If you’re in North America and have never heard of Zara, it’s probably because you don’t live in one of a handful of cities (Toronto, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, et al.) where there’s a Zara store. In much of the rest of the world, however, the Zara brand is ubiquitous; in fact, Zara is the world’s biggest retailer. It earned that title by specializing in “fast fashion”: quickly produced, quickly distributed, and quickly replaced imitations of current trends. In an article for the November 11 New York Times Magazine, reporter Suzy Hansen tours the corporate headquarters of Inditex, the parent company of Zara and several other retail brands that collectively make about 840 million garments a year and have about 5,900 stores in 85 countries, “though that number is always changing because Inditex has in recent years opened more than a store a day, or about 500 stores a year.”
So where did the Zara name come from?
Zara store in Dundee, UK. Photo: Wikipedia.
The first Zara store opened in 1975 in La Coruña, a small city in Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain. Founder Amancio Ortega Gaona, who is now 76 and ranked the third-richest man in the world, wanted to call the store Zorba, after the 1964 film Zorba the Greek:
“I don’t think they were thinking of making history, just that it was a nice name,” [Inditex communications director Jesus] Echevarría said. “But apparently there was a bar that was called the same, Zorba, like two blocks away, and the owner of the bar came and said, ‘This is going to confuse things to have two Zorbas.’ They had already made the molds for the letters in the sign, so they just rearranged them to see what they could find. They found Zara.”
Scrabble writ large, you might say.
A few other tidbits of interest from the story:
- Inditex doesn’t advertise and “hardly has a marketing department.” What marketing it does do, Hansen writes, “is all about real estate. The company invests heavily in the beauty, historical appeal and location of its shops.” In Spain, there are Zara stores in an 18th-century convent in Salamanca and in a historic movie theater in Elche.
- In addition to Zara, Inditex brands include Zara Home, Bershka, Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Stradivarius, Pull&Bear, and Uterqüe. (See below for my naming notes.)
- The Spanish economy is in terrible shape, but Inditex is thriving. One reason, Hansen writes: “Every piece of clothing the company makes has, in a way, been requested. A business model that is so closely attuned to the customer does not share the cycle of a financial crisis.”
- “[T]he Inditex effect is not confined to cheap, fast fashion. It has forced — or inspired, depending on how you look at it — people to spend their money in a different manner. In Zara, every purchase is an impulse buy; there’s no longer any saving up for that gorgeous leather jacket in the window. … It’s a way of consumption that has conditioned buyers to expect this up-to-the-minute trendiness and variety in higher-end labels as well.” In fact, designer brands like Prada and Louis Vuitton, which used to produce just two lines a year – spring/summer and autumn/winter – now make four to six collections. “That’s absolutely because of Zara,” says Masoud Golsorkhi, the editor of the London fashion magazine Tank.
My own naming notes:
- Inditex is a shortening of Industria de Diseño Textil, S.A. (Textile Design Industries).
- Pull&Bear sells “casual, laid-back clothing and accessories for young people with a very urban style, at accessible prices.”* (Wikipedia) I have no idea where the name comes from, but it’s right in step with the X & Y retail naming trend.
- Uterqüe’s name comes from Latin uterque, meaning “each of both.” It’s pronounced oo-ter-kway; the dieresis over the U gives Spanish speakers a pronunciation cue. (Without it, the Spanish pronunciation would be oo-ter-kay.) Uterqüe – the newest addition to the Inditex stable – sells women’s ready-to-wear and accessories at slightly higher prices than Zara’s.
- Oysho sells lingerie and sleepwear. I haven’t been able to find out what, if anything, “Oysho” means.
- Bershka’s customer is youthful but not as “urban” as Pull&Bear’s. Again: no idea where the name comes from. UPDATE: See Licia’s comment on Oysho and Bershka, below.
* Isn’t every price “accessible” (or “affordable”) if you have enough money?