Fast-fashion giant Zara under fire for ethical lapses

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ZARA ATELIER Collection 04 "The Jacket" which called for boycott of the brand for ethical lapses (Photo: Social Media)

Spanish fashion retailer Zara is facing criticism over its recent collection campaign named “The Jacket.” Palestinian and pro-Palestinian social media users are calling for a boycott, claiming that the campaign, released on December 7, mocks the death of Palestinians.

The collection features a model in black clothes against a white backdrop with props resembling a ravaged structure in ruins. Deleted images, shared on social media platform X (formerly Twitter), allegedly showed the model holding a mannequin wrapped in white cloth with rubble in the background. Other images included mannequins positioned in different ways and a prop resembling the Palestinian map. Critics point to specific elements, including:

  • A white cloth-wrapped mannequin resembling deceased Palestinians.
  • A plastic-wrapped mannequin lying on the floor, reminiscent of bomb victims.
  • A prop resembling the Palestinian map, further fuelling the controversy.

These elements, coupled with the backdrop, have led many to interpret the campaign as insensitive and disrespectful towards the suffering of Palestinians, particularly in Gaza. Pro-Palestinian users, like Majid Freeman, have compared these images to scenes from Gaza amid Israeli strikes on Hamas. The campaign has been labelled the “Gaza genocide collection,” leading to calls for a boycott.

Zara maintains that the campaign is a deliberate design choice to showcase the versatility of the garment. Amid the boycott, an older controversy involving Zara’s Israeli head designer, Vanessa Perilman, has resurfaced. In June 2021, Perilman criticized Hamas in a private chat with a pro-Palestinian model, leading to a viral exchange. In a private chat with a pro-Palestinian model, Perilman expressed critical views towards Hamas and questioned Palestinian practices. Screenshots of the conversation went viral, sparking outrage and threats against Perilman.

Perilman, an Israeli fashion industry veteran, has worked with various brands and has held the position of Head Designer for Zara Women’s Collection since 2015. The controversy has reignited amidst global calls for the boycott of Israeli brands following an offensive strike by Israel in response to the October 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas.

Zara, however, argues that the campaign’s design was intended solely to showcase the versatility of the jacket. Despite the backlash, Perilman remains employed by Zara. Some argue that her statements were courageous and defended her right to express her views. They also suggest that Islamists may be exploiting the Zara campaign to revive the Perilman controversy and attack the brand.

The controversy highlights the complex relationship between fashion, politics, and social sensitivity. While artistic expression and creative freedom are important, brands must also be mindful of the potential impact of their work on sensitive issues and communities. It remains to be seen how this situation will unfold. The boycott movement’s success will likely depend on how Zara responds to the criticism and whether it can effectively address the concerns raised.

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