We’re back with #fiveweeksoffails–a series where we dig into some of the biggest names in fast fashion to help you sort progress from BS.
Following our extensive sustainable brand criteria, each brand will receive scores for transparency, maker well-being, environmental sustainability, material sustainability, and leadership. In order for a brand to be considered sustainable, they need to score at least 50 points.
We’ll go over the good, the bad, and where there is room for improvement. The brand we’re holding to the fire this week? Zara.
Zara is a fast fashion pioneer. New inventory comes in so quickly that a shopper is likely to get a completely new shopping experience each time they walk into a store.
Recently, Zara has been making an effort to boost its sustainability image with the launch of its Join Life movement. This launch includes sustainability commitments, ethical goals, and, of course, a product line. But has this recent effort been enough to make Zara a sustainable brand?
THE RESULTS: Is Zara Ethical and Sustainable?
Let’s see how they stacked up.
Transparency Rating: 7/15
For transparency, Zara scored just below 50%. Not great.
The good: Zara’s parent company was one of the more transparent fast fashion brands when it came to supply chain traceability. They mandate all subcontractors receive safety audits and participate in a continual review process that allows for contracts to be terminated if a factory consistently fails to make improvements.
They also have, “collaboratively design[ed] specific programs on the subjects of health and safety, worker participation, training and awareness, a living wage, responsible purchasing practices, migrant protection, and women’s empowerment.”
The bad: Almost all of the actual information on Zara’s site links to their parent company: Inditex. While that isn’t inherently a bad thing, it can be difficult to find information specific to Zara on the Inditex website. The company doesn’t provide a detailed enough factory list and the results of their audits are not publicly available.
Maker Well-being Rating: 10/33
Zara received a 10/33 for maker well-being. While they have begun taking steps to improve the working conditions of their workers, with Zara’s size and profitability, there’s really no excuse for them to be so far behind other brands.
Zara has a solid code of conduct. Their audits ensure that the code is enforced and allow termination if companies can’t live up to their standard. Additionally, there is some evidence that Zara is working on collaborative well-being and education initiatives.
As much as we’d hoped that Zara would’ve implemented well-being initiatives at their factories, their website suggests otherwise. Less than half of their factories implement these programs, which means that half of their factory employees don’t receive the support they need. Not cool.
At Eco-Stylist, we don’t applaud half-assed effort. Put in the effort, Zara, and maybe you’ll earn an A.
Environmental Sustainability Rating: 15/33
Zara scored just below 50% for environmental sustainability.
Zara has recently publicized a list of environmental commitments. These goals span the next five years and include everything from water conservation to reducing waste in landfills. They’ve also worked to ban some harmful chemicals in production.
The main issue with Zara’s environmental policy is lack of transparency. They fail to disclose the number of resources that go into their production. This makes it difficult to determine how impactful their sustainability goals can truly be.
Sustainable Raw Materials Rating: 2/14
The good: Zara has a policy for animal protection.
The bad: to get the points in this section, Zara needs to be producing over 50% of their material sustainably and in ways that protect the human rights of producers. The company simply isn’t there.
Leadership Rating: 0/5
This is a difficult category to score points in. Even many of our most sustainable brands struggle to get full credit.
That being said, Zara falls far behind truly sustainable brands. Their “sustainable” clothing is such a small portion of their products that it’s impossible for it to make meaningful change. They’re also still promoting the mass consumerism that feeds into fast fashion, and is inherently unsustainable.
How Sustainable is Zara? Overall Score: 34/100
Zara’s current business practices fall abysmally short, scoring them a measly 34 points. Come on, Zara–I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you! Let’s hope their sustainability goals improve their score in the future… for now, they receive a failing grade from us.
How Sustainable is Zara Join Life?
Zara claims that as of 2022, 50% of their entire collection meets the Join Life standards. It sounds great, but what does this actually mean?
First off, even with Join Life, Zara still isn’t paying their clothing makers living wages or providing strong evidence via certifications (or other means) that they have an ethical supply chain. Second, while their use of sustainable fabrics is improving over time, it’s hardly ground breaking.
At the end of the day, Zara is still a fast fashion brand, promoting fashion overconsumption and the belief that clothes are disposable. They try hard to create FOMO so consumers will keep coming back to buy clothes they don’t need. We recommend avoiding Zara.
Is Zara Fast Fashion?
As noted, not only is Zara a fast fashion brand but they are one of the inventors of the business model. Zara and H&M really helped create the fast fashion business model, which has made the whole fashion industry less sustainable overall.
Learn more about the problems with fast fashion here.
More About Zara’s Sustainability
Want to dig even deeper into Zara’s ethics and sustainability? Check out our video:
Sustainable and Ethical Alternatives to Zara
The team at Eco-Stylist put together our top 3 favorite alternatives to Zara. Click each one to see their brand rating or to shop.
Looking for more Ethical Brands?
For more Zara swaps check out our ethical brand guide for 90+ good brands.
*Article updated 3/5/23.
Lily Rosen Marvin studies English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. When she’s not writing about sustainable fashion, Lily can be found hiking, reading outside, or binge-watching 30 Rock.