Kids in Holocaust Clothing?

Founded in 1975 by Amancio Ortega and Rosalía Mera, the Spanish clothing manufacturer Zara is considered the flagship chain store of the Inditex group, the world's largest apparel retailer. Ortega, Spain's richest man and the world's third richest man, is the founder of Inditex and currently its largest shareholder. Zara’s revenue in 2009 was approximately 7 billion Euros.

It goes without saying that a company this large and successful is run by people who understand the marketplace. In practical terms, this means that the decision to launch a new product is weighed carefully to mitigate risks. Even so, some products sell and make money while others are less successful or flop altogether. Zara reportedly launches around 10,000 new designs each year. The batting average must be good enough to keep the company thriving.

What typically goes on before a new product is approved? I admit I’m not an expert but I imagine it goes approximately like this. A designer on the company’s staff comes up with an idea and does a color drawing. The drawing eventually goes to the design department head for approval -- I would think the designer’s colleagues make suggestions first. The design then gets shopped around other departments whose approval is required such as manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. If all of them (and others) approve, it goes up to senior management for review and approval.  

How many pairs of eyes will have looked at a design before it shows up on store shelves? It’s hard to put a number on this. Zara is not exactly a mom-and-pop operation so it’s safe to say that quite a few people at various levels in the company will have signed off. After all, the product reflects on the company as a whole and the value of its stock.

In light of these facts, it’s absolutely incomprehensible that Zara would put out a striped shirt with what looks like a yellow Star of David to be worn by children as reported here. What is absolutely incomprehensible is that evidently nobody in the approval chain I’ve described saw the resemblance between the shirt and what Jews were forced to wear in concentration camps during World War II.

Could it be that someone at Zara saw the resemblance but kept quiet or was ignored? We shouldn’t rule that out. I don’t know what is taught in Spanish schools about the Holocaust these days but it’s a good bet the subject is not put in the proper context; or else Zara employees who approved this shirt skipped that chapter or forgot what they learned. Another good question is whether there are any Holocaust deniers among them. Considering the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, it would not surprise me. 

Alarm bells, of course, eventually went off to Zara’s great embarrassment. The company issued an apology through spokesman Eylan Ezekiel @eylanezekiel. The shirt was yanked off the shelves in short order -- though it may become a collector’s item on eBay.

An internal review is probably underway to determine how such a colossally stupid decision was made and what remedies are appropriate, including “reassigning” some of the guilty. Zara executives answer to their bosses at Inditex, who I’m sure don’t enjoy getting egg on their faces or seeing company stock take a dive. Nor do any of them look forward to a boycott of the entire product line because of what may well have been just a silly (but innocent) mistake. But Zara must convince the public that’s all there was to it. Transparency is the only way to restore confidence. 

Founded in 1975 by Amancio Ortega and Rosalía Mera, the Spanish clothing manufacturer Zara is considered the flagship chain store of the Inditex group, the world's largest apparel retailer. Ortega, Spain's richest man and the world's third richest man, is the founder of Inditex and currently its largest shareholder. Zara’s revenue in 2009 was approximately 7 billion Euros.

It goes without saying that a company this large and successful is run by people who understand the marketplace. In practical terms, this means that the decision to launch a new product is weighed carefully to mitigate risks. Even so, some products sell and make money while others are less successful or flop altogether. Zara reportedly launches around 10,000 new designs each year. The batting average must be good enough to keep the company thriving.

What typically goes on before a new product is approved? I admit I’m not an expert but I imagine it goes approximately like this. A designer on the company’s staff comes up with an idea and does a color drawing. The drawing eventually goes to the design department head for approval -- I would think the designer’s colleagues make suggestions first. The design then gets shopped around other departments whose approval is required such as manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. If all of them (and others) approve, it goes up to senior management for review and approval.  

How many pairs of eyes will have looked at a design before it shows up on store shelves? It’s hard to put a number on this. Zara is not exactly a mom-and-pop operation so it’s safe to say that quite a few people at various levels in the company will have signed off. After all, the product reflects on the company as a whole and the value of its stock.

In light of these facts, it’s absolutely incomprehensible that Zara would put out a striped shirt with what looks like a yellow Star of David to be worn by children as reported here. What is absolutely incomprehensible is that evidently nobody in the approval chain I’ve described saw the resemblance between the shirt and what Jews were forced to wear in concentration camps during World War II.

Could it be that someone at Zara saw the resemblance but kept quiet or was ignored? We shouldn’t rule that out. I don’t know what is taught in Spanish schools about the Holocaust these days but it’s a good bet the subject is not put in the proper context; or else Zara employees who approved this shirt skipped that chapter or forgot what they learned. Another good question is whether there are any Holocaust deniers among them. Considering the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, it would not surprise me. 

Alarm bells, of course, eventually went off to Zara’s great embarrassment. The company issued an apology through spokesman Eylan Ezekiel @eylanezekiel. The shirt was yanked off the shelves in short order -- though it may become a collector’s item on eBay.

An internal review is probably underway to determine how such a colossally stupid decision was made and what remedies are appropriate, including “reassigning” some of the guilty. Zara executives answer to their bosses at Inditex, who I’m sure don’t enjoy getting egg on their faces or seeing company stock take a dive. Nor do any of them look forward to a boycott of the entire product line because of what may well have been just a silly (but innocent) mistake. But Zara must convince the public that’s all there was to it. Transparency is the only way to restore confidence.