Zara’s Supply Chain Blunder – In Time for Fashion Week

Zara, that darling of the fashion world with the most innovative speed-to-market business model, invented the concept of “fast fashion.” The company has received heaps of praise for its innovations that have allowed it to reach more than $20 billion in revenue (see here, here, and here). And, let’s face it, the clothing chain has a lot to offer, particularly if one craves the latest looks.

I have shopped there many times. But I can’t say that I will again because of a recent “blunder.”

For those not familiar with the incident in question you can read about Zara’s latest fashion mistake and see it below:

zara 1

Photo courtesy of Zara

Also check out its previous stumble involving swastikas on handbags:

Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail

Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail

For those of you with a six sigma background – when not one product, but two “wrong” ones make it all the way to the end of a supply chain, in this case, retail store shelves, one has to ask if something more systemic and problematic is going on at Zara.

Think about it – Zara’s product design teams probably take into account a whole range of factors when creating new merchandise – prior sales data for similar designs, a gut feel as to how a particular trend may do in the market, external market research, fashion shows, blogs, trend spotting, etc. Design teams work with production and logistics professionals in rapid fire to move products to store shelves in a mere 15 days.

Can an entire product team - from merchandisers to procurement staff, designers, production planners, material managers, supply chain personnel, and store managers - completely miss this?

In my own black belt training, and over two decades working as a supply chain practitioner and consultant, I’ve learned that if you make one critical mistake (as Zara did with the original swastika bags), you identify the root cause to insure such mistakes do not happen again. The spirit of Kaizan is continuous improvement and intraorganizational collaboration.

Zara is not operating a “six sigma supply chain” in this case. Check out what a Zara spokesman said in 2007 about their swastika handbags:

“We did not realize swastikas appeared on some of these bags, the swastika was not on the bag which was sourced by us after being supplied by an external producer. Of course we apologize to anyone who was offended by the bag, and we will be withdrawing it from all our stores.”

That’s right, blame the supplier (sarcasm intended).

Are you kidding me? This heavily praised company, with its brilliant speed-to-market innovative business model, “missed” looking over a handbag with a swastika on it distributed throughout its 2,000+ stores?

Something appears amiss at Zara. Unless the company has banned all media, text-books, and education from the minds of its 120,000+ employees, it is unfathomable that someone inside Zara would not have recognized the swastika symbol as offensive or questioned whether a “sheriff star” on striped black pajamas should ever see the light of day.

Did Zara’s quality assurance team do their final product inspection in the pitch black?

Or perhaps Zara took its design inspiration from rising anti-Semitic trends in Europe. Maybe the company even wanted to make a political statement as to its position on Israel. I can’t help but wonder that if Zara were a German firm, how the government would have questioned the executive team for corporate anti-Semitism (Germany takes policing such things seriously, as they should). It’s even more appalling given Spain’s fascist and Axis-sympathizing past that this company need only say “I’m sorry.” Where is the outcry?

Imagine if Zara brought to market bras and panties that had the same pattern as the black and white Palestinian keffiyeh. There would be protests everywhere in Europe and calls for management resignations.

Regardless, I for one, am taking my fashion dollars elsewhere. And I hope you do, too.

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Voices (3)

  1. evyan:

    i saw this in their catalog and thought “really?”
    bravo lisa! i too will spend my $$$ elseware (intended sarcasm)

  2. Ellen:

    Oh dear – a pretty shocking oversight on their behalf. Though of course the bags do look fairly Indian in design, where the symbol (which is widely seen everywhere on temples etc) is rather one of peace. However, it’s very poorly considered given Zara’s worldwide distribution.

  3. Jason Busch:

    The double-standard in response to this (oops!!!) is as bad as the mistake(s) themselves. Imagine if Zara had offended a more socially protected minority than one in which those downtrodden in Europe are increasingly blaming for all the world’s woes (sound familiar anyone — history repeating itself)? If the target, as you suggest, would have been palestinians (or african americans, native americans, etc.) the outcry would have been massive.

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