Next Women List
Rosalia Mera, who died last week aged 69, was a former shop assistant who co-founded the retail giant Inditex, parent company of the hugely successful fashion chain Zara, becoming Spain's richest woman and the world's richest self-made female entrepreneur.
Rosalia left school at 11 to work as an assistant in a clothing shop and later worked as a tailor with her then husband Amancio Ortega in the couple's home, where they created quilted bathrobes and lingerie based on designer brands and sold them at budget prices. They quickly expanded the number of retailers they sold to and by the early 1970s had several hundred employees.
Realizing that they could make more money selling direct to customers, they opened their first Zara in 1975 (originally they were going to call it Zorba, but a bar in the city had the same name and as they already had moulds for the letters they opted for Zara). The store proved a runaway success, and they opened more Zara stores throughout Spain. Over the next 30 years the company grew into the world's largest fashion retailer.
Zara was a pioneer of the "fast fashion" concept, where retailers adapt the latest catwalk or pop culture designs and speed their cheaper versions into stores. Zara was also one of the first companies to use computers to analyze customer preferences.
The Inditex fashion empire now extends to more than 6,000 stores in 86 countries and eight retail brands, including Massimo Dutti and Pull & Bear. Earlier this year it overtook the telecoms company Telefonica and a host of ailing banks to become Spain's biggest listed company.
Rosalia Mera left the board of directors of Inditex in 2004, but remained Inditex's second-largest shareholder, with a net worth (this year) reported to be more than $6 billion. She invested in businesses ranging from film, hotels and property to biotechnology and also served as president of the Paideia Foundation, founded by her former husband in 1986, which helps people with disabilities.
Rosalia, a true female hero, died last week following a stroke.
Image courtesy of Caninhas.