New stock will arrive at Sandton City's Zara store twice a week. Picture: Antoine de Ras.
New stock will arrive at Sandton City's Zara store twice a week. Picture: Antoine de Ras.

Zara shoppers to set style

By Helen Grange Time of article published Nov 15, 2011

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Zara is well known to fashionistas who travel to Europe occasionally, bringing back a great black coat, a classic white shirt or a red blazer bearing the Spanish label to parade with glee before their friends the next season.

Well, now, with the opening last week of the 80th Zara store, in the new Sandton City extension called Protea Court, everybody can get some – and not a season behind, as South Africa will have a collection specifically designed for the southern hemisphere.

Zara says it has a different way of doing business. Instead of being prescribed fashion from designers down, the consumers drive the process via feedback in the store.

“The reaction from customers is closely monitored through conversation – what they don’t like, what they do like and which trends are being well followed,” says Jesus Echevarria, communications officer for Zara owners Inditex, who was here for the launch.

“We have a team of more than 300 designers, and new ranges are sent to the stores twice a week, so the merchandise is constantly being updated and refreshed,” he explains.

It’s an impressive empire. Zara has more than 5 200 stores worldwide, 4 000 of them in Europe. Its stores are always in the high streets or the smartest part of towns. Its Sandton City store, at 2 700m2, is huge, with the shopfront being the largest among those around it.

As I wandered around the cavernous shop, with sections for women, men and kids, it struck me that while the space is amazing, the garments themselves didn’t really look more fashion-forward than those in other boutiques.

The clothes are pretty enough, but there’s nothing particularly unique. The accessories, however, are great.

A friend has been buying Zara stuff for years on her European trips and she says that, lately, she’s been disappointed to find little in its ranges to suit her.

“The clothes feel too young for me. Lengths are too short. Pants suit only skinny minnies. And it looks trendy enough to be out of fashion in a season,” she says. “Over the years I’ve bought superbly made Zara clothes with classic silhouettes and a little stylish edge that will never go out of fashion. I don’t feel the same way now.”

On my visit to Zara in Sandton, I find that the fabrics and workmanship stand up to close inspection. Echevarria says quality is a strict imperative with this brand. “We believe we are reaching ever higher quality standards, because customers all over the world are ever more demanding,” he says.

And there are plenty of mix-and-match choices, with lots of everyday staples and wardrobe basics, as well as accessories including footwear, handbags, leather goods and scarves.

Also, everybody is catered for – the tailored corporate woman, the casual yet classic look, and the youthful woman who wants an edgier look.

The same variety of styles is available for men, along with shoes, bags, scarves, belts and leather goods.

The kids’ ranges are delightfully “Euro” and make a change from the Hollywood-cum-Disney obsession in other chain stores. Aimed at 0- to 16-year-olds, they include daring and colourful or classic and low-key clothes, rounded off with a carefully selected range of footwear and accessories.

Zara creates different ranges for the northern and southern hemispheres, and Echevarria says it is “very excited” about gearing up to its new South African market.

“South African cities have a strong fashion focus, and Zara is passionate about fashion, so we will create a continuing, dynamic dialogue with South Africans about their design favourites and choices of fabrics.”

Twice a week, 300 to 400 new items will arrive at the store, increasingly emulating the desires of its patrons, he says.

As to the prices, Echevarria says these will be competitive and affordable, ranging widely depending on whether you’re going for tailored or casual. T-shirts range from R160 to R260 and jeans are tagged at R299 to R499 – prices comparable to an affordable good brand such as Trenery, sold in Woolworths.

The look of the store itself is simple but elegant, and will present an irresistable temptation to passing shoppers.

The buzz over the launch and the queues of fashion followers waiting for the doors to open on the day promises to have the Spanish store doing brisk festive season business.

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