Blog: Leonie BarrieFast Fashion

Leonie Barrie | 28 April 2006

The Zara success story continues to captivate the fashion industry, and the numbers behind the business are proof that its unique formula is definitely working. In the last six years the company has tripled its stores to more than 2,700 around the world, and sales in 2005 grew by 21% to EUR6.7bn – making it one of the world’s fastest growing clothing companies and securing it a place in Spanish business history.

One person who’s analysed Zara more than most is Ken Watson, director of the London-based Industry Forum. I met with Ken yesterday, and he explained why his ‘Fast Fashion: learning from Zara’ workshops continue to attract audiences around the world.

Most people think fast fashion is simply a case of shortening their supply chains, Ken explained. It’s not. In Zara’s case, 80% of its ranges are committed during the season and the styles on display are totally driven by the consumer. All of which helps it to significantly reduce its markdowns to around half of the industry average.

This model also impacts on the people side of the business. It means buyers, merchandisers and sourcing specialists are able to reduce their risk-taking into small chunks, rather than by committee which slows everything down when you’re placing large forward orders. And if you’re committing in-season, there’s less overlap between seasons – which in turn makes for less confusion along the supply chain.

“You can’t change this in most organisations unless you have a supply base that doesn’t require pre-commitment,” Ken pointed out.

He also believes Zara’s scaleable model and central distribution have helped make it more flexible, and contributed to its outstanding performance. There are different dynamics in the retail environment as well, with store managers having ownership of the products on display. But this also means there’s a higher turnover of staff in new stores since it’s a steep learning curve that many employees find difficult to embrace.

If you’d like to learn more about Zara’s company culture, the next Fast Fashion workshop is due to take place in London on 16 May. Ken says most delegates leave with an insight into the company and ideas on how to change different areas of their own operations. He can be contacted for more information by clicking here

UK: Zara Fast Fashion Workshop makes a return


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