Why I’ll Never Shop at Zara Again – How the Retail Giant Stole My Swimwear Design
As you guys know, I started my own line of swimwear – Watercolors Swim this Spring. I have loved and lived in swimwear my entire life, so the entire process of creating Watercolors Swim in partnership with Kenny Flowers – my fiance’s resortwear company – was an absolute dream come true to me.
I spent a full year thinking of ideas for the women’s suits, drawing designs by hand, and working with talented designers to get them exactly right. I spent countless days in the factory in Colombia with giant headaches as we chose every single color and aspect of each design, and went through round after round after round AFTER ROUND of samples. I built an entire new brand from scratch, building out not only the product, the fit, and the designs, but the hang tags, the liners, the recyclable carrying bags, the website, the logo, the social media and the entire marketing plan. All while Kenny, my fiance, and founder of Kenny Flowers, handled the less-glamorous side of it all, figuring out a production plan, as well as the shipping, warehousing, and processing of returns and exchanges for the suits.
Together, with a lot of heart and a lot of hard work, we made the seemingly impossible happen. We created 12 incredible suits, and one blossoming new brand – Watercolors Swim.
One of my favorite suits from our first collection is the super unique reversible Rio Coral – a coral colored one piece with a tropical toucan curving up the side of the suit, making for an ultra-flattering silhouette, and a stand-out-on-the-beach suit. Every time I wear it, I get a ton of compliments – it’s a showstopper.
But I guess I wasn’t the only one who liked it.
Just a few months after we launched, I got a DM on instagram from a follower who was shopping at a Zara and saw our Rio Coral swimsuit hanging on the rack – or a suit that looked exactly like our swimsuit, with a few small changes.
I couldn’t believe my eyes, but I immediately looked up the suit online and found that they not only copied our design, but even had the shamelessness to copy our exact shoot, right down to putting white sunglasses on their model. In just a few months. Welcome to the absolutely ruthless world of fast fashion.
If you Google it, this is standard practice for Zara. Zara makes billions of dollars every year doing this exact thing to thousands of small designers just like myself. It’s (unfortunately) relatively legal, since they change a certain number of things about the design, and they have legal teams bigger than any designer out there. It would be a hassle and a half (and not mention bankrupt you!) to go after someone like Zara, and they know that, so they give a big ol’ middle finger to any independent designer or small brand who questions Zara’s stealing of their designs.
Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery – it’s lame.
I’d hope our customer wants better than Zara’s sad excuse for our toucan swimsuit cheaply made in Pakistan (presumably unethically), that feels like it might fall apart after one use (I went into a store to see for myself when I found out). I’d hope that they’d prefer our original version made of incredibly high-end fabric, printed, hand-cut and sewn together by an all-women-run team in Colombia in a clean, boutique factory full of smiling faces.
Kenny and I often work from the factory when we’re on the ground for months at a time making sure the finished product is absolutely perfect, and we’ve gotten to know our team on the ground extremely well. Our fabric is origined in Colombia as well, and is some of the softest, highest-quality swimsuit fabric I’ve ever felt. Our Watercolors suit won’t fade, and won’t fall apart (I know because I put each one through the ringer in oceans, chlorinated pools, and sandy beaches dozens of times before going through with production with a fabric that didn’t fade, didn’t stretch, and didn’t lose any quality over time). The crisp white in Watercolors Swimsuits also won’t go see through when you get it wet (I know, because I tested about 20 different versions of our white suits in my hotel room shower before choosing the one we went with).
And, while I know you can’t design a swimsuit fit to fit everyone, I know that, by going through many, many, painstaking rounds of samples on the ground to get the PERFECT fit, we did the absolute best we could. And I am confident that when you choose to purchase a Watercolors suit, you’re going to love it. And if you it’s not for you, or it doesn’t fit right, no worries, you can return or exchange it, no questions asked.
So, my advice to you guys is this. Do your research on a brand before you buy it. Understand the person behind the brand you’re buying. Who you’re putting your trust into to make a quality, ethical product.
Also, don’t just fall for cause-marketing bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so happy that retail is heading the direction of more eco-friendly, earth-pleasing alternatives, limiting plastic, etc. But there is a lot of marketing BS out there. And there are a lot of brands just looking to capitalize on you wanting some sort of cause behind your purchase. It’s important to be aware you could be buying an ethically-made eco-conscious fabric from a company that’s doing way more harm than good in their community. Or, a company that makes their entire brand off of stealing other peoples’ ideas. Or a founder who’s a jerk to his/her employees and customers. So, get to the core of who you’re supporting, and make sure you trust them to be doing the absolute best they can to create products, and do every aspect of their business, in an ethical, conscious way.
And keep in mind that being environmentally conscious means a whole lot more than being conscious about the amount of plastic they use, it’s being conscious about how they’re impacting their entire environment, every day. Are they providing jobs and enhancing the lives of those who work for them? Do they create from a deep passion for their business and product, feeling personally responsible for the things they create? And are they simultaneously providing something the market wants and needs, at a high quality, not just to make a quick profit?
By the way, Kenny Flowers and Watercolors Swim have sent over 150 teenagers to college in Indonesia and counting, and have supported second-chance education for underprivileged teenagers in the United States. And you know what? We don’t feel the need to ADVERTISE that to you to get you to buy swimwear. Doing good things for the environments you’re building a business in in shouldn’t be to drive sales. It should be to make peoples’ lives better. It should be to do good.
We’re actually doing good out there. While people like Zara are just profiting off of others ideas. Choose who you want to support wisely.