My friends and I have always loved shopping at Zara. Their pieces are edgy and glamorous, and make people ask, “Where’d you get that?”
But fashionable as they may be, I’m giving away all of my Zara clothes—and definitely not buying any new ones.
Over the past few years, the largest fashion retailer in the world has shocked me by continuing to release culturally and racially offensive products. Zara’s sheer lack of sensitivity has made it impossible for me to continue to support the company with my cash.
Let’s start with the latest scandal. Just last week, Zara was selling a children’s black-and-white striped tee with a big yellow star over the heart, which looked suspiciously like—okay, almost exactly like—a Holocaust concentration camp uniform.
Apparently, the t-shirt was inspired by the classic American Western. Even if that is the case, I have to wonder why no one paused and said, “Wait, this could be really offensive.”
At least the retailer is trying to make amends for this misstep. Inditex, Zara’s parent company, issued a press release saying, “The garment was available only for just a few hours and sales of the t-shirt have been marginal. The items will be reliably destroyed.” They also blamed their uniquely fast production cycle for the slip-up.
If this cultural insensitivity was a one-time thing, I could forgive and forget. But not even three weeks earlier, Zara was selling an ivory-colored graphic tee with “White is the new black” printed across the front.
Various justifications were made: “the slogan is likely meant to reference wearing white as a trend, as opposed to fashion’s beloved black” considered the Huffington Post, while StyleList Canada wondered if the top was “a nod to Netflix’s original series Orange Is the New Black.”
It might have been designed in innocence, but when you’re the largest clothes corporation in the world, you have a responsibility to make sure you’re not producing and releasing products that could obviously be interpreted as offensive.
And if that wasn’t enough, it looks like the company has a history with “accidental” racism: in May 2013, Zara came under fire for another tasteless product. This time, it was a necklace made of gold and black faces, with big red lips.
“The bauble mimics minstrel caricatures and stereotypical images meant to lampoon slaves,” said Clutch magazine at the time.
The Huffington Post reached out to Zara for a comment, but never heard back.
Selling tasteless clothes and accessories is one thing, but as I dug a little deeper into Zara’s past, I discovered that last year a workers’ rights group found the label was using slave labor in Argentinean sweatshops to produce its clothes.
Immigrants, including children, said they were forced to work 13-hour-plus days and couldn’t leave the factories without permission.
After the raids, head of Argentina’s Government Control Agency Juan Gomez Centurion said, “We found men and children who lived in the place where they worked. They were not registered and they were living in terrible conditions… They had no official documents and were held against their will.”
I’m shocked and angry that some of the trendy, fashionable dresses or tops hanging in my closet right now could have been made in such conditions.
In response to the disgraceful situation, a spokesperson for the company said, “We are surprised by the allegations. Based on the limited information we have received so far, the workshops in question do not appear to have any relationship with our approved suppliers in Argentina.” But Zara’s merchandise was literally found being made at the sweatshops, which implicates Zara pretty clearly.
And let’s rewind just two years before that, to 2011. That’s when 15 workers were rescued from an unlicensed factory in Brazil where Zara clothes were being produced. Zara promised after this scandal that they’d take better care of their factories.
According to U.K. newspaper the Daily Mail, they were living in “dangerous and unhygienic conditions” and working 12-hour days for between $157 and $292 per month. One of the workers was just 14 years old.
Zara was made to pay millions of fines for the offense, but obviously that wasn’t enough to make them change their ways.
So, let’s recap: culturally offensive clothes. Shameful working conditions. Contrition that lasts just long enough for the media furor to die down. Where’s the good in this company?
No number of envy-inspiring skirts or cute shoes could justify those actions.
Zara’s founder, majority shareholder, and former CEO, Amancio Ortega, is the fourth richest man in the world. He’s a self-made man, who comes from extreme poverty. So why wouldn’t he have basic compassion for his workers?
I’m more than happy to give up Zara’s clothes if it means a few less dollars in Ortega’s bank accounts. Will you join me?
Aja Frost is a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a regular contributor to Her Campus, The Prospect, and her college newspaper. Her work has been featured on xoJane and The Huffington Post. The only thing she loves more than writing is dessert. Follow her on Twitter @ajavuu.