There's Something About Zara

Design Features
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As far as international brands go, Zara is one of the coolest kids at the table. So what’s so special about the retailer? Plenty.

He first saw the Zara label in a secondhand shop in Iraq.

Shkar Aziz, a native of Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, noticed Zara clothes were being donated to secondhand shops in his area. “After that, friends and family members of Iraqis started sending Zara clothes from Europe,” Aziz says. He has been a fan ever since.

That was 10 years ago, but Aziz’s love for Zara has stayed the same. He now lives in the U.S. with his wife and his daughter. They live in Indiana and make the three-hour drive to Zara in Chicago every few months to buy clothes for themselves and their young daughter. “We buy all of [our daughter’s] shoes there because they make her look like a precious little lady,” Aziz says. “Everything they sell is very sophisticated and people of all ages can feel comfortable in a Zara wardrobe.”

Aziz’s story is an example of Zara’s global reach. Its first store opened in Spain in 1975, and Zara now has more than 1,700 locations around the world. It is the largest brand under Inditex, the company that runs Zara, Zara Home and six other brands. It’s one of the largest retailers in the world, and it continues to wow fashionistas and business followers for both its style and entrepreneurial strategies.

Zara has found success in its stores all over the world, from Spain to China to Australia, but also with its online stores, allowing the brand to reach customers who live far from a physical store but have an internet connection.

But what is it about Zara that appeals to people on a global scale? Talk to any Zara shopper, and you will hear a lot about the brand’s ability to stay trendy yet timeless, all while staying relatively inexpensive.

Hilari Gray, a licensed professional counselor based in Missouri, says this combination is why she thinks Zara has gained such a large fan base. “The reason Zara is so popular is because they are making versions of clothes that are similar to what top designers are doing, but for a much more affordable price,” Gray says.

Like many Zara shoppers, Gray loves to follow fashion; she first learned of Zara after asking a friend about a clutch she saw that looked like one from a Chloé runway collection. For Gray, however, purchasing high designer pieces is not possible on what she calls her “fresh out of grad school” budget. “At Zara I can find a pair of jeans that look similar to the printed Isabel Marant jeans that I could never afford,” Gray says, “and they are still done with an elegance that makes them attractive, rather than just some designer knock-off.”

Krystal Bennett, a Louisiana-based fashion blogger who maintains her blog A Pinch of Lovely found Zara when she was in Houston, Texas, a few years ago. She says she became an immediate fan and continued to return to the brand because she liked the look and feel of the clothes. “Zara picks up a lot of trends but somehow manages to escape the ‘trendy’ stereotype because they create them in a way that is classic,” Bennett says. “All of the pieces can be re-worn over different seasons and they still look relevant and in style.”

Zara’s ability to always be on trend is largely thanks to its business model, which allows clothes to be produced quickly. According to the company’s website, Inditex counts on vertical integration to stay flexible, which creates the “ability to adapt our merchandise to customer tastes in the shortest time possible.”

The brand is also known for its attractive prices. A pair of black pumps can cost $89.90; a raincoat can be found for $99.90; and a cashmere tank top runs as low as $29.90. Predictably, trendy and high-quality clothes at low prices has proven to be a winning formula.

And even with the low prices, Zara is often seen on the rich and elite, including its arguably most famous customer, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. Known for her timeless fashion sense, Kate Middleton—as she’s more commonly called—is also one of the most photographed women in the world, a helpful piece of marketing for the brands she chooses to wear. She often chooses Zara.

Susan Kelley follows the Duchess’ fashion choices on her website What Kate Wore, which was one of Time Magazine’s Best Blogs of 2012. “Zara was already an enormously successful retailer before photos of Kate wearing their clothing were seen all over the world,” Kelley says. “The benefit of Kate wearing Zara pieces is the exposure it brought to new markets.” Kelley adds women who may have never seen a Zara ad or a Zara mention in editorial coverage learned of the brand through the Duchess wearing it.

Even though Zara was popular long before the Duchess of Cambridge came along, the extra exposure helped. In December 2011, Middleton wore a Zara black lace dress to a concert. It reportedly sold out within hours.

Yet despite Zara’s global popularity and exposure, the Zara brand is still somewhat new in certain areas. It has been in Spain since the 1970s, but just recently added stores in countries such as Armenia, Ecuador and Georgia.

Even with countries that do have many Zara locations, the brand tends to stick to cities, so shoppers in more rural or suburban regions may be hours from a store. However, thanks to online shopping, now people who do not live near a store can get the merchandise easily. The U.S. online store, for example, started in September 2011.“Louisiana does not have any Zara locations, so the addition of the online store was really exciting for me,” Bennett says. “I normally have to shop online because that’s my only option, but if I’m in a city that has a Zara, I always make sure to visit.”

With an impressive business model, world-famous customers and a huge global presence, could Zara possibly be getting bigger? It’s looking that way. For instance, the brand opened its Canadian online store in March 2013. Zara has also seen positive results from an “aggressive expansion” in Asia, Businessweek reported earlier this month.

But as long as Zara keeps its formula of high fashion and high quality at a low price, the brand will most likely continue to impress new customers, as well as the people who have been shopping there for years, such as Aziz. When asked if he would ever stop buying the brand, Aziz simply replied, “No. Why would I stop?”