Designer Clothing, Customer Service & Swastikas:

How a brand turned me from a fan to an enemy.

If you haven’t seen it in the news yet, the clothing company Zara, had a bit of a crisis. They decided to make some fun, cowboy-themed childrens’ pajamas, complete with a sheriff’s star.

Unfortunately for them, this less resembled garb from the fun-loving Old West, and more resembled the garb from another famous time period.

So Zara had made pajamas resembling the uniforms worn in World War II concentration camps. The thing is, this isn’t the first time Zara has been under fire for “inadvertently” making Nazi gear. You see, just a few years ago, they made this handbag:

In case you missed it, that’s a swastika on the side. I mean it’s obvious to me, but apparently not a single person in their design, production, manufacturing or marketing departments noticed so it must not be that obvious right?

So what’s the point of all of this? Well it simply comes to why I know that. You see, I don’t actually spend time looking for Nazi scandals in clothing lines. I know that for one, long reason.

It All Started with a Sweet Jacket.

Last year, I needed a new jacket. My old jacket had finally reached the point where the broken stitches along the seams outnumbered the ones still intact. Fortunately, my dad agreed and said he would like to buy me one for Christmas. So I looked at several jackets online, picked my favorite and sent the link over to him.

On Christmas morning I feigned surprise as I opened a box with a giant “ZARA” logo on the lid. Inside was the exact jacket I chosen after hours of comparative online shopping. Full of excitement, I ran to the mirror to try it on. After struggling to shove my arms in the sleeves, I noticed that fabric along my back wasn’t letting me pull the rest of the jacket over my shoulders. My arms were locked; angled behind me like the figure on top of a swim trophy.

To the right, a figure on top of a swim trophy

The jacket didn't fit. I was a little disappointed, but not concerned, Clothes sometimes don’t fit. I would just exchange it.

The next day I filled out their contact form:

Order no.: 60557523
Subject: Wrong size
Body: I’m normally a large, but this is really small. I would like to exchange this for an XL of the same style.

The next day they replied to my email:

The email instructed me to sign in to my account and follow the instructions. The problem was that I didn’t have an account. Neither did my dad. It was purchased without an account. I politely responded to the email:

I have all the items needed — the receipt, packing label, security tape, original box, jacket. However this was a Christmas Gift so I don’t have the account information used to place the order.
The person who gave this to me had to travel, so I can’t give it back to them. They also said they didn’t create an account online so they can’t log in and request the return in that way. I created an account, but I can’t mark the return in that account since I didn’t place the order.
There are no stores in my city so I can’t take it into a store.
How would I return this to you and exchange it for the correct size and have that mailed back to me, at my home address so it doesn’t need to be first shipped to my father’s house and then to mine? There has to be a way to do this.
Thank you for your help.

Roughly 24 hours later, I received an email in my inbox:

Oh cool it’s the same form letter. I read over their response and hit “reply.” Carefully choosing my words, I crafted my response. I checked for grammar and spelling errors, then sent the following:

Did you even read my email?

The next day I called them.

This was a chore in itself, since their business hours were very limited, but eventually I got to someone.

I asked again about exchanging the jacket for a larger size and she instructed me to walk in a store. I, again, informed her that there was no store here (it was before the Downtown Seattle spot opened). She told me that my only option was to refund the jacket and then re-purchase it after my money had been refunded. Again, I explained that it was a gift so I couldn’t do that. So she informed me that the original purchaser could buy the jacket again.

To clarify, I confirmed that the proper procedure would be for me to return it, contact the person who got me the gift, then ask them to buy it again. She said yes.

“How about if instead of returning the item for a refund and repurchasing it, I just return it for a refund and then don’t buy anything from you again?” I asked.
“That’s certainly an option, as well” she replied.

End of conversation. Minutes after the call I received another email.

My blood pumping a little bit hotter than it had been when I wrote my last email, I sat down and replied, again, to the boiler plate message:

Help! The merchandise I purchased all had swastikas embroidered on the inside and instead of washing instructions it came with a recipe for crystal meth!
What should I do?

This email never got a response.

When I sent that email I had no idea about their Nazi handbags.

I only learned about it a few days later after when searching Google for reasons they might not be responding. Turns out the word “swastika” might be the only keyword that prompts their filter to actually notify a human.

In the meantime, I was learning other things about them. I went to their Facebook to to see if a public request would get a different response and found their Wall covered with pictures of dead rabbits. Apparently there was some controversy about their use of angora fur for their coats, resulting in a few thousand dead bunnies.

Admittedly, dead bunnies is not a cause I in which I typically invest my time. Nevertheless, the negative campaign them did succeed in adding to my already existing general dislike of the company.

I also fired off another contact form to them in order to start a new conversation with their autoreply.

Come on, I’m just trying to return an item that doesn’t fit. I was originally going to exchange it but since you guys suck at that I just want you to give the purchaser his money back so we can all move on with our lives.

When I received their form letter the next day, I replied with:

Have you received the coat?
[ Y ] [ N ]

Finally, I called a third time. This time their tone was quite different. Apparently my order had been “escalated.” They were quite cordial and assured me that the money would be refunded. Someone maybe even apologized.

So my strategy worked! Hurray!

But it was too late; the damage was done. It had been 2 weeks of trying to exchange a jacket and almost another 2 weeks of trying to get a refund.

I would rather just have the jacket.

Why Am I Sharing This?

Let’s just get this first part out of the way — I think my initial angry email was pretty great and am kind of proud of it, so I’m not going to pretend that didn’t play a part.

But the main thing is that if it weren’t for their awful service, I wouldn’t have learned any of this other awful stuff to begin with. I only learned of their swastika handbags because I went looking for negative feedback about them. I only learned of the anti-angora campaign against them because I went to their Facebook page to complain. Just now, while reading another news story about them I learned that they already got some bad press earlier this month for making a t-shirt with the words “White is the new Black” on it. (Really, guys?)

And, lastly, I only noticed this most recent news story because of my previous bad experience. So I retweeted it. I replied to the Slate article with a link to the BBC article about their handbag from years ago. That was retweeted.

And now, I’m writing an article about all my bad experiences with them.

So my advice? If you’re a business owner you should take care of your customers and remember that just because you’ve made the sale, it doesn’t mean that the sale is over.

And if you’re a customer who’s having trouble getting a response from customer service, you can always accuse them of selling Nazi paraphernalia and see what happens.

I still just wish I had that sweet jacket.