This week, in an exclusive interview with Vogue, three prominent Inditex executives sat down to talk about the environmental impact of European fashion brand, Zara. Promising 100% sustainable cottons and linens, recycled cellulosic fibres and ‘green-only’ packaging among other similar initiatives its goals certainly are ambitious but these promises come alongside the acknowledgement that, as far as fast-fashion is concerned, Zara has historically been one of the biggest offenders. In 2012 it was reported that the company's lead time from design to final saleable product was just 13 days, a standard that others like Uniqlo saw as a target they had to beat to compete.
Womenswear designer, Bea Padin, doesn't shy away from this subject in her Vogue interview stating that Zara’s considered use of sales data allows the company to adjust its production in an effort to reduce surplus stock minimising the waste that the company produces. Padin also highlights recycled fabric as an avenue for development that could counter the company’s waste issue. Simon Psaric, also of the womenswear design team, paints an idyllic picture of slow sustainable fashion made ‘from recycled wool fibres by a decades-old Italian mill’.
Is 'greenwashing' the new black?
Throughout the article there is a resounding sense that this idyllic scene is exactly what Zara executives want the consumer to imagine the process of their manufacturing is. The brand has recently launched a new flagship store at New York’s Hudson Yards that Vogue writer, Mark Holgate, identifies as one indication of its commitment to slower more considered edits. But just how much of Zara’s supposed change is exactly this, a token signal of commitment to sustainability to soothe the environmentally concerned conscious?
Greenwashing is both literally and figuratively, in vogue at the moment. High street and luxury brands have been delivering press release after press release to demonstrate their commitment to solving the problems highlighted by greater awareness of the unethical, polluting processes of the fashion industry. Even the headline of Vogue’s article cleverly chooses to state that the brand are looking to ‘go slower’ without explicitly committing to the term ‘slow fashion’ at any point in the interview. It hasn't gone unnoticed, Eco Age founder and ethical fashion activist Livia Firth called out the apparent contradiction on her Instagram.
Is it time to forget fast fashion?
More sustainable materials and greater commitment to reducing emissions are definitely a great start but doesn’t address more pressing problem of consumption. The world consumes around 80 billion new pieces of clothing each year, 4 times what we did only 20 years ago. As a result each person is now producing more textile waste than ever as each item of clothing may only be in the average woman's closet for around 5 weeks. The only way to combat this massive amount of consumption is for fashion to move away from rapidly changing trends (greenwashing included!) toward a slow fashion that centres enduring styles and quality.
Whether or not Zara’s commitment to sustainability is simple marketing or a move toward addressing the problems of its past is as yet unclear. What is certain is that brands must look toward greater change in their manufacturing, not just marketing if they are to retain their increasingly environmentally aware consumers.