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How Zara Changed the Fashion World

Zara New York City retail branchYou know Zara. You’ve heard of Zara. You’ve seen Zara around. The mid-range Spanish clothing maker is now the world’s largest fashion retail brand. How big is it? Top rival H&M operates about 2,500 branches around the globe, while Zara’s parent company Inditex has more than 5,900–including more than 2,000 in Spain alone.

In the midst of a recession that’s proven especially severe in that corner of Europe, Zara rose to the very top of the fashion business.

Yet the most interesting aspects of the Zara empire are the things the company doesn’t do. It doesn’t create partnerships with top designers. It doesn’t try to label its products “upscale”. It doesn’t tweet very often, and it definitely doesn’t organize any one-off promotional stunts. Its founder, now one of the world’s richest men, refuses to give interviews.

The company doesn’t even create ads–that’s right, no ads at all. In fact, the PR rep who spoke to The New York Times during an extended magazine profile refused to give her name in keeping with her employer’s “modesty rules”. Not the kind of operation you’d expect from such a massive brand.

So how did the minds behind Zara create such a monster? To put it simply, they followed one rule: listen to your customers and respond accordingly by giving them what they want, not what you tell them they should want.

Longer answer: the company makes clothing of decent quality and modest price, all designed to resemble the creations of higher-end fashion houses (reps say they don’t copy, but come on). Strategists buy real estate near upscale boutiques so that shoppers can see the cheaper Zara products while browsing the Gucci store–and its branding experts make sure to decorate each branch well so the Zara name won’t be associated with a lower-class aesthetic.

Most imp0rtantly, the company very carefully monitors trends among its worldwide customer base–and responds with incredible speed and precision. Each employee goes out of his or her way to ask customers what they want and record their responses–and customers’ tastes prove remarkably similar in Tokyo, Manhattan and Istanbul. Zara’s designers only make a few copies of each item, so every line sells out quickly and new products arrive at the store every day. Essentially, it comes down to this: When a savvy shopper sees an appealing item at Zara’s, he or she knows that it won’t be around long and that the price won’t be lower anywhere else. Every piece is “limited edition”, so every purchase is an impulse buy. It’s a brilliant strategy.

Some say the Zara brand can’t last because it won’t be able to sustain its affordability in the face of rising production costs. But there’s little doubt: You might not know it after flipping through Vogue or WWD, but Zara currently rules the world of fashion.

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