I always take large brands with a grain of salt when they say they are sustainable. As a consumer, I want to see the evidence to support the claim and not just blindly believe what a large corporation is telling me. But that's just me.
So I decided to investigate a few large fast-fashion brands and their approach to sustainable clothing.
First up is Zara's! This post is was written using Zara's annual sustainability report, and rated in part using Rank a Brand's criteria.
Rank a Brand has a checklist comprised of 30-36 questions to score brands on how well they address sustainability reporting, the development of sustainable strategies and implementation of said policies and practices. The items on the list refer specifically to measuring carbon emissions and the brand’s impacts on climate change, the company’s environmental policy, and Labor Conditions.
*Note - Rank a Brand does not yet address issues of animal welfare in their criteria.
Using my experience in the field, I have simplified the list to 10 items. I believe meeting these items are extremely valuable and consider a brand which meets these requirements as successful in making the shift to producing sustainable fashion.
*Note - even if a brand does not address my specific questions below, they may still address a different aspect of the topic. All of which have been factored in to my review of the company.
To see the full list of criteria and Rank a Brand's score for Inditex/Zara's - head over to their website at : https://rankabrand.org/Retailers/Zara
Is there a policy for the brand to minimize, reduce or compensate carbon emissions? YES (Source, P 135, 216-220)
Has the brand (company) set a target to reduce its absolute ‘own operations’ carbon emissions by at least 20% within the next five years? Not specified clearly by brand
Does the brand (company) use environmentally ‘preferred’ raw materials for more than 5% of its volume? Overall proportion of environmentally preferred raw materials not specified clearly by brand
Is there a policy to eliminate all hazardous chemicals from the whole lifecycle and all production procedures to make clothes and footwear? YES (Source, Greenpeace Zero-Discharge Commitment)
Does the brand have clear objectives to minimize waste, by reducing, re-using and recycling, and does the brand annually report the results? YES (Source P 221,222)
Does the brand have clear objectives to minimize the environmental impact of its shipping packaging and carrier bags, by reducing, re-using, recycling and responsible sourcing of packaging materials, and does the brand annually report on these results? YES ( Green to Pack Program, PEFC/FSC certified bags. Reports results of amount of packaging waste produced. Source, 132, 136-137 & 221-222)
Does the brand have a supplier Code of Conduct (CoC) which includes the following standards: No forced or slave labor, no child labor, no discrimination of any kind and a safe and hygienic workplace? YES (Source, Inditex Code of Conduct)
Does the CoC include at least two of the following workers rights: 1) to have a formally registered employment relationship 2) To have a maximum working week of 48 hours with voluntary and paid overtime of 12 hours maximum. 3) To have a sufficient living wage? YES
Is the brand a member of a collective initiative that aims to improve labor conditions, or does the brand purchase its supplies from accredited factories with improved labor conditions? YES (Source, P 56. Inditex is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI))
Does the brand annually report on the results of its labor conditions policy? Is at least 90% of the bands production volume from apparel manufacturers monitored for labor conditions? YES (Source P 57-94 & 208. Inditex has conducted a total of 10,883 audits sourced from almost 7k factories.)
Initial Impressions/Ease of Readability
The actual report/information released by Zara on their website is listed as an "Annual Report" and not specifically a sustainability report - though they do cover some of the items listed above. The report is also slightly challenging to navigate as you get bogged down by graphics that gives data on the number of sales each of their locations made in a year and the number of their employees...I think the actual PDF version of the report is a lot better in terms of having information organized in one place rather than forcing someone to navigate the Inditex website. That was definitely a little more complicated to piece together data. I've linked the PDF below.
So that was frustrating. Graphics that did speak to sustainability were vague and simply conveyed that the brand had made sustainable initiatives a priority - but no concrete explanations.
There is also something they call a sustainability balance sheet which indicates how the company handles each element of sustainability. But the symbols are hard to understand.
I should also mention that Inditex is the larger company that owns Zara and other popular retail brands.
FOUR Major Positives:
They signed the Greenpeace Zero-Discharge Commitment and promises to eliminate all hazardous chemicals association with creation of products by 2020.
They have demonstrated a commitment to reducing, re-using, recycling and responsible sourcing of packaging materials through two major programs: Green to Pack and Closing the Loop.
They have a Code of Conduct for external manufacturers and suppliers which includes workers rights outlining maximum workweeks of 48 hours and voluntary overtime.
They complete audits with summary reports and follow-up actions annually to report on results of Labor Conditions Policy.
HOW I RANK THE BRAND
Overall, Rank a Brand gave them a C because they could DO MORE. However, I'm going to give them a B. They have established policies, developed strategies to manage compliance with said policies, and completed audits to report on results/impact of sustainable and ethical initiatives. These programs and changes definitely take time to roll out and manage. Especially for a global brand like Inditex with numerous retailers. Having initiatives in place is one step towards progress for larger brands. And most importantly - all of this shows that fast fashion brands understand that consumers expect more. Higher standards of ethics, workers rights, and minimal environmental impact.
NOW -LET'S TALK FASHION AND COMFORT AND EVERYDAY WEAR
It's there. The dress was flattering (and forgiving) with a lovely shape and structure. The material was smooth and substantial. Also, loved the sleeves and the neckline showed just enough, but not too much. If you know what I mean ;) It was versatile enough to take from day to night as well!
The tee only comes in Small, Medium and Large. I'm usually an X-Small so the fit was a little oversized. Definitely super comfortable and so soft! I was able to wear it all day for errands. Also, I slept in it the night before to really test it out for you guys :)
So there you go!
If I were you - I'd feel good about Zara's Join Life Line! And I would definitely try it!
What do you guys want to read about Next? I have a few more brands in mind and of course the research continues!
Feel free to shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments! or if you just want to say hi!
MORE RESOURCES: (If you want to investigate further!)
RANK A BRAND: https://rankabrand.org/Retailers/Zara
ANNUAL REPORT: https://www.inditex.com/documents/10279/319575/Inditex+Annual+Report+2016/6f8a6f55-ed5b-41f4-b043-6c104a305035