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As a fashion brand, Zara has made a name for itself by democratizing the latest clothing styles for consumers at an affordable price. However, the rapid pace of this trend-driven business model known as "fast fashion" can be associated with high environmental and social costs.
Last week, Zara's parent company, Inditex, announced its plans for more sustainable growth.
The fast fashion giant has pledged that by 2025, all eight brands will use only cotton, linen and polyester that are organic, sustainable or recycled. This is 90% of the raw materials used. CEO and CEO Pablo Isla said that renewable energy will account for 80% of the energy consumption of the conglomerate's distribution centers, offices and businesses. It is also planned to switch to landfill waste.
This is an important step for a company that produces 500 new designs per week, says Elizabeth L. Cline, the author of two books on the impact of fast fashion.
"They source materials with a better environmental profile," she says. "These are materials that consume less water, less energy and less chemicals for production."
Cline says the move sends out a strong message in the supply chain to manufacturers that they are more environmentally friendly. Nevertheless, Cline warns that this announcement should be taken with a grain of salt and argue that fast fashion and sustainability are inherently incompatible.
Even if Zara uses materials that are more ethical or less polluting, this makes up most of the carbon footprint that is coming from the vendors who supply brands with their materials. When a company builds on a quick change of style, the production of these products still consumes a lot of energy, whether it uses organic cotton or sells products in more eco-efficient stores.
"The business model needs to change and evolve to be sustainable," she says.
Farming cotton has an impact on soil health, carbon emissions, and water use, says Mark Sumner, who teaches fashion and sustainability at the University of Leeds in England. Polyester, a popular and inexpensive synthetic material in a rapid manner, requires the extraction and processing of oil by the oil industry, processes that fuel climate change. Then there are the energy-intensive processes of converting this raw material into wearable garments. Dyeing the fabric can also cause harmful chemicals.
"If we add all these different influences together, we will get a picture of the environmental problems associated with clothing," he says.
What makes things even more complicated, says Sumner, is that the definition of sustainability can vary depending on who you ask.
The fashion industry is not just an industry, but a whole host of other industries that are being used and used to deliver the garments that we now wear, "he says in an interview with NPRs All Things Considered .
For this reason, Cline believes that the excitement over Inditex's announcement needs to be tempered.
"They are confident about a subject that we still find out," she says. "We are still collecting data. We are still working on best practices. So when Zara comes out the window and says that we will be sustainable by 2025, the long road we have in terms of sustainability and sustainability is disputed. "Fashion."
Inditex provides 3.5 million US dollars to research textile recycling technology through a partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology supported by a Cline-backed investment.
At the same time, Cline says it can not be left to the fast-fashion industry alone. Consumers and government regulators also play a role.
Inditex & # 39; announcement is a response to consumer pressures, says Cline. "We are in the midst of a consumer-led revolution in sustainability in fashion."
Unfortunately, much of this movement is toward greenwashing – a term that refers to a misleading marketing trick that companies spend on. According to Sumner, the fact that Zara's parent company has listed its sustainability goals on the stock market is good A sign that the image of the company is more environmentally aware than it actually is.
"Over time, they will be held accountable by their shareholders, NGOs, media and commentators," he says. "Hopefully, they will also encourage other brands and retailers to be brave and to make those statements."
Leena Sanzgiri and Tinbete Ermyas of NPR produced and edited the sound of this story.