Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants: Will Zara Eat The Hand That Feeds?

This new Observer article on Inditex, the company behind Zara, has me wild conflicted. In the article, Inditex is basically painted as a revolutionary business that has changed the fashion industry forever. And in a lot of ways, they absolutely have. Rather than try and force their own preconceived ideas of "fashion" onto consumers, Inditex has achieved its success by taking cues from consumers and, well, other designers. Moreover, the company's vertical integration has afforded them an unprecedented amount of flexibility that is seldom found within the world of garment manufacturing. For instance, the article describes how due to a uncharacteristically warm November, Zara reduced its stock of winter coats and increased the volume of dresses shipped to its retailers. This ability to play fast and loose with its production and shift directions with, not only, the changing fashion seasons, but, like, actual fucking seasons has directly lead to Inditex's current standing as the largest fashion company in the world, while its founder, 77-year old Amancio Ortega, is now the 3rd richest man in the world with a net worth of 57 billion dollars.

What does this all mean? It means that our fast paced, I-need-everything-right-now culture has firmly permeated the world of fashion just as it has done with everything else. As Inditex has proven, when people see something on a runway or on a blog, they don't want to wait 6 months for it to hit shelves. But, most importantly, Inditex has made a case that people don't necessarily care where these looks end up as long as they end up somewhere. Of course, price absolutely plays a role in Inditex's success. Offering high-fashion looks at a mass consumer pricepoint never hurts. But, at the end of the day it's the styles—a particular pattern or graphic—that people want. And, if that's the case, then what does Inditex's seemingly unstoppable business model mean for fashion houses who rely on things like quality and history to sell garments? If Inditex can, in 30 years, become the world's largest fashion brand by standing on the shoulders of pricier, inspirational giants, what will the next 30 years bring? Is the idea of "quality" being destroyed by people's desire to constantly consume?

There's always an argument to be made for or against the mass distribution of 'the best ideas' depending on where you find yourself amidst the conflict.

In his BBC 1 Radio interview with Zane Lowe, Kanye West described how if you're wearing a shirt from Zara that knocks off a Celine shirt and someone walks in wearing the Celine version, you will feel like shit. His logic is that the person wearing the original just sonned you because they're better than you and you're just a knock-off. I think it's possible to see this scenario in the exact opposite way. It's absolutely possible that the person wearing that Celine shirt will feel robbed by those wearing Zara. I mean, they pay a ton of money to support Pheobe Philo and an objectively superior product in terms of quality, all for some hack to distribute something aesthetically identical to millions. The person wearing Celine might even go as far to feel like they wasted their money and that there is zero point in buying designer clothes moving forward. On the surface, Zara wins again. But without high-end, ready and willing consumers paying the Pheobe Philos of the world to design "the best" for them, where will Zara go to mine trends and product? Their success is wholly contingent on the bastardization of designer goods. Now, it's incredibly unlikely that Zara will effectively eat the hand that feeds. People who buy Celine will always have the tag on their shirt or the logo on their bag to keep them warm at night.

But there's always an argument to be made for or against the mass distribution of "the best ideas" depending on where you find yourself amidst the conflict. Why should only those with thousands of dollars to spend be "allowed" to consume the best products, clothes or otherwise? The elitism of the fashion industry is the reason companies like Zara have something to "knock off" in the first place. Is the only way to remedy this issue from both sides by removeing the need for knock-offs at all? What if instead of Margiela simply making shittier quality versions of their own garments for H&M, Margiela's designers took jobs at H&M? Would there be no Margiela to speak of in that case? Could the artistic vision that justifies so much of high-fashion survive? Can fashion only exist in a trickle down manner? Like I said, I'm wild conflicted.

  • david

    Good article, very insightful. I think that if those high-fashion brands were somehow able to save and keep their ideas for themselves, brands like Zara would never excist. I mean, these are their ideas and products, so why anyone can copy them and distribute it all over the world for 20 euros just like that? It’s an never ending war between high quality, pricy products versus lower quality but accessible for everyone. Just like Apple and Microsoft, or Audi and Volkswagen.

  • Chillnote

    Thats why I prefer H&M over Zara

    • Nerd

      You mean you’re too poor for Zara, my dude.

      • Chillnote

        Whats wrong with you?

        • Nerd

          I’m just playing with you, Chillnote. You’re the man.

  • queb

    Maybe we just need to re-think how intellectual property is treated in the fashion industry (though that’s a slippery slope).

  • Carver Low

    All I know is the last thing the fashion industry needs is an IP war over design features. Good article.

  • Nerd

    Big ups to Jake Woolf for making some next level serious-article-writing-maneuvers.

  • Me

    Quite possibly the best article that I have seen on this site in a while, good job.

  • Class A Rando

    Too many platitudes for one title

  • Mturman3

    There will always be an affordable copy (or knock-off) of “the best” the market has to offer. To put it in a modern context: Chrysler bit Bentley on the 300’s design, and I think Bentley is doing just fine. Chrysler was never competing for the people that buy Bentleys, just like Margelia isn’t competing for the people that buy H&M.

    The sociality concerns raised are thought provoking, the economic ones are not.

  • DWEEB

    Another dope read! I love the “real” journalistic pieces sprinkled in with the posts about new jawnz I wish I could cop. Props Jake.

  • fake celine doge

    Very nice post, it definitely makes you think about where it’s all going. Personally, I’m the type of person that won’t easily drop 2k on a margiela coat (because I can’t afford to), but I’d save up and buy it eventually if I really felt a connection with it. I prefer a high-quality product, in terms of design and materials, as opposed to a fast fashion recreation.

    Fashion, to a whole lot of people, is way to express themselves and feel good about themselves, it gives them a sense of identity and self-realization. Whether they wear nothing but show pieces, or they wear so called high quality basics with details only a keen eye can spot, once they have they have that perfect outfit, they are untouchable.

    That is why the person in the real Celine dogs the person in the fake Celine, from their perspective anyway. And who can blame them? The fake Celine will dog someone else, and it goes on and on like that, but it’s completely subjective. That is the point Kanye failed to prove in my opinion. What might me luxe to you probably won’t be luxe to someone else, because I believe that luxury has become subjective as well. Who’s to say a fresh pair of Air Force 1’s isn’t lux, bruh bruh? It’s a decision you make based on your situation and environment.

    Fast fashion isn’t going to kill “traditional” fashion. Blogging didn’t kill magazines, right?

  • james

    “like I said, I’m wild conflicted” gotta love that summation.

    But yea, refreshing article. That intersection between actual inspiration/quality and commodification for the sake of ease and price is something you can’t really avoid.