Is Zara Fast Fashion? Here's Everything You Need to Know

Is Zara truly a fast fashion brand? Arm yourself with the facts and discover the complexities of fast fashion through the lens of one of its biggest players.

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Is Zara Fast Fashion? Here's Everything You Need to Know

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Key takeaways

  • Zara is a Spanish multinational clothing retailer that was founded in 1975. It is one of the largest fashion brands in the world, with over 3,000 stores in over 90 countries.
  • Zara is known for its fast fashion business model, which allows it to quickly bring new designs to market.
  • Zara has been criticized for its environmental and social impact. While the company has taken steps to address these issues, much still needs to be done.

Zara is a household name in the fast fashion industry. With its chic designs, affordable clothing, and lightning-fast production cycles, Zara has carved out a prominent place in the global clothing industry.

Yet, behind the glitz and glamor associated with Zara, there lies some controversy. Is Zara a fast fashion brand, churning out disposable garments at breakneck speed at the expense of the environment and society, or is it committed to sustainability and ethical practices?

From Zara’s environmental impact and labor practices to its animal welfare policies, in this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about Zara when it comes to fast fashion.

What Is Zara?

Zara is a Spanish multinational fashion brand founded in 1975 by Amancio Ortega and Rosalía Mera. It is the largest constituent company of the Inditex fashion group, which also owns other brands such as Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, and Oysho. As of January 2023, Zara had over 3,000 stores, including kids and home stores in over 90 countries (Forbes, n.d.)

Is Zara Fast Fashion? 

Zara is somewhat deceiving. While the iconic brand may not come across as a fast fashion brand because it positions itself as a premium brand, it's one. In fact, Zara might be the poster child for fast fashion.

The term ''fast fashion'' first appeared in the New York Times in the early 1990s when Zara opened a store in New York (Schiro, 1989). The term described how Zara could take a garment from design to market in just 15 days. 

That said, here are some reasons why Zara is considered a fast fashion company:

Rapid Production Cycles

Zara's is renowned for its lightning-fast production cycles. The brand's designs can go from the drawing board to retail in about two weeks. In comparison, traditional brands usually take four to eight weeks to achieve the same feat.

Low Prices

Zara offers trendy clothing at affordable prices, making them accessible to more consumers. By keeping prices low, the brand encourages mass consumption.  

Imitation of High-End Fashion 

Zara excels at identifying and replicating high-end fashion trends. It monitors runway shows, fashion influencers, and celebrities closely, allowing it to quickly produce affordable versions of popular styles.

Frequent Inventory Turnover

Zara's stores receive frequent shipments of new items, sometimes as often as twice a week. This encourages customers to visit the stores regularly to discover the latest trends and make impulse purchases.

Disposable Fashion Culture

Zara's business model encourages the culture of disposable fashion since the brand typically produces garments made from cheap, synthetic materials like polyester and spandex. This business model contrasts with sustainable fashion practices that prioritize durability and longevity.

Zara's Role in the Fast Fashion Industry

Zara is often credited with pioneering the fast fashion model, forever changing how we perceive and consume clothing. However, the brand's fast fashion business model has also been criticized for its environmental and social impact. Let's explore its impact on the planet and people.

Environmental Impact

Zara claims it has made some progress when it comes to minimizing its environmental impact. In 2022, the brand introduced Zara Pre-Owned — a platform that offers repair services and allows customers to drop off their used clothing, footwear, and accessories in containers at Zara Stores for reuse and recycling in partnership with non-profit organizations.

Unfortunately, while Zara’s Pre-Owned platform may demonstrate the brand’s commitment to minimizing textile waste, it isn’t true to the goals of a circular economy, and some critics have even labeled it as blatant greenwashing (Murphy, 2022). Ironically, while the initiative aims to reduce Zara’s textile waste, the brand still churns out nearly 450 million garments annually and over 500 new styles weekly — more than the average fast fashion company (Kozlowski, 2023).

Additionally, Zara still uses cheap synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, and acrylic to produce clothes. Synthetic materials are made from petroleum, a fossil fuel that's a major contributor to climate change. Fossil fuels account for nearly 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and about 90% of carbon dioxide emissions (United Nations, n.d.). 

Synthetic fabrics also release harmful pollutants into the environment when they are produced and disposed of. For instance, synthetic fibers shed microplastics, of which nearly half a million tonnes end up in oceans annually (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017).

Finally, while Zara offers a recycling program, the brand doesn't provide any information about waste management practices, such as water disposal. This issue is of grave concern because the fashion industry accounts for nearly 20% of all water pollution worldwide (World Bank Group, 2022).

Labor Practices

Zara's parent company, Inditex, has a somewhat comprehensive Code of Conduct for Manufacturers and Suppliers that advocates for no forced or child labor, employee discrimination, fair wages, safe and hygienic working conditions, and more. 

However, while the brand may demonstrate its commitment to fair labor practices on paper, the reality is pretty different. Unfortunately, the company has faced severe backlash for its harsh labor practices in several countries, including Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and Myanmar (Impact International, 2021). For instance, in Brazil, a report by the Brazilian Labor Ministry found that garment workers were working in unsafe conditions. The report also found that the workers worked up to 16 hours a day without a single day off in a week (Butler, 2018).

Animal Welfare

Zara's parent company Inditex has a sustainability policy that promotes animal welfare. The policy states that:

  • Animal products must come from animals treated ethically and responsibly, per the internationally recognized ''Five Freedoms'' of animal welfare.
  • Animal products from slaughtered animals must come from species reared for meat.
  • Animal products must never come from animals slaughtered solely for their skin, shell, horn, bone, feather, or down.
  • Cosmetic products must never be tested on animals at any stage of production.

Unfortunately, Zara uses wool, leather, down, and exotic animal hair to produce garments. Worse still, there is no evidence the fast fashion brand traces the source of its animal products, and it has a rather opaque supply chain. However, on the bright side, Zara stopped using Angora fur in 2015 (Kassam, 2018). Subsequently, the brand banned mohair in 2018 (Bain, 2022).

Fast Fashion Brands Similar to Zara

Some other fast fashion companies that have received heavy scrutiny for their environmental and social impact include Shein, H&M, Forever21, Missguided, and Boohoo. All these clothing retailers have a fast fashion business model, which means they produce new designs quickly and cheaply. These companies also have a fairly vague supply chain.

Sustainable Alternatives to Zara

As more consumers become aware of the environmental and ethical implications of fast fashion, many are seeking sustainable alternatives to brands like Zara. Fortunately, the fashion industry has seen a rise in labels prioritizing sustainable and ethical practices over rapid production and profit. If you want to make more fashion-conscious choices, here are some sustainable alternatives you might want to consider:

Embrace DIY and Upcycling

Getting creative with do-it-yourself fashion projects and upcycling can be an excellent way to reduce waste and breathe new life into old clothing. You can transform outdated or worn-out pieces into unique, personalized items. Whether it's adding patches, dyeing fabrics, or repurposing garments, upcycling allows you to express your style while reducing the demand for new clothing.

Rental and Clothing Swaps

Clothing rental services and clothing swaps are excellent sustainable alternatives to traditional shopping. Renting allows you to enjoy various fashion styles for special occasions without the commitment of ownership, reducing closet clutter and the environmental impact of infrequently worn items. 

Similarly, clothing swaps with friends or at swapping events can enable you to upgrade your wardrobe while promoting sustainability.

Sustainable Fabrics and Materials

When choosing sustainable alternatives to Zara, pay attention to the materials used in the clothing. Choose brands that use sustainable materials, such as:

  • Organic Cotton: Organic cotton is grown without harmful pesticides and chemicals, reducing the environmental impact of conventional cotton farming.
  • Lyocell (Tencel): Tencel is a sustainable fabric made from wood pulp, often sourced from responsibly managed forests.
  • Recycled materials: Recycled materials like recycled polyester and nylon reduce the demand for virgin resources, minimizing the environmental impact of garment production.
  • Hemp: Hemp is a versatile, eco-friendly fiber that requires fewer resources and chemicals to cultivate compared to cotton.

Purchase Second-Hand Clothing

Purchasing second-hand clothing is a great way to reduce fast fashion's environmental impact since it extends the lifespan of clothing. Whether at thrift stores, vintage boutiques, or online marketplaces, second-hand fashion offers a variety of unique, pre-loved pieces.

As a result, not only does purchasing second-hand clothing help reduce textile waste, but it also allows you to uncover hidden gems at a low cost that add flair to your wardrobe.

Embrace Capsule Wardrobes

The concept of a capsule wardrobe involves curating a small, versatile collection of garments that can be mixed and matched to create a variety of outfits. By carefully selecting timeless, high-quality pieces, you can reduce your clothing purchases and make the most of what you already own. Capsule wardrobes encourage conscious choices and reduce the temptation to constantly shop for new items or jump on the latest trends.

Support Ethical Brands

Many ethical fashion brands are committed to fair labor practices, fair wages, and transparency in their supply chain. By supporting these brands, you can contribute to a fashion industry that prioritizes the well-being of its workers. Some noteworthy ethical fashion labels include:

  • Tentree: Tentree makes its clothes with the smallest environmental footprint and the comfiest, most sustainable materials.
  • People Tree: People Tree specializes in sustainable, fair trade fashion, offering clothing made by artisans and farmers in developing countries.
  • Made Trade: Made Trade provides comprehensive information about its products and supply chain while prioritizing ethical production.
  • Pact: Pact produces comfortable, organic cotton garments while promoting fair trade practices.

Support Slow Fashion Brands

Slow fashion is a countermovement to the fast fashion industry that prioritizes thoughtful, deliberate consumption over the rapid turnover of clothing. Slow fashion companies focus on producing high-quality, durable items that stand the test of time. Some notable sustainable brands include:

  • Patagonia: Patagonia is a B Corp-certified brand known for its commitment to environmental sustainability. The brand offers durable outdoor clothing that combines performance with eco-consciousness.
  • Eileen Fisher: Eileen Fisher is a B Corp-certified brand that produces timeless, minimalist women's clothing and accessories using sustainable materials like organic cotton, Tencel, and responsibly sourced wool.
  • Amour Vert: Amour Vert is a contemporary fashion label that produces chic women's clothing using materials such as organic cotton and Tencel. 


Has Zara been accused of greenwashing?

Yes, Zara has been accused of greenwashing multiple times. Greenwashing is the practice of making misleading or deceptive claims about the environmental benefits of a product or service.

In 2021 a report by the pressure group Changing Markets Foundation found that 60% of claims made by European fast fashion companies, including Zara, were unsubstantiated and misleading consumers.

Similarly, in 2023, a report by the environmental organization Greenpeace accused Zara of greenwashing. The report found that Zara's Join Life clothing line was less sustainable than the company claimed. For instance, the report found that Zara didn't use recycled materials to produce clothing but rather virgin materials.

Are Zara and H&M fast fashion?

Zara and H&M are two of the largest and oldest fast fashion brands. Like other fast fashion companies, they are known for their affordable prices and trendy designs that often mimic the latest runway trends. Additionally, like other fast fashion brands, both companies have a rapid design-to-retail cycle, which means they quickly introduce new designs to the market.

How did Zara become a fast fashion brand?

Zara became a fast fashion company through various business practices, including rapid production cycles, vertical integration, rapid turnaround times from design to retail, providing frequent collections, and imitating high-end fashion.

Is Zara more ethical than H&M?

Zara and H&M are both fast fashion brands that have been heavily scrutinized for their environmental and social impact. While both brands have made some progress when it comes to sustainability and ethical practices, it's difficult to say which brand is more ethical.

What is the biggest threat to Zara?

Zara is one of fast fashion's major players, but it isn't invincible. The company faces several threats, such as competition from other fast fashion brands like H&M, Forever 21, and Shein. These brands offer similar products at similar prices, making it challenging for Zara to differentiate itself.

Additionally, consumers are increasingly becoming more aware of their purchases' environmental and social implications and demanding sustainable and ethical fashion. Zara has received heavy backlash from several quarters for its environmental and social impact, which could dent its reputation and sales.


Zara is a major player in the fast fashion industry. The company's lightning-fast approach to trends has undoubtedly changed how many consumers perceive and consume clothing, allowing many consumers to look stylish for less.


Zara | Company Overview & News. (n.d.). Forbes.

Schiro, A. (1989, December 31). Fashion; Two new stores that cruise fashion’s fast lane. The New York Times.

Murphy, A. (2022, October 22). Spare me Zara’s latest sustainability effort. The Independent.

Kozlowski, A. (2023). Fashion’s “Sustainability” Endeavors Need to Be About More than Fabrics, Recycling. The Fashion Law.

United Nations. (n.d.). Causes and effects of climate change | United Nations.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future (2017).

World Bank Group. (2022). How much do our wardrobes cost to the environment? World Bank.

Fast fashion at a human cost - Zara fashion retailer chooses sales over ethics. (2021, July 5). ImpACT International.

Butler, S. (2018, July 2). Zara owner Inditex faces fines in Brazil over poor working conditions claim. The Guardian.

Kassam, A. (2018, July 2). Inditex bans angora sales worldwide after animal welfare protests. The Guardian.

Bain, M. (2022, July 20). Why Zara, H&M, Gap, and others are banning mohair. Quartz.

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Alyciah Beavers

Committed to promoting sustainability and am pleased to have the opportunity to share my enthusiasm with you.

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