ZARA: First amongst equals

Who doesn’t love Zara? With its runway ready looks, ever changing styles and affordable prices, it comes as no surprise that Zara has grown into the behemoth it has. The flagship brand of the fashion group ‘Inditex’, now the largest fashion group in the world (owning a host of other equally familiar brands like Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti and Berksha, amongst others), is a pioneer in the field of ‘instant fashion’. And as bad as the phrase sounds, its overall effects are much worse. In case you didn’t know this yet, instant fashion is bad people. Or fast fashion, whatever you want to call it. And while Zara may have spearheaded this movement, it is one of many that continues to profit off of it. More on the others later though. I want to take some time to talk about the leader of the group, and my favourite brand till recently. Very recently.

So what makes it so popular?

I am not going to go into the history of the brand or its exponential rise (others have written a lot about this, and they’ve done a far better job than I could hope to do), but I will take some time to talk about why I think the brand is so popular.

Zara brings high end fashion looks to us, without either having to wait for the, usually slower seasons, of high end fashion houses, or the prices. Basically, Zara is to fashion what Instagram is to social media. Its quick, it is never ending and it is FAST. Not only does Zara get us what we want, it gets us what we want twice a week. Yup, that’s how many times a week Zara introduces new collections. Hold on, maybe this isn’t shocking when I put it like that. Before the advent of fast fashion, the fashion industry had about 2-4 seasons per year on average. Now it has 52. That is a new season every single week of the year. And Zara, overhauls its entire collection twice a week, amounting to a staggering 102 seasons a year. Do we even need that many collections? Actually, no. We absolutely don’t. And still, we buy obsessively.

Zara uses what is referred to as the ‘sell-out’ technique. The clothes being changed every single week are very much a conscious part of their marketing strategy. It is not so much that the designers at Zara are overflowing with creativity (I honestly don’t think they are, if you shop there enough you’ll know all the clothes look the same all year round), but more to do with the fact that if you change quick, and change often, customers, nay CONSUMERS are going to keep coming back to check what’s new, and they will inevitably buy something every single time for fear that it might ‘sell-out’ the next time they come to the store.

Another thing Zara does, and I had no idea this was a thing before I started researching for this blog post, is take into account the opinion of the customer and make sure their next connection reflects what the customer wants. Apparently the brand also uses tracking technology (RFID) to track how well particular pieces are doing and change their production and sale strategy on a weekly basis depending on the feedback.

Of course I shop there, I love Zara!

Now, I’m not going to lie. I love their clothes. Correction, I used to love their clothes. Is there anything better than walking into a Zara store on a free day with a wallet full of money? I’ve spent many happy hours shopping at Zara. I’ve spend equally as many happy hours on their website, fantasizing about how good I would look in each and every one of those suspiciously similar clothes. Hey, in fact, I even made it a point to visit the mother store when I was in Madrid a couple of years ago. But somewhere along the line, I realised a couple of things.

First, don’t all the clothes look the same? To be fair to them, if I had to come up with that many collections in a year, I probably would run out of ideas too. There is only so many times you can release the same blazers. I know lots of women who religiously hit Zara every weekend or so to check out what’s new and to add to their ever growing collection. It really is like Instagram. You get a dopamine hit just from entering the store, and the endless supply of “ever-changing” styles is akin to the infinite scroll.

Second, the clothes don’t do it for me, they’ve never done it for me and I don’t think they ever will. I’ll explain what I mean by this. Has it ever happened, that you’ve bought something you were convinced you looked great in? You know it’s a bit of an unnecessary expenditure, you convince yourself it’s a ‘collector’s item’ and that ‘you’re going to wear it all the time, so really you’re getting all your money’s worth’? And as soon as you buy the item you realise two things in quick succession; the clothes don’t look as good as you thought they would – they’re not as new, as quirky or as cutting edge as you were told (and honestly why would they be, you and all your friends have bought variations of this clothing item a hundred times before), and that you actually only ever wear it once or twice? What’s worse, buying excessively actually makes you feel bad about yourself. By all accounts, there seems to be a positive correlation between our consumeristic tendencies and our growing dissatisfaction with life. Just the fact that we are called ‘consumers’ of clothes, should be an indication of how wrong we have gone. Did you know that in the world of retail shopping, there are items we are supposed to use (washing machines, cars, and yes, clothes) and goods we are supposed to consume (food, drinks, cigarettes), and the entire idea behind ‘fast’ or ‘instant’ fashion is to make us feel that the goods we should ideally use (clothes used to be worn more than once back then) should be CONSUMED. Ok, that little tit-bit aside, the short point I was trying to make was that the more I bought, the unhappier I felt.

The thing that clinched it for me though was watching the documentary ‘The True Cost’ by Andrew Morgan. I know I’m a bit late to the party, and the movie has been out for some time, but for those of you who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. A lot of the themes I am going to break down in this blog are a reiteration of what Morgan says in his film – that the cost of producing the clothes we wear is unacceptable. Think about it. There is no way any of these companies can produce at the scale and pace that they do, without engaging in a host of unethical practices along the supply line. And oh my god, do they. Seriously, if you haven’t yet seen the documentary, watch it. So, as much as it hurts me to say goodbye, I have stopped shopping at Zara. I don’t advocate an extremist boycott for everyone though, I know they have great clothes and I know it doesn’t make sense to stop shopping there if that is the best and most affordable option available. Don’t get me wrong, it is not my intention to either force my changed (newly) shopping habits on any of you. Instead, I do want us to become more conscious of what we buy and how often we buy it. Do we really need all those clothes?

Suggestions: To watch, read (if you want)

  1. ‘The True Cost’ by Andrew Morgan, accessible at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxhCpLzreCw
  2. Priya Patel, “Zara uncovered: Inside the brand that changed fashion” BBC News, accessed at: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-49268965
  3. Martin Roll, “The Secret of Zara’s success: A culture of consumer co-creation” Martin Roll, accessed at: https://martinroll.com/resources/articles/strategy/the-secret-of-zaras-success-a-culture-of-customer-co-creation/
  4. Maddie Dockrill, “How ethical is Zara?” Good on You, accessed at: https://goodonyou.eco/how-ethical-is-zara/
  5. Robert Kinard, “Why you should never shop at Zara” The Hofstra Chronicle, accessed at: https://www.thehofstrachronicle.com/category/editorials/2018/2/13/why-you-should-never-shop-at-zara
  6. Jasmin Malik Chua, “The environment and economy are paying the price for fast fashion – but there’s hope” Vox, accessed at: https://www.vox.com/2019/9/12/20860620/fast-fashion-zara-hm-forever-21-boohoo-environment-cost
  7. Tori DeAngelis, “Consumerism and its Discontents” American Psychological Association, accessed at: https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun04/discontents

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