The purpose of this report is to identify Zara’s approach to sustainability as a fashion brand, looking at how they are currently addressing issues as well as their future goals. From the findings in this report it shows that Zara are very aware of their need to produce more sustainably and are working hard towards doing so. They are also doing their part in helping change the garment industry as a whole, with a focus on workers rights, fair living wages and good working conditions. They are working with leading organizations, sharing information and auditing the factories which they work with, ensuring that the workers in the factories are treated well. Their production is increasingly becoming more sustainable, creating eco-friendly lines, using sustainable fibres aswell as working towards using only renewable energy in their facilities. In conclusion, although the business model is not ideally sustainable, they are on track to meet a lot of the UN’s sustainable development goals.
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In this report we look at Zara’s approach to sustainable fashion; sustainable fashion means taking into account the environmental and socio-economic factors when producing clothes, shoes and accessories, but it also includes sustainable patterns of consumption and use, therefore requires a shift in consumers’ attitude and behaviours. The main responsibility of fashion retailers is to change the way that they produce, distribute and market their brand. The UN have set goals to ensure that everyone enjoys peace and prosperity aswell as to end poverty and protect the planet, they have set a target of 2030 for these goals to be met. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been designed to ensure that these targets are met, many of the SDGs relate directly to the fashion industry. (United Nations, n.d.)
Approach to sustainability
Zara work with a system which allows them to know where and how all of their products have been cut, dyed, washed and manufactured, helping to guarantee that their production chain respects workers’ labour conditions, the environment and product safety levels; helping contribute to the UN SDGs, including SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production). Their products and raw materials are sourced across 43 different countries with the main countries being Spain, Portugal, Turkey and Morocco, with around 57% being sourced close to their headquarters in Arteixo, Spain. (Inditex, n.d.)
They also collaborate with leading organizations such as IndustriALL Global Union, ILO, UN Global Compact, Ethical Trading Initiative, ACT, Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, Better Than Cash Alliance who are working on tackling issues in the garment industry (Inditex, 2018)
Zara have 10 factories on their grounds which manufacture their most fashionable products, other items are sent to external factories around the world. (Hanbury, Mary, 2018) Manufacturing most of their products locally helps reduce carbon footprint, and therefore helps contribute to SDG 13, which stresses to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
They are continually looking for ways to build upon what they have already achieved since signing the UN’s Global Compact in 2001, which included developing and using more responsibly and sustainably produced fabrics, making their stores more ecofriendly, recycling packaging and using green alternatives for its packaging materials. They also launched an in-store recycling donation program and a clothing range directly focused on sustainability, the ‘Join Life’ collection, which will account for 20% of Zara’s range by the end of 2019. Zara are also committed to the use and support of sustainable cotton production, their wool-based fibres never come from primary or high ecologically relevant forests.
Zara’s sustainability roadmap
- To remove all hazardous chemicals from their supply chain
- Not use any fibres from endangered forests
- They will use 100% sustainable cellulosic fibres to create responsible viscose.
- Completely stop the usage of ALL single use plastics, adopting the use of green-only packaging.
By the end of 2025
- All collections will be created out of 100% sustainable cottons and linens and 100% recycled polyester, collaborating with partners and investing in technology to produce greener fashion products (SDG 12 – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns)
- Zero landfill waste from their facilities, inc HQ, logistics Centres, stores and factories. (SDG 15 – Life on Land) and 80% renewable energy use for its HQ, distribution centres and stores (SDG 7 – Affordable and Green Energy)
Another of Zara’s commitments for 2025 is to ‘close the loop’, meaning creating a life cycle for their products so resources are used efficiently and nothing goes to waste, helping move towards a circular economic model. Including making it easier for customers to drop off their unwanted/used garments, giving them a second life or recycling them. (Inditex, n.d.) (SDG 9 – Think of innovative ways to repurpose old material)
Zara have already implemented the digital technology needed to help move towards a circular economy enabling them to trace their products all the way back to the first step in the production chain and throughout the process ending at the customer (Digital supply chain). Full visibility of the supply chain can then help prevent fraud, improve workers’ rights and conditions, stop the use of forced labour and also show where waste can be eliminated.
Digital supply chains use the internet and multiple technologies such as tagging and sensors (RFID), logistical and vehicle tracking software; surveillance technology using data analytics to understand these global systems. RFID tags give the ability to track and trace objects throughout the entire supply chain process and even perhaps even during use. (Leonards, 2019)
“Some retailers are going a step further, using woven RFID tags sewn onto the garments to provide visibility throughout the lifecycle, even after purchase by consumers.” (Logistics Bureau, 2017) This is not good in terms of ethical production, however can help with marketing as they’ll be able to gather valuable information through location tracking.
Benefits and risks of working towards a sustainable fashion model
Thereare both benefits and risks to Zara when it comes to sustainable fashion. Benefits include developing an enhanced brand – people are becoming more aware of where and how their clothing is made; being a sustainable fashion brand has the ability to help gain better customer loyalty and trust as a result of this. It also promotes ethical and fair trade business models, showing that you care about the wider fashion industry rather than just your own business, including the treatment of workers that are manufacturing the clothing in poorer countries. Showing that you are focusing on sustainable fashion as a brand will also allow for good press, potentially further increasing your position in the fashion industry. However there are also some risks to this, Zara’s business model is based on a high turnover rate, releasing more than 10,000 designs a year (Greg Petro – Forbes, 2012)
So it is highly unsustainable, to become entirely sustainable, the whole business model would have to change, resulting in a loss of economic loss. There are some risks to not developing and promoting sustainable practice, these include receiving bad press, and a loss of market share as a result of that. Also UN/Government backlash, as you will not be helping towards the SDG goals which have been set out. This will then lead to compensation costs, legal challenges etc. aswell as greater scrutiny from organisations working towards sustainability.
CMI Code of conduct
Inditex are very open in the way they operate, they publicly share information about their supply chain, track their manufacture process and share the information with their stakeholder’s aswell as ensuring all factories and suppliers they work with are audited. They also work with and share information with global organizations to help address issues in the garment industry. Tracking their supply chain has allowed them to identify priority areas to guarantee the wellbeing of the workers in their factories. Encouraging fair living wages, gender equality, safe and healthy work places etc. Constantly working towards and setting goals for further sustainability.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Although Zara look to be on the right path to achieving a lot of the SDG goals, there are still ways that they can help towards a more sustainable and ethical fashion production Zara could further increase their sustainability by changing their model to produce high quality, timeless designs (Slow fashion), this is an environmentally friendly way as fewer new items are produced and clothes are worn for longer. Their business model is based on an incredibly high turnover rate which is very unsustainable. Promoting rapid consumption is harmful to people and to the planet. As a leader in global fashion, Zara should be focusing on setting the standard for sustainability. Instead of restocking new designs every 2 weeks (Lutz, 2012), it would be more sustainable to release 4 seasonal ranges throughout the year. Recycling and eco-friendly fashion ranges are not enough to counter the “throw-away culture”.
It is also important to help change the way consumers shop, the ‘ideal’ fashion consumer would:
- Buy second-hand clothing and textiles where possible, and buy fewer but longer lasting products.
- Choose the products which are made with the least energy and toxic emissions and made by workers that are receiving a credible living wage with reasonable employment rights and conditions.
- Consumers could also lease clothes that they know wouldn’t be worn to the end of their natural life.
- Wash clothes less often at lower temperatures and with eco-detergents. Hangdrying them and avoiding ironing when possible.
- Instead of throwing away clothes, they can extend the life of the products through repairing them, Zara could offer a repairing service.
- If deciding to dispose of products, make sure they are returned to Zara to contribute to their “closing the loop” policy.
In order to overcome the barriers which are affecting the adoption of these consumer behaviours it is important to increase consumer education. Marketing sustainable fashion would reduce material flow, if consumers were to pay a higher price for a product that would last twice as long, the industry could cut its material flow without making an economic loss. Introducing models such as repairing, remanufacturing would increase profit without increasing material flow.
Exporting clothing also in ways adds to the problem by legitimising fast fashion as it provides an outlet for recycled/second hand goods, and a marketing tool for retailers. Zara are already producing majority of their clothing locally which helps minimize carbon footprint however the con of producing locally means that you have less of a positive impact on working conditions in developing countries.
Making sure that factory workers are paid fair living wages helps support education and directly improves workers quality of life, contributing to several SDG goals such as SDG 1, SDG 2, SDG 3 and SDG 4. If all countries had a national living wage we would see less poverty and conflict and more happiness which is what the UN have set goals to achieve.
The development in technology could lead to new ways to freshen clothes without washing, therefore reducing CO2 emissions and hazardous chemical dyes which find their way into rivers and lakes through sewerage. New fibre recycling technology and low temperature detergents.
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