Groups of demonstrators staged walk-in protests in Zara stores in Hannover, Germany, and Melbourne, Australia, this past week in response to a recent ad campaign by the fast-fashion brand that critics said appropriated images of Palestinian death and suffering. Carrying small bundles of white swaddling clothes, the activists denounced the ad for Zara’s Atelier collection, which featured model Kristen McMenamy standing in front of a partially destroyed studio set and holding mannequins shrouded in white plastic.

The since-removed campaign — which was apparently meant to advertise a new jacket line — was released earlier this month only to be met with swift scrutiny, as critics quickly pointed out its uncanny visual similarities to the real death and destruction in Gaza and began calling for a boycott of the company. For the past two months, Israel’s escalation on the occupied Palestinian territory has been distinguished by widespread photographs of white body bags covering dead Palestinian people and landscapes filled with the rubble of collapsed infrastructure across social media platforms.

“We have all seen the devastating images of shrouded bodies coming out of Gaza this is just an example but there are thousands more,” wrote Noor Amra, a Syrian-American ophthalmologist, on Instagram, calling Zara’s ads “a deliberate mock to Palestinians.”

Following the outrage, Zara pulled the controversial campaign and issued a statement on Tuesday, December 12, claiming that the marketing series was developed before Israel’s escalation began. “The campaign, that was conceived in July and photographed in September, presents a series of images of unfinished sculptures in a sculptor’s studio and was created with the sole purpose of showcasing craftmade garments in an artistic context,” the company said, adding that it “regrets that misunderstanding.”

Zara has not yet responded to Hyperallergic‘s request for additional comment.

Images of vandalized window displays were also shared on social media, but it is unclear if the work was connected to the actions. (photo courtesy @arabsofcanada)

Building on the online criticism, demonstrators in multiple countries including Germany, Canada, and Tunisia staged actions at Zara stores, carrying Palestinian flags, as shown in videos posted across social media earlier this week. One protest that took place at a Zara in Glasgow, Scotland, even led to the store’s closure for the day, Newsweek reported.

In Hannover, activists used swaddling clothes to draw attention to the massive number of children and infants killed by Israel’s bombardments, which the United Nations estimates is upwards of 12,743 — comprising approximately 70% of the 18,205 Palestinians killed since October 7 when Hamas militants launched an attack that resulted in the killings of 1,200 Israeli soldiers and civilians. This performance protest was also used in an action at Zara’s Melbourne location, as evidenced in a TikTok video that shows demonstrators carrying white bundles throughout the store and delivering them to employees working at the registers.

Some photos from the actions also showed window displays doused with what appears to be fake blood and red spray-praint, but it is unclear who was responsible for the work and whether it was part of the protests.

Below Zara’s Instagram statement about the withdrawal of the campaign, many users expressed their disappointment with the company’s response, commenting on the absence of an apology and reiterating their commitment to boycotting the brand.

“First of all, you should mention a direct apology to the people of the genocide who felt offended,” wrote Palestinian-American blogger Nisrin Issa. “Secondly, as a big company you should’ve been more careful when putting your customer’s need first, but this showed how careless you are about certain type of customers.”

Demonstrators gathered at Zara stores in various countries to protest the company’s recent jacket ad campaign. (screenshot Maya Pontone/Hyperallergic via @ritaa_rm on X)

The recent campaign is not the only instance in which Zara has been embroiled in allegations of anti-Arab and Islamophobic sentiment. In 2021, the brand was criticized after its designer Vanessa Perilman sent incendiary messages to Palestinian model Qaher Harhash in response to Harhash’s social media posts addressing the killing of approximately 260 Palestinians by the Israeli military in May of that year. Zara’s parent company Inditex attempted to distance itself from Perilman’s comments by saying that they “do not reflect our core values of respect for one another, and we regret the offense that they have caused.” But the following year, the clothing brand landed itself in hot water again after hosting a campaign event for Israel’s right-wing National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.

In addition to numerous allegations of plagiarism, the clothing brand has also been scrutinized for its ties to Uyghur forced labor, according to a new report by the Uyghur Rights Monitor, Sheffield Hallam University, and the Uyghur Centre for Democracy and Human Rights. The investigation found that “a substantial volume of apparel” from brands including H&M, Primark, and Zara was connected to forced labor in the Uyghur Region.

Maya Pontone (she/her) is a Staff News Writer at Hyperallergic. Originally from Northern New Jersey, she currently resides in Brooklyn, where she covers daily news, both within and outside New York City....