Gwyneth Paltrow and her gaggle of GOOP groupies might have made going gluten-free a fashionable diet, but in the United States, one in 133 individuals has celiac disease. Based on this statistic, odds are pretty high that multiple answers to the question “Are you gluten free?” would receive quite a few affirmatives from those who’ve had the autoimmune disorder diagnosed by a doctor, not the holier-than-thou holistic actress. So when Zara decided to use the query on a T-shirt, the design angered a large percentage of people.
Marta Casadesús from Terrassa, Spain, where Zara’s parent company, Inditex, is headquartered, noticed the cropped white tee with the words “Are you gluten free?” in big block letters in the window of a store. She took a picture of a mannequin wearing it with a flannel skirt and then posted the image to Change.org with a plea to the company to not trivialize a health problem. “Celiac disease is not a fashion statement, nor should you make fun of the disease because of the strictness of the gluten-free diet and the problems that can arise if you do not follow it correctly,” she wrote.
Casadesús quickly received more than 50,000 signatures in support, prompting a recall response from Inditex, the world’s largest retailer with reported profits of $3.2 billion in 2015, as well as an apology. “The T-shirt mentioned in this petition was pulled from our online store a few weeks ago now and we are currently confirming that it is not for sale in our stores either,” the company noted in a release. “We sincerely regret that this case might be interpreted as a trivialization of celiac disease, the absolute opposite of our intentions.”
This response came in less than a week, and no one was more surprised by the swift action from Zara than the creator of the petition herself. “The truth is that I just wanted Zara to reflect on the message; I was trying to explain that perhaps it wasn’t the best way to make people aware of the illness,” Casadesús told the Local.
This isn’t the first time Zara has come under fire for the slogans it has chosen to print. A tee with “White Is the New Black” angered many for its play on words that many perceived as racist. Additionally, a blue-and-white-striped children’s shirt with a gold star on the chest received accusations of anti-Semitism for its resemblance to the uniforms Jewish concentration camp inmates were forced to wear during the Holocaust.