Zara is going in circles — in the U.K. at least.
As part of its 360-degree circularity and sustainability strategy, the fast-fashion brand is launching a three-pronged “Pre-Owned” pilot project Nov. 3. It aims to help customers repair, resell or recycle their clothing.
Repair will be offered on any used Zara garments no matter the age, which can be taken to any of the U.K.’s 60 Zara stores or sent in online. Users will pay a fee for service — from replacing buttons and zippers to repairing seams, for example — and shipping fees if facilitated online, with the garment back in hand within 10 days.
The second part of the program is launching a customer-to-customer resale platform for pre-owned Zara garments. The seller can scan the hangtag or interior barcode and Zara will automatically supply its own photos and garment composition information. The platform filters all communication, and the seller can add photos or details if requested.
On the sellers’ side it’s free, while buyers pay a 1 pound fee plus a 5 percent service charge. The company’s library goes back about eight years, but it will continue to add more garments from the archives.
The company will also extend its clothing collection and donation program — available since 2015 via in store deposit boxes — to in-home pickup, which had been previously been available only in Spain. The retailer will take items from any brand, and Zara acts as the middleman with partner British Red Cross. The charity handles sorting, reselling and recycling. As of 2019, the company had collected 34,000 tons of used merchandise.
“We are asking them to find trustable channels for the garments they can’t use, but nothing goes to landfill,” head of sustainability Paula Ampuero told WWD.
She acknowledged the difficulty and lack of scalable facilities for textile-to-textile recycling. “I don’t want to say waste because for us on the sustainability team, we always try to see garment waste as a new resource, but it’s a huge challenge for the industry to transform a post-consumer waste garment into a new garment. Normally they resell it to other industries, for use in industrial fabrics.”
It’s a key market for the Spanish retailer, which has been in the U.K. since 1998. Customers there are tech savvy and very well-versed in all things sustainability, making them a demanding demographic that is willing to experiment. There are no target numbers for this program.
“We will see how it really evolves and how it works. It is a test. This is something very, very new for the company, so we want to see how it works in the U.K. and it will help us have an overview on the real market.”
Zara is entering the resale race somewhat late in the game, as the fast fashion juggernaut is usually ahead of the trend curve. Companies including luxury brands such as Burberry, Ganni and Gucci, mass market brands like Levi’s and Nike, and Zara’s perennial fast-fashion rival H&M and its sister brand Cos have launched or invested in resale platforms.
But it’s an important step for the brand to reach its ambitious sustainability goals. While it doesn’t solve the overconsumption problem of the fashion industry as a whole, Ampuero said she hopes it begins to shift mindsets.
“For us, it’s key that no garment goes to landfill and that customers keep on using or buying garments that already exist so that the consumption of raw materials is reduced,” she said. “We think that for the general strategy of circularity that we are implementing, these kinds of initiatives need to be key to also start creating awareness for the customer.”
Zara, the cornerstone of the Inditex empire, which also owns Bershka, Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Oysho and Stradivarius, is the only brand rolling out this program so far.
The brand has invested heavily in its sustainability innovation hub, a platform to work with start-ups and researchers to find new materials and circular technology launched in 2021. They are researching postproduction and postconsumer waste recycling, and scaling up existing projects.
“For us, circularity is key, and we are working on all of our steps, not only from the design, [but] in the manufacturing processes, how we are choosing the materials we are using, and how we are managing the waste in our own operations,” she added.