SPANISH fashion juggernaut Inditex will shake up Melbourne's retail scene with the opening of its second Australian Zara store in the Bourke Street Mall next week.
Mall matriarchs including Myer, David Jones, Cue, Portmans and Sportsgirl, already struggling in a severely depressed retail market, will have their brand mix, trend choices, garment quality and prices compared to the affordable, good-quality, bull's-eye fashions for which the 1900-store chain Zara, once described as ''the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world'', is famous.
Zara's first Australian store opened in Sydney seven weeks ago and it's rumoured 80 per cent, or $1.2 million worth, of stock sold out that day.
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Amid chaos, customers queued for hours then swarmed into the store, grabbing garments out of the arms of staff attempting to restock shelves and racks. The Westfield store is still averaging 14,000 customers a day, according to reports, and they're still queuing at peak times.
Yesterday in Melbourne, Zara's chief communications officer, Jesus Echevarria, attributed the chain's mind-boggling success to a fast-fashion strategy that is the ''complete opposite'' to traditional manufacturing and retail models. ''It's a matter of customer feedback,'' he said. ''They decide what they want, what they don't want; we're pretty quick to react.'' Speed and accuracy are key to Zara's success, not original or innovative fashion design.
Zara's stores, Mr Echevarria said, could be replenished with small-batch fashion choices twice a week. Customers learn to be quick, or miss out.
The constant churn of stock also keeps their interest piqued, and the likelihood of several friends buying the same frock or men's suit is reduced. ''We get inside the skin of the customer,'' Mr Echevarria said.
Zara also has a reputation for getting ''inside the skin'' of designer brands it has long been accused of copying. However, Mr Echevarria emphatically denies this. ''No, no. It's not like that; it never happens like that,'' he said. ''We are quick in answering what the customer is doing, not translating fashions from anything outside.''
He described the Zara model as more organic, cyclic and season-less, based on feedback and reactive manufacturing. ''You cannot fake this,'' he said. ''It is a very honest process.''
Zara can convert customer feedback and daily sales analysis from its 1900-odd stores into manufacturing plans within 48 hours, convey these to 1500 factories in Asia, Spain, Brazil and other countries, and truck or fly the bull's-eye response fashions back to stores in less than three weeks.
Yesterday, Mr Echevarria showed the edited, Melbourne-bound collection, including military belted jackets, vivid knitwear and slim trousers for men, and slouchy silk kimono dresses, tops and tailored casual jackets in fuchsia pink and black for women. ''It's very elegant,'' he said. ''We are very proud, very excited for our store here.''
Zara's gargantuan holding company, Inditex, employs more than 100,000 in about 5200 stores in 78 countries, roughly 1900 of which are branded Zara outlets.
Reclusive billionaire Armancio Ortega, among the world's 10 richest men, founded Inditex in Spain in 1963 as a garment manufacturing business. He opened the first Zara store in La Coruna in 1975. He has never spoken to the media.