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'Are You Gluten Free?' T-Shirt Causes Controversy for Zara

Is it possible for the dietary restrictions required to deal with an autoimmune disorder to become the next hot fashion trend?

Alex Swerdloff

Photo via Change.org

Is it possible for the dietary restrictions required to deal with an autoimmune disorder to become the next hot fashion trend?

Evidently, the answer is yes. At least sort of.

Somehow in the last decade or so, the gluten-free diet required and maintained by those who suffer from celiac disease has become a de rigueur trend of the skinny and chic. So much so that Zara, the international fashion retailer founded in Spain, decided it was a good idea to sell shirts emblazoned with these words: "Are You Gluten Free?"

Until Zara decided it was no longer a good idea. Like, at all.

The 42-year-old fashion label has been forced to pull the shirt—which some believe to be a comment on the sudden popularity of gluten-free diets—after members of the celiac community began to voice their displeasure at the shirt. A Change.org petition—which was started last week and is titled, "We do not want shirts with offensive messages for people with celiac disease,"—called on Zara to pull the contentious T-shirt and was signed more than 53,000 times before being marked as a "victory."

Even the petition's founder, Marta Casadesús from the Spanish city of Terrassa, was shocked when Zara apologized for the T-shirt and pulled it from sale both online and in stores. "I'm really happy," Casadesús explained to The Local. "I was really surprised by Zara's quick response, both on Cthange.org and in its actions, pulling the T-shirts from sale in its stores and online." She goes on to say, "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."

So, just exactly why is Casadesús so dismayed by Zara's "Are You Gluten Free?" T-shirt? A comment on the petition reads, "Coeliac 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."

Since Casadesús's petition has gone viral, Zara's parent company and the largest fashion corporation in the world, Inditex, has apologized for the shirt and released the following statement: "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 statement goes on to say, "We sincerely regret that this case might be interpreted as a trivialization of coeliac disease, the absolute opposite of our intentions."

Zara is no stranger to controversy and was widely panned after it released a children's shirt in 2014 that many were quick to label as a "Holocaust shirt," thanks to the fact that it was striped and featured a six-sided golden star.

As for why the petition saw such success, Casadesús has this to say: "There are a lot of celiacs and I think that these days everyone knows someone who is, so it's easier for people to put themselves in the shoes of the people who have to follow such a strict diet."

Turns out, thoughtlessly slapping a not-so-witty aphorism about dietary restrictions on a bunch of T-shirts probably isn't the best of ideas.