Features

The eco-future of clothes, as exemplified by Zara

Reforestation, crop rotation, biodiversity are jargon you’ll never associate with fashion, much less fast fashion. Yet, Zara is doing whatever it takes to help to save the planet, one guilt-free blouson at a time

 

It’s a harrowing fact that our consumer-driven culture has created an insatiable greed; a detrimental ‘everything is replaceable’ mindset and a throw-away attitude to belongings. Truth be told, I can’t stand it. But I am also aware I am literally dripping in hypocrisy, standing here in this season’s latest trends. Whilst I do admittingly care about my sartorial appearance, I also care about how our need for instant gratification creates first world problems beyond “which selfie to upload on social?’’ Namely, how we’re ruining our planet one fossil-fuel-run factory at a time.

Whilst we’re all happy to parade our #OOTDs across social media, it is easy to neglect any thought process about the footprint such fashion leaves on the planet.  I hate to be so cliche, but ignorance is bliss. Or is it? In order to dispel my own obtuseness, I want to dive deep into the world of sustainable fashion.

Considering the concept of fast fashion conjures up images in my head of overworked employees, overfarmed lands and toxic fumes from factories plus distribution cargo ships and lorries, how does an established label conduct themselves towards fulfilling both consumer’s wants and the planet’s needs? Alas, I am only one woman, so I honed my attention onto the largest and fastest global fashion brand that I know: Zara.

 

 

To fully immerse myself in this quest, a press trip allowed me to fly to Spain - the homeland and origins of Zara. Where else better for me to go then to the very source itself! The first stop on my path to renew my faith in the heart of fashion: I needed to talk to Jesus. No, I didn’t rediscover religion. But I did manage to fly to A Coruna (the home of Zara HQ and the first ever Zara store), to meet Jesus Echevarría - the Chief Communications and Corporate Affairs Officer who has been a part of the brand for over a decade.

He began by telling me “Zara is a part of the Fur-Free Alliance and has been fur-free for over 20 years. It’s part of the philosophy of the brand”.  This was music to my animal-loving ears.  If you’re not an animal-lover and hold a ‘devil may care’ attitude towards the barbaric fur farming industry, you’re actually still directly affected as the fur trade is known for its high environmental costs and health risks, which impacts the planet.

Talking of the impact on the planet, Jesus also explained Zara has a very important internal structure to maintain eco-friendly sustainability: their ‘Right To Wear’ commitment.  “This is a staff-only specified code of conduct, all garments are created under our right to wear concept and are thus sustainable.” It’s the brand’s basic compliance of standards with just one focal point: sustainability and all employees, from design to factory to shop floor, must follow it.  

 

 

Split into six different sub categories, the Right To Wear code checks every individual garment at every stage of the production process.  From the composition of materials and chemicals of the garment (Zara have a pre-approved list of eco-friendly materials), to the factory emissions, fabric wastage and worker’s safety and minimum wage...it explores every nook and cranny of the whole brand machine to ensure it remains as environmentally friendly as possible.

With regards to the list of eco-friendly materials, Zara has released its debut Join Life collection for S/S 2017 - which focuses on garments made from recycled materials. The Join Life campaign is a huge push for Zara to convert consumers into making more ethical choices regarding their fashion picks. But what about the designs? Well, they’re on-point with Zara’s iconic style AND come with a bonus gift: they’re guilt-free.

 

 

For instance, one ecologically grown cotton t-shirt, pictured above, is produced using practices that help to protect biodiversity, such as crop rotation and the use of natural fertilisers. Cotton is an oft-used material, and so one of Zara’s aims is to increase the amount of cotton that comes from more environmentally and socially sustainable sources: the primary fabric must be Better Cotton Initiative approved cotton.  This is a globally recognised organisation committed to setting standards for a cotton that is still a mainstream fabric but also a sustainable commodity. There’s actually over 1.5 million farmers across 24 countries who are all part of the Better Cotton scheme.

The Join Life capsule collection also features TENCEL®Lyocell (derived from wood grown in sustainable forests that guarantee reforestation), recycled denim, recycled cotton AND recycled polyester.  The recycled cotton items, such as this pin stripe dress ($59.90), promise at least 15 per cent of recycled cotton per garment.

 

 

This recycled denim skirt ($49.90) is made from old jeans:

 

 

Whilst these high-waisted jeggings ($49.90) promise 25 per cent minimum recycled polyester which is produced from recycled plastic bottles - consuming less water, less energy and fewer natural resources.

 

 

It’s not just the finished recycled garment that deserves our admiration either - the production processes of recycled fabrics use less water and energy, fewer natural resources and produce less waste, meaning they have a lower environmental impact.

 

 

In conventional recycling, textile scraps are ground up and mixed with pure fibres in order to create new fabrics. Currently, only a certain amount of second-hand clothing can be transformed into new fabrics. However, they are are collaborating with entities like Cáritas, the Red Cross, MIT and their own providers to develop new technologies that will allows them to recycle more garments in the future.

As the recycling research continues, they’re remaining focused on their current system and how to minimise as much waste as possible. The Zara model is consistently looking to curate the least amount of waste at every stage of production.  The designers find ways to utilise the materials in hand for each garment, and the factory staff who process the cutting stage try ‘fit’ as many segmented pieces of the garment into one sheet ready for the cutting machine.

 

 

It’s a wondrous system to behold...particularly watching the factory staff use, not cable ties or rope or ribbon, but scrap pieces of fabric to bind the required pieces together, ready for the sewing machines. This ‘no waste’ ideology even includes orders from each store - staff must detail how many of each garment is sold to allow marketing at HQ to then work out how many they need to call in. It’s never in unorganised surplus bulk.

It’s worth noting...there is no marketing, no advertising, no eco-friendly campaign and no publicity when it comes to all of the above. Not even the customers themselves are pushing for such a ‘sustainable fashion’ driven machine. Considering Zara is a very customer-focused brand who, quite literally, create garments from what we the customers choose, I asked Jesus why this is the case - why does Zara insist on sustainable living? He told me, simply, “because it’s the right thing to do”.

 

 

So then, I ponder, why don’t more brands don’t follow suit? Perhaps it is more expensive and is thus avoided at all costs.  Jesus tells me, this is categorically not the case. “Recycled materials and the creation of these fabrics is still in it’s early stages globally, which is why not everyone is following suit. Whilst the research element (particularly into recycled fibers)  is ‘expensive’, once you have the technology and system in place, it is just as cheap to produce mass garments from.”

You may, like me, think all of this would be more than enough for Zara to be proud of their ethics and contribution to leading an eco-friendly and sustainable brand, but it doesn’t stop there. The stores, worldwide, are also meticulously constructed and run on four audited pillars, one being sustainability. Their aim is to ensure each store can save 30% of emissions and 50% of water.  To continue this, stores will be renewed to have new software installed that lowers emissions of that store. This software measures the air and water wastage, and provides methods on lowering these figures.  Jesus tells me that, “by 2020, every Zara across the globe would have been renewed with such software” -- Every. Single. Store.

 

 

Zara’s has an earnest dedication to its social responsibility. Not just the methods implemented to ensure they’re eco-friendly, but the reason why they’ve implemented such rules and systems. Just one reason, and this one reason is enough for all of the hard work, money and time spent at every stage of every process to produce an eco-future for clothes:

Because that’s just the right thing to do.

 

 

This article was originally published in June's issue of Her World

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