By Carson Kessler
June 22, 2018

Fast-fashion giant Zara is no stranger to controversy.

Melania Trump’s ‘I Really Don’t Care, Do U?’ jacket is just the latest target of sartorial controversy that the brand seems to so welcomingly invite into its 2,200 stores. Known for its incredibly quick production speeds, the international fashion retailer is increasingly becoming known for its magnetism to controversy.

Here’s a timeline of Zara’s headline-making fashion faux pas.

September 2007: Zara Swastika Handbag

Zara withdrew a $78 handbag from its stores after a customer pointed out that the design featured four green swastikas. The bag came from an Indian supplier and the approved design didn’t feature the symbols, the company said at the time.

August 2011: Zara’s Sweatshop Conditions

A raid of a company contractor in São Paulo found immigrants working in cramped, unsanitary conditions for long hours. AHA, the sub-contractor, is responsible for 90% of Zara’s Brazilian production, After 15 workers were rescued from the sweatshop—one just 14-years-old— the Brazilian government quickly listed 52 charges against Inditex, Zara’s parent company. Inditex claimed AHA employed the workers illegally without their knowledge.

August 2014: Zara’s Holocaust Prisoner Shirt

Anti-Semitism claims against the company arose yet again after customers pointed out the kid’s “striped sheriff t-shirt” looked uncomfortably similar to the striped uniforms and yellow stars that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. After pulling the controversial shirt from stores, Zara cited classic western films, which were said to have inspired its design.

August 2014: Zara ‘White is the New Black’ Tee

Zara released a white t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, ‘White is the New Black.’ While the shirt may reference the popular Netflix series, Orange is the New Black, or hint at a new fashion trend; some customers were outraged at the racial undertones associated with the graphic tee. The shirt is no longer available for purchase on their website.

June 2015: $40 Million Discrimination Suit

After firing the only corporate attorney for Zara’s U.S. and Canadian business, the fast fashion company was met with a $40 million discrimination suit in New York’s Supreme Court. In-house counsel, Ian Jack Miller, alleged he was fired because he is Jewish, American, and gay. The complaint against Inditex founder, Amancio Ortega, alleges that confidants of Ortega—all straight, Spanish, and Christian— harassed Miller by emailing graphic pornography and racist emails, including messages depicting Barack Obama in a Ku Klux Klan hood. A jury trial was requested.

March 2016: Zara ‘Are You Gluten Free?’ Tee

An online petition with over 50,000 signatures insisted Zara pull an offensive new shirt with the slogan ‘Are You Gluten Free?’ from online and physical store locations. The petitioners deemed the tee offensive to those with celiac disease—a condition that causes hypersensitivity to gluten. “We sincerely regret that this case might be interpreted as a trivialization of coeliac disease, the absolute opposite of our intentions,” Inditex said.

March 2016: Zara’s ‘Ungendered’ Clothing Line

In effort of embracing androgynous designs, Zara released a unisex line called ‘Ungendered.’ The 8-piece collection included cozy, comfy loungewear and basic colored staples—and of course, controversy. Many took to Twitter to criticize the brand’s “huge step forward for non-binary acceptance” as a lazy marketing scheme to sell plain t-shirts and sweatpants.

July 2016: Copyright Claims

After noticing the high-street store was copying her artwork, Californian artist, Tuesday Bassen took to Instagram to share side-by-side images of her work and multiple items of Zara’s clothing. The company immediately opened an investigation and suspended the relevant items from sale—but not before telling Bassen that she wasn’t famous enough to have her work stolen.

March 2017: Zara’s ‘Love Your Curves’ Ad

In attempt to advertise their “Body Curve Jeans” line, Zara launched an ad that read, ‘Love Your Curves,’ across an image of two models. The campaign was met with plenty of backlash against the brand choosing to feature body positivity as slim models rather than curvier models.

April 2017: Zara Pepe the Frog Skirt

Once again blowing up on social media, Zara quietly withdrew its denim miniskirt printed with cartoon frog faces. The two frogs featured on the skirt closely resembled the problematic meme tied to anti-Semitism and racism—Pepe the Frog. In September, Pepe was designated an alt-right hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League. The skirt was on sale as part of Zara’s “oil on denim” spring artist partnership.

November 2017: Laborers Sewing Notes In Pockets

Shoppers in Istanbul discovered cries for help from factory workers in the pockets of recently purchased clothing from Zara. The handwritten notes reportedly read, “I made this item you are going to buy, and I didn’t get paid for it.” Bravo Tekstil, a factory which supplied garments to Zara, shut down in 2016 owing its 140 workers three months of pay as well as severance allowance. Inditex noted the fraudulent disappearance of the factory owner had led to the unpaid wages, but agreed to create a hardship fund to compensate all of those impacted.

March 2018: Cultural Appropriation of Somali Style

The fashion brand most recently released a tie-dye maxi dress, now under scrutiny for its cultural appropriation of the traditional baati style from Somali. Muslim Miss Universe contestant, Muna Juma, called out Zara on Instagram, criticizing the brand’s failure to mention the design’s cultural roots. The dress is still for sale on Zara’s site.

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