Last week, I read this amazing article in the Fashion & Style Section of the New York Times called “Zara, Where Insiders Look For An Edge“. Now this article wasn’t really telling me anything that I didn’t know about Zara already. I am a self-proclaimed Zara-holic and have been for quite sometime. Let’s just put it this way: the fact that the Zara store closest to me was closed for the past 2 months for renovations was horrible for me.
Zara is such a huge part of my personal style, and not just because I have quite a bit of it in my closet, but I also use Zara as inspiration for trends. The New York Times article talked about how Zara is becoming an increasingly used resource for fashion insiders, mainly because Zara gives you pieces that are trendy and chic, but also affordable.
The article then got me thinking about the fine line between copying a design and following a trend and how Zara is doing it right, unlike some of its counterparts. So what is it that Zara does that elevates it above the rest of its peers in terms of following trends, rather than just misappropriating a design?
Simply put, Zara is smart about the pieces that it creates and sells. Looks that show up on the runways every September and March run the gamut from minimalist chic and luxurious glamour to innovative with an edge and pattern-crazed pieces. But, rather than copy the patterns and designs that walk the runways, Zara takes the bare elements of what is going to be trendy and designs minimal, streamlined pieces that can fit in every wardrobe, whether your style is ladylike chic or trendy with an edge.
Jeff Van Sinderen of B. Riley & Company, a research and investment firm, told NYT, “Their look is very aspirational, in terms of the brands they are emulating. Focusing on clean, spare lines, like those of Jil Sander or Céline, has set them apart.” The pieces aren’t clear copies of something you’ve seen on a runway or in the pages of a magazine, but rather they take the most basic trend elements of a particular season and curate their own looks and pieces.
When you shop at Zara, you don’t feel like you’re buying cheaper versions of designer pieces. When you shop at Zara, you are buying pieces that can stand on their own. The pieces are stylish and chic, and are based off of what is trendy and what the luxury brands have produced, but they feel as if they are pieces that original and fresh and not something you’ve seen somewhere before.
Rarely, if ever, have I come across a piece at the Zara store or on the website where I go “well, I’ve seen that before” or “that looks like….” Perusing the website or the racks of the store is an experience akin to watching a runway show because you feel like you’re seeing something new. Oftentimes, I find myself coveting pieces. I have full-blown conversations with friends about our favorite of-the-moment pieces we want from Zara or just bought from Zara.
This conscious effort to not go down the rabbit hole of copying a design and selling to the masses at affordable prices has not only given Zara an edge over its competitors but has protected Zara’s brand identity, which is so important in today’s retail marketplace. As discussed at the Luxury Law Summit a couple weeks ago, a brand’s identity is the basis for its success in a marketplace where there are so many different brands that a consumer can choose from.
By stepping away from being another fast fashion chain that takes the runway looks and copies them for cheap and moving towards being a store that offers curated, trendy pieces that are reminiscent of luxury brands but aren’t straight copies, Zara has created a brand identity that is can be summed up as: chic, trendy, affordable. And, this brand identity is important to protect and cultivate if Zara wants to continue down this road.
Another element of Zara’s business practices that have helped elevate it among other contemporary brands and stores is the fact that they have never done a collaboration with a luxury brand or celebrity (think Verasace x H&M, Kate Moss x Topshop, Missoni for Target or even Penelope Cruz for Mango).
While these collaborations have generated buzz, sales, and profit for the respective brands, they effectively create a barrier between the contemporary brands and the high end brands, and they tend to create pieces that are essentially authorized knock-offs, since the collaboration pieces are rarely the same quality as the luxury pieces. By staying away from these collaborations, Zara has eliminated any barriers into establishing itself as a true fashion brand and created an opportunity for themselves to move up the ladder if they so desire.
With 1900 stores in 87 countries and with sales of nearly $15 billion last year alone, it seems that these strategies have paid off for Zara. And, there seems to be no stopping of this growth in sales, stores, and brand profile for the brand. By combining a design practice that truly offers trendy and stylish pieces that are fresh and original with shrewd marketing practices, Zara has truly established itself as the contemporary brand, in a marketplace full of misappropriation and infringement, that does “following trends” right.
It’s no wonder then that when they finally re-opened my Zara last week, I dragged my sick self out of bed and to the store on the day it opened just to be enamored and enchanted by everything it had to offer.