15 Zara Secrets The Press-Shy Brand Hasn't Made Public

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images.
This story was originally published on February 2nd, 2016.

Zara has been stealthily defining the fast-fashion retail model since the first store opened in A Coruña, Spain in 1975 (even though it doesn't identify as a fast-fashion purveyor; Zara brass much prefers the term "accurate" to "fast," FYI). There may be scads of labels scrambling to keep apace with the retailing empire these days, but its beginnings are humble: Zara was started by a former shirtmaker's errand boy, himself with a working-class background.

Over four decades later, Zara has more than 2,000 outposts globally. Its parent company, Inditex, has a sizable portfolio of labels, all with offerings that hover around the pricing and style of Zara's affordable, trend-seizing lot. But compared to other brands with similar reach, Zara has been notoriously press-shy. Without blockbuster designer collaborations, A-list celebrity faces, nor splashy launches, product drops, or campaigns, Zara has always been relatively absent from the headlines (even if it's definitely overrepresented in our closets).

Refinery29 got the chance to visit Inditex's massive headquarters on a press trip to Arteixo, Spain (a 20-minute drive from A Coruña) to check out Zara's inner workings, up-close and personal. We wandered through the brand's design studios, poked around the pilot stores that dictate the merchandizing plans for every single Zara location internationally, and toured Inditex's first-ever factory (which is still in use today). Here are 15 intriguing takeaways from our intimate encounters with the scary-brilliant retail juggernaut.

More fashion stories:
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Photo: Europa Press/Getty Images.
The brand's octogenarian founder is still quite involved.

Amancio Ortega, Inditex’s famously elusive and press-shy founder — formerly the CEO, now chairman of the retail empire — still comes into the office nearly every single day. In case you needed proof of Inditex’s massive success, Ortega is currently the fourth-richest man in the world, with a net worth of $70 billion. Ortega, who’s now 80 years old, was apparently there the day Refinery29 visited Inditex’s compound (though we didn’t spot him ourselves, alas).
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Photo: Alexandra Ilyashov.
There's a reason Zara doesn't pair up with big-name designers.

Don't expect Zara to do a designer collaboration anytime soon, or maybe ever: The concept doesn't align with the retailer's ultra-modest M.O., which favors an anonymous posse of designers over spotlighting any one talent.

“Zara is about team-working experience — and what is good for the brand. The brand is the most important thing, not any specific name," Inditex's CCO, Jesús Echevarría, told Refinery29. "These are the 350 best designers at Zara, and 600 designers for our whole [Inditex] group. They have one very important skill: to be humble."

There's another reason Zara doesn't want to bring in a high-wattage industry player to whip up a one-off collection like, say, H&M, and it relates to the company's near-obsession with customer feedback, and a design process based on it (read: what sells or doesn't). A big-name talent is probably way less receptive to tweaking or scrapping designs than an anonymous, well-oiled collective of designers would be.
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Photo: Alexandra Ilyashov.
Fit models are a frequent sight at Zara's HQ.

At Zara’s design studios, there are fit models on-hand five days week, for its women’s and men’s design teams — they also sometimes will pull random Inditex employees from other departments in to fit items in a pinch, a brand rep told us.

Children's designs, on the other hand, are fitted on diaper-clad mannequins, probably due in equal parts to minors' labor laws and the squirming-and-tantrum-throwing factor of getting kids to stay still for outfit changes.
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Photo: @RachelBesser.
A very futuristic retail experience could be coming to a Zara store near you.

An entire logistics department at Zara’s command center is devoted to test-driving high-tech store innovations. Here, you’ll find everything from massive LCD screens used as in-store displays, stocked in varying dimensions to determine the best screen size for each type of store, as well as touch-screens in dressing rooms that let you request a different size without having to wriggle back into your clothes and brave the selling floor — and fitting room line — yet again.

Our personal favorites? A slew of self-checkout stations: like the ones in your local drugstore, but chicer. (These self-checkout stations are already in some of the brand’s Spanish outposts.)
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Photo: Alexandra Ilyashov.
An extremely exciting new category is rolling out soon.

There’s a major new addition to Zara’s already-extensive spate of offerings, and it’s poised to hit stores in early March. We can’t disclose much more at the moment, but let’s just say it’s a very zeitgeist-y category, it looks like the much-pricier names that dominate the space, and you’re likely going to want everything. These new, mysterious must-haves will soon be filling boxes in Zara's factory, pictured here.
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Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images.
Online shopping is a hit with their stateside customers.

Zara introduced e-commerce in 2010; currently, the U.S. is the site’s biggest market, according to a brand rep.
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Photo: Alexandra Ilyashov.
This is one of the most blissfully empty Zara stores in the world (but you can't buy anything inside).

At Zara’s home base, there are a handful of completely kitted-out, remarkably realistic prototype stores (we spotted at least one for Zara Men’s, one for Zara Home, and two for women: one for higher-end Zara Women items and another for the lower-priced basics and TRF items).

Every single store location around the world is modeled off of these prototype spaces: “Our pilot stores are like laboratories where all our trends are exhibited. The intention of the pilot store is for our employees — whether they’re designers, on the commercial side, or working in logistics — to feel like customers,” Jesús Echeverría says. “This helps us criticize and figure out what we do not like.”
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Photo: Alexandra Ilyashov.
All store outposts are created equally, apparently.

You know how you swear by that one specific Zara location's selection being far above and beyond what's available elsewhere? Apparently, that's all in your head.

"The trends are the same in every store — but the look and feeling is completely different in each store," Echevarría says. Translation: Yes, every store basically carries the same stuff (especially the most trend-centric items), but the quantities stocked differ from location to location. "The commercial teams at our headquarters, which are in touch with every store location, [decide] exactly what to order for each store. Some stores prefer more denim; others want more suits."
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Photo: @IgnazioParis.
Here's where Zara does the briskest business...

Currently, Zara’s most successful markets are in NYC, Milan (pictured), and Shanghai, according to Echevarría. He adds, unsurprisingly, that all of Zara's major city locations beat out sales at its non-metropolis outposts.
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Photo: @RachelBesser.
The majority of Zara's sales are on women's clothing.

These days, womenswear accounts for 60% of Zara’s sales, while menswear comprises slightly over 20%, and children’s clothing amasses slightly less than 20%, according to Echevarría.
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Photo: @RachelBesser.
They don't mess around when it comes to constantly tracking sales and customer feedback.

Zara has an ultra futuristic-looking “data processing center,” which debuted a year-and-a-half ago. It’s open 24 hours a day, and it connects with all of the retailer's stores globally to process all of the quantitative stuff (ie. sales stats) in real-time.

A separate team handles the qualitative customer feedback, and they sit on a different floor, alongside the design teams. This feedback is funneled from each store manager to a regional manager who compiles all the observations, overheards, and other forms of customer feedback.
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Photo: Via Inditex.com
Zara has all sorts of plans for doing good, even if you haven't heard much about them.

Since 2009, all of of Zara’s stores have been in the process of reducing energy consumption by 30% and water consumption by 50%, as part of its multi-pronged “Right to Wear” social responsibility plan. "We plan to have this program in 100% of our stores by 2020,” Echevarría says. Check out all of the company's social responsibility goals here.
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Photo: Via Oysho.com.
There are some hidden gems in Inditex's brand roster.

Zara’s parent company, Inditex, has a whopping eight brands in its portfolio; you may be familiar with menswear brand Massimo Dutti, which arrived stateside in 2012. Perhaps you’ve run across its younger-skewing lines, like Pull&Bear or Stradivarius (no, that's not a sheet music store contrary to what the name might imply), while traveling to certain European cities.

But R29’s editors were kind of obsessed with the company’s lingerie, loungewear, and activewear line, Oysho — think leggings on Lululemon levels and excellent underpinnings à la Cosabella or Negative, but a lot cheaper. It’s not available in the U.S. yet (not even online, alas). But given Inditex’s aggressive expansion patterns, we’re hoping it’ll come here soon enough...
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Photo: Via Zara.com.
The tiniest items can be quite taxing to create.

Which category is the absolute most demanding to produce? It’s the stuff for children, a.k.a. the most high-maintenance set of shoppers around. Zara Kids clothing has the most compliance requirements of all, thanks to factors like fire resistance and non-choking-risk buttons.
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Photo: @Laura_Lorene.
Also, Zara's childrenswear was very under-the-radar until recently.

Speaking of its pint-sized designs… Stateside, nobody knew about Zara's kids’ clothing until it opened its massive U.S. flagship on Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street in 2012 (its sixth location at the time), according to Echevarría.
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