Pablo Isla, chairman and CEO of Zara parent Inditex, last week laid out his "four pillars of the retail industry" in an era transformed by technology-driven changes in human interaction, according to an op-ed he wrote in The Wall Street Journal.
The first pillar is people and the talent that retailers need to maintain productivity and creativity. That includes a commitment to gender equality, diversity and inclusion. Second is meeting consumer demand for the "latest fashion trends with the best quality," which requires a "manufacturing process that also embeds the best social and environmental sustainability practices into the supply chain."
The third, no surprise, is technology that supports customers' ability to move seamlessly across platforms. And fourth, Isla said, is sustainability, which requires a long-term vision.
Considering the continuing dominance of Zara and Inditex, retailers are likely to take notice of Isla's four pillars.
In December, the company reported a net sales rise of 10% to €17.96 billion (about $21 billion) in the first nine months of fiscal 2017. The Spanish apparel company also announced the rollout of same-day delivery, automated in-store pickup points for online orders and next-day delivery in six markets, including in Spain, France, the U.K. and China.
In fast fashion in particular, a segment that Inditex pioneered, Zara remains a standout. Rival H&M, which for a while also surfed the wave of customers turning to its cheap, speedily produced trends, meanwhile has faltered.
The company has struggled to cohere its e-commerce strategy and reverse the effects of opening too many stores, missing key fashion trends and complicating its supply chain. In December, that retailer announced it's picking up the pace on a transformation plan as it reported a Q4 sales decrease of 4% to 50.39 billion kronor (about $6 billion) from the same period a year ago, amid foot traffic declines.
But, Zara's continued success notwithstanding, fast fashion can’t continue relying on its original innovations, which depended on unsustainable production that encouraged an attitude of disposability of apparel and helped drive down wages and working continues at overseas factories. The segment’s young customers especially aren’t likely to stand for it.
"It also means boosting the sustainable origin of raw materials; ensuring the reusing or recycling of textile products at the end of their life cycles; designing eco-efficient stores; achieving rational and fair use of water; and eliminating waste in a smart manner," Isla wrote. "Simply put, it means embedding the principle of the circular economy into corporate strategy."
Notably, he didn’t say all that much about e-commerce versus brick-and-mortar — and yet he said everything about it: "The future of retail," he wrote, "[M]ust consider a sustainable and integrated online-offline store platform that places the customer at the heart of any decision."