The Zara Effect

What’s the true cost of buying an outfit for under a tenner? Adam Lawler examines the recent Zara controversies and ethics of fast fashion.[br]ZARA is everywhere, and everyone loves Zara. With their chic yet affordable options, affections for the Spanish retail giant are completely understandable. Amid recent revelations of misconduct, however, how would you feel if you knew that the cotton-nylon mix was being pulled over your eyes?American consumers were recently incensed when they realised that they were being grossly overcharged by Zara — when they converted the price listed in Euro on the item’s tag to dollars; that amount was far below the amount depicted on the label.It’s deceptively simple; most people wouldn’t think twice about exchange rates, yet some claim that the prices have been marked up as much as 60%. The outcry has been fierce, with some consumers taking up the #ZaraChallenge to see how much they can get ripped off within just a few minutes of shopping.Unlike most expensive designer labels, when people frequent stores like Zara they are not as shrewd when it comes to examining the prices for such cheap items, and even if they were, there wouldn’t be enough of an outcry to destabilise a multi-billion-dollar business. Cheating the general public might be the easiest profit they could make. Zara, of course, denied the “baseless claims” in a statement which extolled their “fundamental commitment to transparency and honest, ethical conduct”.Independent artists such as Tuesday Bassen would disagree. Earlier this year she discovered that Zara had replicated several of her designs. When she reached out, their response basically said that because her work is so generic, and because they are a global company, she hasn’t a preverbal leg to stand on.Other artists like Adam J. Kurtz have since spoken out, decrying the company’s plagiarising of the work of over forty artists this year alone, which leads us to asking; what can artists and consumers do to protect themselves from major corporations?Again, Zara’s place on the high street means that Brother Vellies, for example, can unveil a collection at an event such as New York Fashion Week, with high-status patrons such as Kanye West in attendance, and they still get away with copying a sandal design in their next collection. Why? Because Zara’s cheap and fast nature separates it from both the upper echelons of fashion and the community of small designers simply seeking to earn a living.Since patrons of the high street don’t bother either side, retailers remain largely unaffected by cries of plagiarism. The reaction of some amounts to indifference, dismissing it as what all retailers do, which is unfair on the retailers who attempt to be fair and creative. Retailers can, and should, do better, and the public needs to hold them to that instead of accepting unethical conduct as status quo.To examine all of this is to say nothing of fast fashion’s impact on the environment and the underpaid workers behind the scenes. What is there to stop another factory collapsing such as the one in Bangladesh in 2013, the fallout of which still haunts the industry?With the demand for fast and cheap ever-growing, it’s hard to see fast fashion becoming any less exploitative, despite some of the biggest retailers, including Zara, H&M and Gap, recently promising to improve factory conditions. It’s simply not enough, and with public-shaming the only effective way outside a lawsuit to get the attention of image-obsessed corporations, the only power could be in our hands. Shame away.