The first time I stepped inside of a ZARA store was about 6 years ago when I moved to New York City. I’d never heard of the chain and was eager to get acquainted. On the outside, on the corner of 42nd street and 5th avenue, the revolving doors and minimalist window displays gave the place an air of distinction. However, upon walking inside, my first impression was, “meh”. I found the aesthetic to be a bit trite; it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before. In fact, it reminded me of a Forever 21 for the sophisticate–pieces that were a bit less trendy and toned down but nonetheless au courant. At some point during that time, I ended up purchasing a pair of olive green tapered trousers which included a faux-leather skinny belt (that eventually fell apart, naturally). I wasn’t too pleased with the price tag, but purchased them anyway because it was one of those items I just “had to have”. After that, I felt no reason to step foot inside again, especially given its reputation as one of the harbingers of “fast fashion”, or clothing manufactured in less developed countries with no thought to quality and integrity.
I still have those pants. In fact, they’re one of my favorite pieces and one of the few pairs of pants I own. I tend to wear them year round since they go with just about anything. I’m still amazed at how well they’ve held up, especially since I’m pretty careless when it comes to laundering (I don’t even separate colors half of the time). But that’s not what revived my interest in the brand. It was a trip to Buffalo Exchange earlier this year where I found a long-sleeved denim-esque tunic, the kind that flounces out at the bust and stops just past the rear. It was modest, understated and cheap at only $12 bucks. I was pleased to have found something so stylish that wasn’t trying to expose my body in some way and surprised when I read the label, “ZARA WOMAN”. “They actually sell stuff like this?” I thought to myself. As a Muslim woman, shopping in today’s fashion climate is no easy feat, so I was naturally intrigued to investigate further. Maybe I hadn’t given it a chance. I had to see if giving ZARA my patronage would be worth it.
My next trip yielded another tunic, a thin woven cotton-blend with a powder blue tone. I only allowed myself to buy it because it was on sale, and because a Muslim woman can never have enough tunics . It wasn’t an easy purchase though. I was still having some doubts about contributing to a system that doesn’t treat workers fairly or honor craftsmanship. I conceded that since I wasn’t paying full price I could justify the purchase. Even so, my conscience was still heavy. I had to get to heart of the matter. Was it fair to lump ZARA in with all the others? Do I even know where their clothes are made? My Buffalo Exchange tunic says Portugal. My trousers say Morocco. My latest tunic reads, Turkey. These aren’t countries, at least in my mind, where you would find a desperate working class slaving away in a dim factory for pennies a day. In this case, they must be square-dealing… right?
After doing some research online, the results were inconclusive. According to Wikipedia:
“…50% of the products Zara sells are manufactured in Spain, 26% in the rest of Europe, and 24% in Asian and African countries and the rest of the world.”
ZARA has also been accused of using slave labor in countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Bangladesh, contracting to suppliers who were running sweatshops for their outsourced production. Alternatively, ZARA has recently switched to a toxic-free production, refraining from using common chemicals and dyes used in clothing production that have been linked to cancer. On one hand, there’s definitely some unsavory dealings afoot. On the other, the company has actually taken some initiative to become less harmful to its consumers and the environment. What to do?
I have to admit, after perusing ZARA’s online store recently, I was impressed. The clean silhouettes, the unfussy details, and a unique interpretation of classic and modern looks, not to mention modest, has made me a fan. So how do I reconcile the less palatable aspects of ZARA’s production with my newfound appreciation? Buy used or on sale. One thing I’m not sold on is their pricing. I hardly see any reason to pay $60.00 for a blouse unless it was made in an atelier and the product of labored attentiveness. So I troll the likes of Ebay and only pay the brick-and-mortar a visit in the event of a full-blown sale.
And then I don’t feel so bad.