Amancio Ortega, is the founder of Zara and its holding company Inditex which also owns Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka and Oysho amongst others. Ortega has a net worth of $57.5 billion and Zara currently has 1,500 stores that are open in 70 countries.
Coming from modest beginnings in the small town of La Coruña, Spain, Ortega has been shaking up prevailing norms of fashion houses since the 1960s. At a time when only wealthy individuals could afford to purchase fine clothing, Ortega set out to flip the equation and make high-quality clothing available to everyone.
Working for a local shirt-maker called Gala at the age of 16, Ortega quickly realized that if he could give customers exactly what they wanted while delivering it to them faster than anyone else, then he could set the pace for high demand products. In 1963, at the age of 27, Amancio Ortega established his own company called Confecciones Goa that made and sold fine bathrobes. Ortega’s formula consisted of purchasing low-cost fabrics from Barcelona to sell high quality, cheaper products to local stores. He also kept manufacturing localized in the town of Galicia. There were very few job opportunities there at the time and women were willing to do almost anything for a little bit of extra income. As a result, Ortega began organizing thousands of women into sewing cooperatives. In 1975, he opened the first Zara store in La Coruña and became a household name for quality designer clothes, fast turnaround times and unbeatable prices. By 1989, Ortega was successfully operating 100 Zara stores in Spain. On the heels of Zara’s prolific success, Ortega established Inditex in 1985 as the holding company for Zara and a handful of other brands.
“Very few companies can challenge Inditex at this time. The company is in a race with themselves rather than anything else,” says Christodoulos Chaviaras, a retail analyst at Barclays Capital in London. On average, one Zara store opens every day and Inditex’s 6000th store launched recently on London’s Oxford Street. Currently, there are 46 Zara stores in the U.S., 347 in China, and 1,938 in Spain.
Till this day, Ortega has maintained factories in Spain to keep jobs in his home country and has stuck to producing smaller quantities of clothing in order to save shipping costs and pass the savings onto the consumer. Years later, Zara still refreshes stock twice a week and receives orders within a maximum of 48 hours in Asia and Latin America. For Europe, the Middle East and much of the U.S. there is a strict 24-hour order turnaround time.
Ortega owns 59% of the company’s shares, and is currently the world’s third-richest man, behind Carlos Slim Helú and Bill Gates.