However, historically that’s how it has always been. You wear what the times present you with and what is made available to you. The shapes of clothes more or less transcend time simply because our bodies remain the same shape and there are limited and specific ways to make them look their best. It’s also a reflection of the time at hand; if there is a social shift it will be reflected in the conservative or liberal way people dress, if there is a recession you might see a turn to brighter, more daring outfits as a way of expressing yourself through the hard times. Style must then be accepted as a concept that comes from a shared access to the clothes that are being produced at any given time and the unique way in which people combine them.

That’s why Zara’s is great- it’s a treasure trove of contemporary styles and the opportunity to express your personality through your clothing – at an affordable price!

Here’s where my dilemma comes in – Zara’s awesome array of trendy-clothes-at-rock-bottom-prices comes at a higher cost. I’m sure many of you have heard the term Fast Fashion with the main topic being stores like Zara’s as the highest source of contention. It reminds me of a few years ago when everyone was really concerned over the fact that millions of young women and often men are paid less than a dollar a day to produce clothes that are made for companies like the Gap and Nike, and then sold to us. Why we forgot about that I’m not entirely sure but it’s important to re-address this issue as it now encompasses other issues of a similar nature, and has expanded as a global issue making it one of the top sources of environmental degradation.

I’m really curious about everything so naturally I had to find out more about this random topic I stumbled across of Fast Fashion centering on the dilemma of Zara’s quick-producing, trendy retail venture. On the one hand I’m glad I researched this topic because it’s important to be aware of issues like this and to do something about it rather than jumping on the train that promotes poor environmental and humanitarian policies, but on the other hand I feel like I shot myself in the foot – I had to find out the “Inconvenient Truth” a la Vice President Gore.

Basically, Zara’s is an example of fast fashion, and fast fashion is the fast and mass production of trendy textiles. Nowhere in that last sentence did I mention anything to do with efficiency, and there lies the problem. Fashion Week comes out, people are sent from these types of Retailers to copy the runway designs, which get sent to a cheap and large scale production facility in China where items are pumped out at light speed and sent to a Zara’s near you. The problem at hand is that production is efficient in terms of speed and grossly inefficient in terms of waste. Waste in the form of gross amounts of leftover fabric, dye, cheap metals and other materials that make up the clothing and accessories. This pollutes the water, the land and the ecosystems and people inhabiting the surrounding areas.

Now, with China engaging in the same Fashion and consumer behaviors, the billion dollar fast-fashion retail industry has quadrupled in interest and thus size, reflecting the growth of the Chinese middle class interests. This change in consumption has increased demand for clothing and every single element that goes into the production of it, in turn increasing the impact on the environment to unprecedented levels. Companies like Zara’s, Wal-Mart, Mango and others have taken the fashion industry from an under-the-radar industry of environmental impact to one of the most polluting agents in the world.

New York Designer, Yael Aflalo, addresses this issue herself in an interview for Fashionista, saying, “I would want 300 of an item and would have to order a minimum of 10 000. By the time I closed my New York warehouse, I had 10 years of waste piled up to the ceiling.” Yael has now turned to Sustainable Fashion Design with ‘The Reformation,’ her stores in both New York and LA, and now creates high quality goods at fair price points, leaving a minimal carbon footprint. Now, she wasn’t the CEO of a huge chain of stores, she ran her own shop. When you consider the amount of leftover, unused goods she had and was never able to use, you can imagine then on a global scale the amount of waste that can be accumulated.

This is where the opposition comes in with their argument about style, saying that Fast Fashion, aka Zara’s, renders people’s style the same. They say we buy buy buy without thought, encouraging poor environmental practices and losing our sense of individuality at the same time. On top of it, they argue that people buy for the sake of it – because it is available and because you can’t beat cheap. But cheap is now coming at a price. It used to be that clothes were more expensive and out of reach, and a sale or a discount really was a fantastic thing. Now, everything is on sale. Everything is discounted/cheap/2 for 1/etc. So instead of waiting for that expensive and probably better quality item to go on sale, we just buy everything up which ultimately ends in us spending even more money than if we retained our old ways of buying clothes less often during the year and saved up for fewer, higher quality pieces that really amp up our wardrobes. It’s a shame that we have inadvertently been coaxed into replacing quality with quantity, decreasing our attachment to our clothes and detachment to our spending habits.

Clearly, you can see the dilemma at hand. And it isn’t as simple as ‘Zara’s is an evil planet killer!’ or that it is the ultimate retail experience. You can also see that Zara’s isn’t the only company with these issues; it encompasses any and every fashion company that isn’t explicitly pro-sustainability – and even those places should be investigated for accountability’s sake. On the other hand, it remains one the best places to get your fashion fix and there is something inherently positive about a company who wants to include everyone into the world of beautiful clothes. To sum it up, it is certainly not a black and white issue but rather a source of contention and hopefully this article will stimulate a discussion or at least a thoughtful reflection so when you do go back to H&M or Zara’s (or even Michael Kors) you can make a more informed choice. Again, this is not to say you shouldn’t buy from any of these places, it simply means we shouldn’t be so complacent and instead, we should find a way to have these clothes in a better way. If that means we have to forgo some trends in order to let corporations know we’re watching and we’re concerned, maybe we can shift the course of the industry towards an efficient but more sustainable system. We’ve had an impact with the fast food industry by uncovering their dirty secrets and forcing better practices and food quality, so why can we not do the same with the clothing industry?  We’re the ones with the purchasing power, therefore were the ones that can force change. There is no one solution, nor is there an immediate one. The best thing to do is be mindful of our money and our power, and to keep shopping.

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1 Comment

  1. April 10, 2013 / 5:11 pm

    An insightful article. I have thought about several of these points many times when shopping at places like Zara and H&M and the like–particularly about my environmental impact. And while I enjoy a few trendy pieces here and there to update my wardrobe each season, I find myself investing in higher quality (and more expensive) pieces more and more…things that will last, in other words.

    Great blog, by the way. Will definitely be back!

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