Why I Quit Shopping At Zara

denim shirt red skirt

All Photos: Adam Katz Sinding

Originally published August 2015

The Issue 
You’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the scrutiny being hurled at the fast-fashion industry. Ranging from poor working conditions in unsafe factories to the environmental impact of mindless and unnecessary levels of consumption (not to mention headline-making intellectual property lawsuits and disgruntled employees), there is plenty of material to keep critics busy. Yet what’s the alternative? High-end designer fashion is largely unrealistic for those of us who do not belong to the one percent. As an average person with a desire to be on-trend, the question becomes, “How can I be a socially (and fiscally) responsible consumer?” Rather than preach from behind a computer I decided it would be more informative to swear off fast-fashion brands for a season and force myself to investigate the alternatives. Here’s what I learned.


The Challenge
To be clear, I’ve been a fashion nut since I was a kid. (One Christmas, my list to Santa consisted entirely of imaginary clothes and accessories I’d never seen in a store. You can imagine my parents’ joy.) I’ve made a career out of my obsession and relish finding an affordable high-street interpretation of a runway trend just as much as I cherish finding a vintage designer piece. So for me, quitting fast-fashion brands for an entire season would be more than a little challenging.

Using What You’ve Got
The first thing I noticed myself doing during my self-imposed shopping fast was revisiting long-lost items in my closet, often with scissors in hand. Perhaps that crop top I’d been eyeing was easy to recreate by shortening a thin-strapped linen top I never wore. I was correct. A pair of printed pants I’d ignored for years converted nicely into culottes with the help of a tailor. The thrill of the shopping hunt was replaced by the fun involved in creative recycling of my own closet.

Cost: Under $30. Benefits: Reduced contribution to landfill waste.

deinm on denim

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so I called in my best friends. You want to borrow the Givenchy crossbody bag collecting dust in my closet? I’ll trade it for that Kenzo dress your coworkers are bored of seeing.

Cost: Zero. Benefits: Taking a few fashion risks; a Chardonnay-fueled closet hang.

friends together

Again, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I couldn’t justify buying the latest incarnation of Gianvito Rossi heels so instead I scooped up a similar style from the same brand on consignment site Vestiaire Collective, a great online store that makes selling and buying contemporary and designer pieces easier than updating your Facebook status. Much like another favorite, The Real Real, they come to you, collect your clothing, photograph it, post it, ship it to buyers and deposit the money into your account.

Cost: $400 Benefit: Well-made items from big-brand names at more affordable prices.

Affordable, one-of-a-kind pieces are everywhere, you just need to put in the effort. And when I say put in the effort I don’t mean dedicate an entire weekend to trolling the racks of every vintage store within a 50-mile radius. Instead, put the effort into finding one great vintage store and after a few visits, the vast denim rack and endless printed-dress selection seem far less overwhelming.

Cost: $50-$100 Benefits: Unique pieces.

denim cutoff guide

Shopping Smarter
Where I would previously buy three items from a high-street store—often to find they’re also owned by five people I know—I now more thoroughly consider what I’m buying because I’m likely spending more money. The contemporary-designer price tag prevents mindless purchases, which means you have a more tightly edited closet of great items that suit you and your aesthetic. Surprisingly I’ve found the real benefit of buying fewer, well-made pieces is that getting dressed in the morning is actually easier.

Cost: $300 Benefits: Well-constructed items you’ll own for years to come.

adam katz

To Recap
Insisting that people swear off fast-fashion brands would be completely ridiculous. That genre of stores make it possible for the average person to participate in current fashion trends, and many of them are making a concerted effort to be more socially conscious. However, it is worth reevaluating your approach to shopping and remembering that there are in fact a variety of other available and fairly easy options. I will happily still wear some of my fast-fashion mainstays on occasion, but will no longer rely on them as heavily. As I remind myself with all my other vices: everything in moderation.

  • Jane

    Great article and tips. I also enjoy perusing which has beautiful designer stuff at prices at or below those on Vestaire (which I just checked out per your recommendation above). Wait for the sales. Zady is also a good site for those interested in sustainable practices and not looking to invest in fast fashion. Also, completely agree about buying a few well made pieces – that’s my strategy for fall 2015! Also about your thrifting advice. Nice! Thanks again.

  • Thanks for such an interesting article! Wanted to add that Etsy is a source for great stuff, but takes a little effort to find the gems.
    I have a shop on the site and my silk skinny scarves are made one by one…by me. They are quality and affordable in my opinion. I enjoy designing/creating them and it helps pay the bills : )
    Also, Indie Designers on Etsy can customize, which is not an option for mass produced items.

  • Iny Sunari

    Agreed 100% on the article.
    A side note on Zara; it was my go to brand 6 or 7 years ago until I found out the quality of the clothes was not on par as I first bought it. However, if purchase Zara (or pretty much other fast fashion brand) staple clothes such as dress / jackets / pants and only if they cost beyond 100 USD, then that’s a keeper. I do have a few in my wardrobe even after 4 or 5 years and sometimes wore once in a while. The last time I shop at Zara was about 3 years ago.
    Like you, I am more selective with my purchase on off the peg clothes. I looked at the Made in xxx on the label, the stitches, and even which fabric it was made from.
    Though I donate clothes each end of the year, I have not tried trading items/clothes with friends, but that would be on my list! Anyway thanks for the tips!

    Head over to my blog :

  • Maria

    I stopped buying in Zara too cos they switched to artificial fibers almost completely- which i cant stand-, and the prices went significantly up which makes no sense with the “plastic” fibers quality they use now. Pity.

  • Karel Paragh

    Very nice article. I enjoyed it!

  • charlie su

    A post after my own heart. absolutely agree with ‘everything in moderation’ and quality not quantity especially in basic pieces. Great post!


  • Ash Baron

    I would like to juxtapose the following statements:
    “You’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the scrutiny being hurled at the fast-fashion industry. Ranging from poor working conditions in unsafe factories to the environmental impact of mindless and unnecessary levels of consumption (not to mention headline-making intellectual property lawsuits and disgruntled employees), there is plenty of material to keep critics busy”
    “Insisting that people swear off fast-fashion brands would be completely ridiculous.”

    Opinion: Making responsible and ethical choices when it comes to consumerism is NOT ridiculous.

  • Agt. Michael Scarn

    I love this article for it’s viewpoint from the type of woman who wants to remain fashionable, while also having a desire to be environmentally conscious. There are way too many clothing brands that leave a detrimental impact on the earth, and more specifically, our most precious water. For anyone who reads this comment and wants to know more about this issue, Newsweek did this great article about the numerous hazards behind the garment industry in Asia:


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