Zara is today among the best-known brands in the world, especially when it comes to the luxury fashion industry. However, one may be surprised to know that the company was started by a person with very humble roots.
Ortega learned from scratch
Born to a railway worker, Amancio Ortega, left the school at the age of 14. Ortega found a job as a shop hand for a local shirtmaker called Gala, which still sits on the same corner in downtown A Coruña, a small town at that time and now the seventeenth large city in Spain.
Ortega learned to make clothes by hand and for the next 10 years, he worked at multiple jobs in the garment business. His profile included being an assistant to a tailor to delivering clothes directly to the customers.
Ortega grasped the key concept driving the market
During these 10 years of experience, Amancio Ortega made some very important observations which later helped him change the fashion industry forever. The first and most important lesson was that people put in extra money for what is called ‘Status-Symbol’.
Before Ortega entered the business, the clothes were utility as far as the common people or the middle class were concerned. First and foremost, clothes were expected to be comfortable and they had very little to do with looks and were far from being a status symbol.
Ortega’s observation that people put in extra money for things that are status symbol took Zara to what it is today. The most important instrument of status among women between the age of 20 to 34, were nothing but the clothes they wore, and Zara targets this customer base to earn billions.
Focused on selling it to women
The second lesson was that very few women cared about the quality of clothes as much as they cared about their variety and design. So, hardly few people wanted to dress that would last for 10 years, because they anyways wouldn’t wear it frequently. So, he used just in time (JIT) inventory method for the store and just in case consumption by customer (consumers keep large inventories on hand in case they need to wear them for a certain event). So, the customers buy more than they need and keep a large inventory of clothes.
So, the consumption of clothes has grown manifold in countries around the world. Even in India, in the last three decades of economic liberalization, the demand for branded clothes has grown in double digits as the people started getting rich.
Third and most importantly, he also found out that women were extremely fascinated by fashion icons. And this changed the advertising market as well as the fortunes of the sports icons, cinema icons, and other celebrities forever. Today they earn millions just by endorsing a brand.
Extreme level environmental damage
However, en route to revolutionizing the fashion industry, his company produced tons of waste. The faster-moving products model which is highly capitalistic produces more air pollution for producing fabric. The fashion industry is currently the second-highest water polluting industry and the people who wear these branded clothes do most ‘environmental activism’.
Quick and disposable clothes end up creating more waste which is non-biodegradable and one must analyze their ‘instrument of status’ and its contribution to the global pollution. Zara is today realizing the importance of net-zero as its customers demand more accountability towards the environment.
Company is working towards Carbon neutrality: Zara
“[We] are highly focused on making clothes in a responsible, sustainable way, that limits the impact on the environment and [which] challenges ourselves to continually work as hard as we can to improve how we manufacture,” said Marta Ortega. “It’s something that we all feel really passionately about as individuals, as well as in a work capacity. [We are] always looking for ways in which we can do better: working on new technologies, new ways to work with recycled materials, and helping create new fabrics that our designers, as well as others in the industry, can work with in the future. It’s the right thing to do, both morally and commercially, and it’s an approach that we’re absolutely committed to.” Added Ortega
However, one can expect that like the statements of any other company, these are going to be more of a PR exercise rather than any actual goals.