“Do research on ZARA. Okay, I have no idea what to make out of that, but if that’s what he wants, then I’ll research ZARA.”
That’s what I first thought when I heard about our task in this class. I was really skeptical and didn’t see the sense in it at all. The first few things I looked up online where obviously nothing special and not really fascinating. So I thought, I guess I will have to put some more effort into this, the Zara website probably won’t do. That’s when I started to look into things deeper and actually found a lot of stuff that I would have never associated with ZARA. How special their business structure is, that they don’t advertise and how they don’t produce in China. I never thought about how much organization lies behind the store I sometimes buy a shirt.
It was really fun to discuss the topic of ZARA in groups in class, because there where so many different aspects and everyone brought something else in to the discussion. Even if some looked at the same point, they saw it from different perspectives. When we talked about how amazing it is that ZARA changes its clothes twice a week, I only thought about how impressive that is and went on to research about that, but Korinna for example tried to understand what that implies for our modern society. Also something really fascinating(maybe she’ll write about that in her blog).
So yeah, how does ZARA get to produce and sell clothes at the speed of fashion-lightning?
The main solution to that question is as simple as it is special. ZARA is a Spanish company with its headquarters also located in Spain. So far, not so special. The special part starts with the production plants: 80% of them are located within a small radius around the headquarters. This obviously bears a huge logistical advantage, because you can transport goods within Europe in a few days’ time, if you have to ship your stuff from china, it will take you several weeks. In addition to the close distance to the headquarters, most of the production is located in owned or closely controlled factories. Of course ZARA has huge expenses because of producing in Europe, the peoplecosts alone are expected to be 18 times higher than in Asia. But since ZARA is one of the most successful retailers right now, those costs definitely have to be worth it. Another aspect is, that ZARA owns all of the raw materials they use; they don’t just buy prepared fabrics from others, but buy them in their simplest form and then strictly control every ongoing step. They even decide on how to dye their fabrics themselves.
So how does this expensive production pay off? It does, because that way ZARA can copy new styles and have them in their stores within just a few weeks and not in a year like H&M. This way, they are the first to provide the new style for the general public. This obviously has the benefit of having outmaneuvered the competition when it comes to the question of “who has the look first?” and therefore gives ZARA the possibility of charging a higher price than H&M, of course not too high, but just high enough to make things look a bit more special, a bit more fashionable.
Something you should know: No matter how good this business structure might sound and even though it might create the impression that ZARA is an innovative store that cares about not exploiting people in China, that’s not all there is. Because obviously the other 20% of ZARA production factories lie outside of Spain – in Brazil for example, or rather in Americana, 130km from Sao Paulo to be exact. Public authorities discovered that 52 illegally immigrated Bolivians were forced to work in a factory where ZARA clothes were produced. The Bolivians had to work under degrading conditions. They were forced to work 14 hours a day almost without a break, their so called housing facilities didn’t even have running warm water and definitely no hygienic place to store food or cook. At first, ZARA did not answer to any of these accusations, but now states that they will not tolerate such working conditions any longer and make sure it never happens again. Like they didn’t know how their clothes where produced. Last time I checked, they were so proud of their “closely controlled production chain”. Very interesting twist.
So after all I can definitely say that there are a whole lot of interesting aspects concerning ZARA and it was really worth it to invest some time into my research. The innovative structure of ZARA impressed me quite a lot and made me view them with other eyes. However, I believe it is important to not let yourself be blinded by this amazing store. Because especially in fashion, there are always some not so chic things to find out.