Is Zara Fast Fashion? Ethical & Sustainability Rating (+ Sustainable Alternatives)

Is Zara Fast Fashion
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Zara has marked out a prominent place in the fashion industry. With its voguish designs, glitzy storefronts and up-to-date product launches— Zara is a sought-after label for fashionistas worldwide. So no surprise that it is leading the fashion market in over 26 countries. But behind the flashy presence, the company has a history of various controversies. Now, if you’re still wondering whether Zara is fast fashion or not, the answer has to be— Yes, it is!

From using sweatshop production to engaging in child labor- Zara seems to be a part of all things no-no! It manufactures millions of garments annually and barely incorporates any recycling initiatives. Let’s check out how this Spanish retailer is topping the charts of the fashion world despite harming the planet, people and animals.

is zara fast fashion

Is Zara Fast Fashion?

Yes, Zara is fast fashion with its goal of moving a garment from design to retail in under 15 days. In fact, it is considered as the originator of “fast fashion”. The term was coined by the New York Times when Zara first stepped foot in New York in the early 1990s. It signifies Zara’s goal of moving a garment from design to retail in under 15 days.

Being the second most searched brand today, Zara’s success thrives on offering ‘trending styles’ that are mass-manufactured in dreary factories! It monitors high-end runway trends and floods the market with their cheaper versions in a short time. The label releases over 20,000 fresh styles annually, encouraging consumers to shop more and more.

If one needs to understand what is fast fashion, just a look at Zara, one of the largest clothing retailers that have mastered the fast fashion model with its frequent product turnover and quick production cycles in cheap labor countries, is sufficient. With lightning-speed manufacturing, it literally introduces 24 trend-led collections per year.

Every year, Zara churns out 450 million garments, with 500 new styles dropped on a weekly basis. Most of these garments are made from resource-intensive synthetic materials. And since they are inspired by the latest fashion fads, shoppers discard them after a few wears. This continuous disposal of clothing promotes the throwaway culture, raising the environmental impact of fast fashion. But the company doesn’t shy away from being an apt greenwashing example.

One of Zara’s unique aspects is, it positions itself at a premium level. While most of its collections are reasonably priced, some are actually quite expensive for fast fashion items. 

Another factor is, it doesn’t overproduce one style. Meaning, each design is produced in small batches to create a scarcity scenario. This ultimately creates a feeling of urgency for consumers to catch onto trends before supplies run out. As a result, Zara is never left with excess inventory. For whatever few stocks remain, the half-yearly sales flush them out.

No wonder, Zara is known to be the pioneer of the fast fashion industry.

is zara fast fashion

Is Zara Ethical?

No, Zara is not ethical. Over the years, it has received severe backlash for worker exploitation in multiple factories worldwide. In 2021, the Spanish retailer was found to employ harsh labor conditions in some of its factories in Spain, Myanmar, Brazil, and Argentina. After being tied up in numerous controversies, Zara has taken some remedial steps, but it is far from being 100% ethical.

Zara has scored 51-60% on the Fashion Transparency Index for publishing its supplier policies, audit data, and corrective processes. Its parent company, Inditex Group, has also mapped a comprehensive list of suppliers, along with information on forced labor and gender equality. However, there is no evidence that all the workers across its supply chain receive fair pay and are not overworked. 

Labor Practices

Zara has a Code of Conduct for its manufacturers and suppliers and a list of Responsible Practices that should be observed. These standards verify that the brand is against forced labor and supports fair wages and safe working conditions. However, Zara has faced several allegations of using forced labor in sweatshops. Workers even reported to work under ‘slave-like’ conditions.

In another daunting report from 2016, Zara’s factory workers in Turkey sewed hidden messages into clothes, seeking help from customers. No doubt, the facility closed down after the sudden revelation. Since then, Zara has been strongly committed to improving its image and operating ethically.

is zara fast fashion

Child Labor

Yes, Zara has been linked to multiple allegations for using child labor in its factories in Argentina, Brazil, and Turkey. Underage workers were found living and working in these factories in deplorable conditions.

These children were basically immigrants or refugees without any documentation. Hence, exploiting them by offering a few pennies and a place to live is tempting for uncertified factories looking to save money.

Now, Zara denied these accusations. It claimed to be unaware of such practices being held at its partner factories and immediately discontinued business with them. Child labor in the fast fashion industry is quite a common practice. And as one of the top fashion giants, Zara must audit its supply chain thoroughly and fix the loopholes.

Sourcing Practices

Zara outsources 50% of its manufacturing to low-wage developing countries like China and Bangladesh. These regions are preferred destinations for most fast fashion brands that use sweatshops, as cheap labor is readily available here. Plus, there is a lax on human and labor rights. That’s why it is easy to get away with factory mishaps while achieving low-cost production benefits.

The remaining half of Zara’s production takes place in Spain, Turkey, Morrocco, and Portugal, which are close to its HQ. While these countries have a medium risk of labor abuse, there is no guarantee that the factories follow Fair Trade practices.

Overall Rating: 2

Is Zara Cruelty Free?

No, Zara is not cruelty-free. Inditex Group has collectively laid out an Animal Welfare Policy in accordance with the Five Freedoms. As per the statement, using fur, angora, exotic animal skin, and animal testing is strictly banned in Zara’s products. However, it uses leather, wool, alpaca, and down in many of its garments.

While the retailer claims of never using textiles for which animals were specifically slaughtered, it doesn’t mention the sources of the materials it uses. If Zara truly wants to minimize animal suffering in the fast fashion industry, it can at least make the materials traceable.

Overall Rating: 2

is zara fast fashion

Is Zara Sustainable?

No, Zara is not sustainable. It produces way more clothes than the world actually needs, resulting in massive textile waste and overflowing landfills. Plus, majority of its garments are made from unsustainable materials like virgin synthetics, conventional cotton, and animal-derived textiles.

Zara’s use of low-cost synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic has a horrific impact on the environment. These materials are derived from petroleum, a significant contributor to climate change. Fossil fuels are responsible for almost 75% of global greenhouse gases, resulting in around 90% of CO2 emissions.

Zara aims to use eco-friendly materials by 2025, with a sustainability policy in place. In 2016, it launched the “Join Life” collection, which showcases clothing made from eco-friendly materials like organic cotton, linen, recycled polyester, EcoVero, etc. However, this section has a limited number of styles compared to Zara’s vast product portfolio. Also, some of the garments’ under this category have a small portion of greener materials. Meaning they are not 100% sustainable.

In 2022, Zara introduced “Zara Pre-Owned” platform to offer repair services in the UK and France. Customers also had the option to drop off used garments at its stores for recycling in collaboration with non-profit organizations. Unfortunately, while this platform was designed to reduce textile waste, it doesn’t align with the circular economy goals. For this exact reason, critics have labeled it as blatant greenwashing.

Another concerning factor is, Zara’s factories are known to use toxic chemicals and release massive amounts of carbon emissions. But the brand is not showing signs of eliminating harmful chemicals or decarbonizing its supply chain. 

The only positive aspect is Inditex Group’s FY 2022 Statement on Non-Financial Information has shared progress data towards incorporating sustainable materials. This report covers joint data for all brands operating under the Inditex Group. However, with the numbers, it can be hoped that a good part of Zara’s collection will be made from more conscious materials in future.

Overall Rating: 2

Some of the Best Sustainable Alternatives to Zara

You can avoid fast fashion brands like Fashion Nova, H&M and Shein by all means as these brands are not being sustainable in any way. There are a considerable number of brands that are trying to change the face of fast fashion and do some good towards a better change. Brands like ABLE, Reformation, Mila.Vert and Mother of Pearl have got all your wardrobe needs covered with their basics to occasional wear. That too, sustainably!


is zara fast fashion

ABLE is a sustainable brand that believes in ‘Moving Fashion Forward’. It creates classic go-to wardrobe pieces designed to empower both the women wearing them and those making them. The collection ranges from beautiful dresses, tops, and bottoms to superior-quality bags and shoes. And all the products come with a limited warranty, so in case of manufacturing damages, the brand would gladly repair or replace your items. ABLE is passionate about women’s empowerment, which is why, over 90% of its staff are women. Dedicated to reducing its carbon footprint, it uses responsibly sourced materials that will last you a lifetime.

2. Reformation

is zara fast fashion

Reformation is one of the most sustainable fashion retailers that you just can’t miss out on! Its collection of feminine silhouettes hugs your curves at the right places, making you feel like a Goddess. Every piece is designed with timelessness in mind and is handcrafted in the brand’s own fair trade LA factory along with some other ethical suppliers. Limited-edition collections are usually made in small batches to eliminate overproduction. If you love something that has gone out-of-stock, just join the waitlist, and you’ll be notified once it’s restocked. Reformation has partnered with the Fair Labor Association to conduct regular audits ensuring garment workers’ well-being. The Climate Positive brand has sustainability at its core and only uses eco-friendly fabrics along with deadstock materials.

3. Mila.Vert

is zara fast fashion

The secret to a sustainable outfit is to keep it casual yet classic and Mila.Vert prides itself on creating such clothing. Designed to be timeless and minimal, its garments are added with sophisticated details, giving each piece a modern feel. If you can’t find your size, feel free to contact the team to get customized pieces for your size. With sustainability at the heart of their business, Mila.Vert only uses 100% cruelty-free organic materials. Plus, they have a Pre-order collection to avoid overproduction. To maintain transparency, production takes place in local ethical factories in Slovenia (the brand’s origin). Mila.Vert ensures that garment makers are paid fair wages and provided with a safe working environment.

4. Mother Of Pearl

is zara fast fashion

Mother Of Pearl is a London-based luxury sustainable womenswear brand that offers chic contemporary fashion. Celebrating individuality, authenticity and sustainability, their collections include classic pieces that you’ll treasure forever. From dresses and knitwear to jackets and coats, they have everything to amp up your eco-conscious wardrobe game. The label is committed to environment by sincerely trying to lower the fashion industry’s environmental impact by solely using natural fibers. Plus, their entire supply chain is fully traceable— from fabric to final garment. Mother Of Pearl is an advocate of Fair Trade production, which is why they continuously analyze and review their manufacturing practices.

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