Spoiler: this ain't nothing but some cute greenwashing.

By: Amber

Okay, so remember when we told you to quit fast fashion — go here if you haven’t checked out the post yet — we still want you to. But we had to share our thoughts on the Zara JoinLife movement. Even though it’s nowhere near the perfect solution, they’re *helping* the push to a more socially responsible fashion industry, if nothing else, because of how relevant the brand currently is to the fashion industry.

Confession: We used to have a Zara problem (seriously, who doesn’t?), so of course, when notifications started popping up in our feed announcing that the brand had released their debut sustainable collection titled JoinLife, we didn’t hesitate getting our hands on a few of the best pieces. Although we instantly applauded them for taking a stand against the (current bad state of fashion), we were equally elated and skeptical. After seeing H&M’s cute, but failed attempt at being sustainable, we had our doubts about another fast fashion company dipping their toes in the socially responsible pool. Sustainable fast fashion is quite the oxymoron and there’s no real way around it. We questioned whether it be authentically sustainable or just be a clever marketing ploy to target millennials and others who are now prioritizing looking out for the future of the planet.

Why this collection sorta matters 

Hearing someone say they’ve never shopped at Zara is like hearing someone say they’ve never heard of the Kardashians; it just doesn’t happen (BTW, Khloe’s got her own jeans now, did you hear?). Zara is everything when it comes to fast fashion. But a few years back, the dirty truth about the brand’s ethical practices surfaced (you remember the scandal, don’t you?), and ever since their unethical practices made headlines, we’ve had a bad taste in our mouths about our beloved ubiquitous retailer. But we haven’t totally accepted not ever shopping there again. No one else offers current season pieces inspired by top designer collections, but not a direct copy at an affordable price. No. One. Still, how can you justify paying $39 for a top that someone made with their bare hands and got paid pennies for? Simple: you can’t.

Like we said, this collection doesn’t smooth out all of our concerns with the brand’s ethical practices. There has been no acknowledgement of with standing labor issues, so the line is clearly more focused on being more sustainable than upholding better ethics. The problem with that is the fast production turnover and affordable prices from Zara comes at the sacrifice of ethics. However, this whole JoinLife movement is a step in the right direction, and the bottom line is that if we support lines like this that brands put out, more and more brands will make the conscious effort to put out similar lines. Think about it: it’s business. If one company is super successful with a certain tactic and the demand is there, most brand’s are going to look at the results and think one thing: profit. And that’s not a bad thing. Profit is what drives a business, and if they can make more of it by doing a great thing for the environment, why not?

The story behind the line

First, let’s just say, don’t worry; the pieces in the JoinLife collection still have the trendy edge that you expect from Zara. They didn’t sacrifice style to give us sustainability clothes and for that, we commend the brand. It’s the fabrics and materials that are the difference; not the design aesthetic. Typical materials used like wool and cotton are either organic or recycled. Each way, resources are being preserved. They also took a note from Taylor Swift’s go-to brand Reformation and incorporated tencel into some of the designs, which is quickly becoming the poster child of sustainable fabrics.

Although incorporating socially responsible fabrics is a great way to reduce the detrimental effects the fashion industry is infamous for having on the environment, the fact that Zara is still a fast fashion retailer remains. While we know from personal experience that you can definitely find a rare gem in Zara that’s made exquisitely and sewn to last, the brand generally makes on-trend designs which only constructed to be worn a few times, to last only a season or two. Just because the clothes from the JoinLife lineup are made with fabrics that are kinder to our environment doesn’t mean they are designed to endure and last.

Nevertheless, we ordered a few pieces and did our own Googling because we had to know if it was just a gimmick to cater to a increasingly demanding market. In order for the pieces to check out as genuinely sustainable, in addition to being made with better fabrics, they also needed to be of higher quality than the standard fast fashion piece because if they’re not constructed to last, then how can the pieces be sustained?

On how they’re trying to do better

Zara openly admits that the goal of the company is to become more sustainable and that JoinLife is one step towards achieving that goal. By stating this, they’re inadvertently owning up to the fact that as whole the company is far away from being sustainable. We appreciate this because our mantra is: progress, not perfection. SO many people are deterred from taking small steps towards sustainability, and it’s really a shame because there’s so much opportunity to make a difference, a real difference.

The bonus is that the entire JoinLife collection is animal-friendly, meaning that none of the pieces were made with materials that animals were specifically killed for. We often hear (or convince ourselves) that leather is a byproduct of the beef industry, but that’s unfortunately not true. Namely in India, millions of cows, goats, and other animals are raised, abused, and killed solely for their skins to be used for fashion.


On to the fun stuff…the actual pieces

First off, we were impressed with the quality of these JoinLife pieces. Granted, they’re a bit pricier than the average Zara piece (see, we warned you, okay?), but all sustainable goodness considered, for the amount of style these pieces pack inside them, they’re all well worth the prices. The best part is all the items feel authentically Zara. You know, off-duty, trendy, a bit irreverent. In other words, whether we’re talking design or the feel of the clothes, it doesn’t seem like it’s a sustainable collection by Zara, but instead like cool Zara clothes that just happen to be sustainable.


Oversized trench coat

If you like the drama or need something that you can throw on and go and look endlessly chic (you could have pajamas on under this jacket and no one would know), this is a great A/W jacket for you. The length is great — it’s always hard to find jackets/coats that extend past calf-length, so if you’re anywhere between 5′ 4″ and 5′ 10″, this will pretty much be a shoulders-to-toe jacket for you, which is perfect for rainy days or, we don’t know, a surprise visit to you SO’s apartment, maybe? The best part is the jacket looks great styled multiple ways — over your shoulders like a cape, open with the belt loose because you’re cool like that, or tied around the waist for feminine-but-not-pink vibes. Because of the roomy fit, it’s also great for layering. The belt tied will accentuate your waistline, but if you leave it open you’ll look just on. You can also tie it in the back and leave the jacket open. This creates a subtle hourglass silhouette that will have you looking womanly, yet still fresh and cool.

Best part? Because this jacket comes in camel, it’s a instant timeless piece and something you can look forward to having on rotation in your closet for a while.


Belted jacket

We’re obsessed with jackets and Zara has always been our go-to for our new jacket of the season. Well, now that we’re thoughtfully curating our wardrobes and quitting fast fashion so that the majority of our closets is filled with high-quality pieces that are made to endure and sustain trends, we’re being even more selective.

The cut of this Zara JoinLife jacket is great — it’s fitted where it should be (shoulders and upper back), then widens as it gets to the bottom hem so that it has more of a boxy fit. Again, it’s something that can be styled multiple ways; wearing it belted cinches in your waist while styling it sans the belt will give you a more relaxed, casual look. Love the deep navy hue as well. It’s a great neutral that is great if you ever feel like black looks harsh on your complexion or is kind of a downer.

The downfall of this piece is the material. It’s not that it’s uncomfortable; it’s lined with a silky (viscose) material that makes it feel nice when it’s on. It’s just that the tencel/cotton/elastane blend on the outer shell is the kind that attracts dust, lint, and (ugh) cat hair….really easily. If you have a fur baby of your own, you know the struggle! It’s also a piece that cannot be machine-washed, which come on, adulting is hard enough already. So while the silhouette offers itself as a great piece to incorporate in your wardrobe, pragmatically the hair/lint/dust thing is a deal breaker for us simply because our theory is that your wardrobe should make your life easier, not complicate it.


3/4 sleeve striped t-shirt

You’re probably thinking, “WTF is tencel? That sounds weird AF.” Uh, yeah, we shared the same sentiments before we tried out a few pieces. It’s actually a material made from wood pulp, and as strange as it sounds to wear trees, the fabric is really similar to cotton, which duh, is also made from a plant.

This top has a good amount of stretch in it so if you have the common issue of tops not curving properly around your chest (we can’t relate, still trying to figure out how to make our sweet-tooth binges go to our boobs), it’ll be great.

No, this top is nothing special. But it’s a nice French-girl piece to add to your collection of basics (you do have one of those, don’t you?) that you can keep on rotation without much thought.


Relaxed fit trousers

Ordinary khaki isn’t our thing. But the cinched high-waist of these trousers lured us into adding them to our cart. The juxtaposition between the high waist and the relaxed fit is the perfect balance between feminine and ‘who cares’, which is us to a T. Nearly $100 is pretty steep for a pair of rather basic trousers from Zara, but we’re all about scoring well-made, high-quality pieces from big box stores because you get best of both worlds — superior design and quality. Yes, they do exist and if you hunt hard enough, you just might find them. We have a handful of pieces from Zara that we’ve had since college days and wear regularly. Only weak link in this trouser is the hardware, which is expected in fast fashion. In our opinion, poorly sewn/constructed hardware is a deal breaker and it’s actually an area Zara should try to work on. Maybe? But because the design is so great, it’s worth a try to see if the silhouette is right for your figure. But beware: this is another piece that is dry clean-only.


Final thoughts 

The only thing better than Zara is potentially a guilt-free Zara. If this were a perfect world, we’d be able to get Zara-style clothes at Zara-level prices, both sustainable and ethically made. Unfortunately, we are just not there yet. What would be incredible is if Zara could have a special “slow” collection that isn’t updated bi-weekly and instead a couple times a year, just like it used to be when retailers matched their design cycles to the runway shows in September and February. Sure it might be a little bit more expensive, but we would be more than willing to pay more for clothes that we know weren’t sewn by children or by someone who was paid pennies for days worth of dangerous labor.

What would be even better to see is a label in the high-end/luxury space taking a stand. Unlike Zara and H&M, fashion houses like Diane Von Furstenberg, Calvin Klein, Isabel Marant, Balmain, Tom Ford – you get the picture – are not putting out new pieces every week. So in that way they’re already more sustainable than any fast fashion brand. If one of their Creative Directors would step up to the plate it wouldn’t be as much of an contradiction as it is with Zara calling the introduction of pieces made with environmentally-conscious fabrics ‘sustainable.’


Have you tried anything from the JoinLife collection yet? If so, what’d you think? Also, let us know your thoughts about the hybrid of fast fashion and sustainability – are they strictly mutually exclusive concepts or does this collection give you hope that one day there could be sustainable fashion that’s affordable and trendy?

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