Customer sues Zara over claims of “dead rat” in dress hem – will it have a long-term impact on brand?

Zara

A woman is suing the US brand of fashion retailer Zara, after she claims she found a dead rat sewn into the hem of a dress she purchased from the brand.

New York woman Carly Fiesel purchased two dresses from Zara on July 5, and noticed an unidentified “pungent odour” as she wore one of them to work, reports Fortune. The dresses were bought in Greenwich, Connecticut, and Fiesel did not wear them until August 16.

During the day, Fiesel felt what she thought to be a loose string brushing against her leg, but according to court documents, on further investigation she says it was revealed to be the leg of a dead rat instead.

Court documents reveal Fiesel “suddenly realised that it was not a string that was rubbing against her leg but was instead a leg rubbing against her leg”.

“The leg of a dead rodent that is,” the documents read.

Fiesel's dress with the rodent sewn in. Source: Supreme Court of the State of New York

Fiesel’s dress with the rodent sewn in. Source: Supreme Court of the State of New York

Fiesel is suing Zara for negligence, amounting to emotional distress and personal injury. As a result of the rat’s extended contact with her leg, lawyers claim that Fiesel was diagnosed with a “rodent born disease” amounting in a rash.

“Defendant Zara breached its duty to exercise reasonable care in designing…and/or selling its products by negligently releasing into the marketplace a product that was defective by containing disease causing rodents,” the court documents read.

As a result, Fiesel is seeking compensation from Zara to the amount that will “fairly and adequately compensate her for the damages and injuries she has suffered”.

In the court documents, the plaintiff criticised Zara’s “fast fashion” offerings, stating “Zara needs just one week to develop new products and get that product to stores”.

The documents compare this to “the six month industry average” and claim Zara launches 12,000 new products a year.

Customers unlikely to be put off

Brand consultant at The Golden Goose Consulting Leah Bridge believes despite the “disgusting” incident, consumers are unlikely to be put off the brand for good.

“I think the majority of people would consider this a one off incident. I’m certainly not going to go ‘I’m never buying Zara clothes again because there might be a rat in it,’” Bridge told SmartCompany.

Consulting with others that are “solidly within Zara’s demographic”, Bridge says in conversations this week she found they all feel the same way, none of them put off Zara clothes due to the rodent related court case.

“Yes it’s disgusting, but it’s not like you’d want to be inspecting all their clothes for a dead rat. I think most customers would be aware that this is a one-off, isolated incident,” she says.

The disgust factor can play a part in customer’s perception, but even so Bridge believes even a dead rat can’t turn customers off a brand.

“It does make you feel sick, and a lot of women may feel irked by it, they can imagine what it would be like to find something like that,” she says.

“But most customers would think it’s incredibly unlikely for something like that to happen to them.”

“It’s not all care and no responsibility”

However, brand adviser Michel Hogan believes consumers have also have a responsibility to check for these things.

“It’s not all care and no responsibility, consumers have a responsibility to look over an item and to work out it’s what you want,” Hogan told SmartCompany.

“If she had tried it on surely you’d think that she’d notice the dress was hanging funny, or it had an unusual weight to it.”

Hogan believes there is a “righteous entitlement” some consumers associate with purchasing, which leaves “no room for companies or corporations to be human”. However, she recognises Zara should take an equal amount of blame in the event it is found to be negligent in this court case.

“In this situation there’s blame on both sides, Zara’s quality standards should be better, but you can have the most stringent policies ever and still have something go wrong,” she says.

“Nobody at Zara sat down in a board meeting and decided it’d be funny to start sewing mice into the hems of their dresses.”

“We’ve got to make more room within our estimations as customers. We are flawed and we make mistakes, and so are companies full of people just like us.”

The right course of action 

As for what course of action Zara needs to take now, crisis communications expert at InsideOut PR Nicole Reaney told SmartCompany some stringent assessment is needed.

“They’ll need to review their internal processes and methodology to find out what happened and how it happened so they can make sure it never happens again,” Reaney says.

“Once they’ve done their internal investigation, they’ll need to form a direct relationship to the consumer who was affected.”

As for the public, Reaney says the company will need to make clear that any such issues it uncovers through its investigation are isolated incidents.

“They’ll need to respond in time and let consumers and the public know that they are investigating this, and that it was a rare and unlikely situation,” she says.

In a statement, Zara US says it is “aware of the allegation” and is “investigating the matter further”.

“The brand has stringent quality controls and health and safety standards worldwide that are followed and met in manufacturing, including stitching and ironing. We are committed to ensuring that all of our products meet these rigorous requirements,” the statement reads.

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