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cheap neon dreams

Worshippers of neon clothing had a reason to celebrate in June. In Melbourne, they lined up throughout the icy night (some wearing thermal jeggings, perhaps) and waited for chain store Zara to open its shiny, security heavy doors. It was a good moment for the fuss free shopper – Zara has taken a sweet while to pop up on our shores, and promises a classy bargain.

For the uninitiated, Zara is a global brand that is dotted across the globe. Based in Spain, the concept of the store is one that would appeal to any average fashion punter: affordable imitations of the fanciest clothes and accessories that money can buy. The chain can reportedly produce almost carbon copies of any catwalk fare and have them on the shelves in a two week period.

It’s a little like the Maccas of Milan shopping, where celebrity style is brought to the humble shopper before you can ask for fries to accompany it.

It sounds like a smart plan. The brand has supposedly made high fashion houses very angry, with copies of expensive clothes acting to undermine the exclusivity of celebrity and high fashion cultures. On this front it’s been quite successful. People like how Zara breaks down the unattainable fashion world and shows that the clothes that the industry puts up aren’t that special after all.

This is a new kind of retail, one that seems to be succeeding in Australia, despite the fact that newspapers everywhere weep for the retail stalling.

It’s almost as if Australia felt a little flattered, included, for finally having a famous store come to us. But more than that was the promise that Zara holds. It does away with the famous folk and lets you be famous. The sky’s the limit. You can look fancy for close to free.

So at what cost to the environment, or our concepts of want? The store famously ‘does away’ with the four seasons of fashion, instead electing to deliver new designs to all of its stores every 2-3 weeks. That amount of shipping, not to mention the turnover of clothes stock, is almost impossible to calculate. Even without hard stats, there’s something about Zara that signals a strange message for today’s retail. While every chain has some degree of waste, the scope of Zara’s consumption seems huge. When ABC program Hungry Beast looked at the company in June this year, they suggested that shoppers visited Zara six times more often than other retail chains. In a year when tens of thousands of designs are sent from Spain to Southbank, that’s a lot to be tempted by.

And the idea that you can shop every couple of weeks is at odds with the emergence of youth driven sustainability campaigns everywhere. Most brands are attempting to at least appear that they’re aware of the environmental impacts of their production, even if this is pure marketing spin. The eco friendly design movement, from KeepCup coffee cups to recycled accessories, seems to be having a boom of its own. Op shopping is even becoming more gentrified, you could say, as second hand clothing companies launch fancier ad campaigns. There is a consensus, at least from my experience, that young people are looking at a new kind of responsible retail.

So why is Zara on the news when it opens here? It’s possibility. The possibility that anyone can go back to the store again and again, and be tempted by new products that won’t break the bank. Maybe very few consumers would actually make a fortnightly trip to the store, or spend beyond their means. Even so, the excitement about the store seems to be that it might be possible to do so. By speeding up the release of new collections, and claiming on ads how affordable their stock is, a shoppers feels like it’s that little bit cheaper.

My friend E, who is a whiz with scissors and can recreate shop clothing exactly from scratch, has seen just how fast Zara’s stock turns around. She’s been to the store twice already, and has noticed totally different stock there each time. ‘It’s a new perspective,’ she explained before I went to visit myself. ‘It’s less ‘themed’ than Sportsgirl.’ But is it impressive enough to stick in one’s mind forever? Probably not, was the verdict. E saw basics, she saw some nice pieces with bright colours. But is that worth all of the hype around the store? Perhaps it just feeds itself.

With the high Aussie dollar and promises of no shipping fees on some websites, online spending is growing too. A year ago, it wasn’t such common practice to be asked on a monthly basis to join in on an American Outfitters shopping spree. Now, everyone is anticipating their next package of clothes.

Receiving packages is mighty exciting, so it would be ridiculous to demonise ordering clothes. What is different here, like Zara, is the speed and expectation of the purchase. That ‘anytime’ mentality.

With all the political talk of ‘cost of living’ pressures out there, it can be hard to acknowledge that some of us actually have quite large disposable incomes. Large enough to pop into Zara on a whim, or click a mouse for a new dress without thinking too much. While it’s impossible to exist and feel guilty for being able to afford a new dress or cup of coffee, we perhaps should take note of how we spend what we do.

It can be tiring trying to work out the ethics of any clothing choice, and you have to be pragmatic in order to have even the most basic of wardrobes.

It just might be worth considering if we really need all the neon shades that have ‘free shipping.’

(Image credit: 1.)

2 thoughts on “cheap neon dreams

  1. I went to Zara a few weeks after the store opened in Melbourne and I wasn’t so impressed either. I’m not a big lover of the fluorescent though.

    You bring up an important point about sustainability. I would think that most of us have enough clothes to last us through the decade were it not for trend changes. I would guess that the 2-3 week Zara cycle is deliberately to make people feel that they look out-of-date more often than they usually would otherwise.

  2. I think Zara may be more interesting on the environmental front than suggested here. Better? I don’t know, but certainly more complex. I follow a apparel industry blog that is very concerned about sustainability, and Zara is a hot topic there. See:

    I don’t know if you have TJ Maxx, or other such “discount name brand” stores in Australia, but they are an excellent example of what happens to clothes in the current system. A “push” manufacturer makes as many of a certain product as they think will sell, then the orders come in and, whoops, they made too many, and are then sold off to discount stores if possible, and eventually hit the landfill if not sold. That is the model of most apparel manufacturing today. Zara follows more of a “pull” model, orders first, then manufacture only what is ordered. Not necessarily “sustainable”, but better than the lemmings pushing the lemmings like most brands selling apparel. Interesting stuff, I’d like to get a look-see at a Zara’s store myself.

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