Amancio Ortega Gaona, the reclusive Spanish billionaire, is to float Inditex, the parent company of the 1,027 store Zara fashion chain next Spring, the Evening Standard reported yesterday. The UK, along with Germany, is his new target for expansion.

Zara has a rare acumen for the tricky business of fashion retail - while rivals struggle to stock four new collections a year, Zara takes less than three weeks to analyse store feedback, create new designs and deliver them to its outlets. This speedy response to fickle demand has allowed Inditex to double its sales to e2.03bn ($bn) over the past four years and generate operating profit margins of 15 per cent.

It has also made Ortega the richest man in Spain, according to Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo, with a fortune estimated at $4.5bn. Ortega set up his first clothing workshop in Corunna in 1963, but it was not until 18 years later that he opened his first store under the Zara name. Within four years, in 1979, he brought together his fast-expanding operations under one holding company, Industria de Diseno Textil (Inditex).

Today, the group is opening 150 stores a year and is present in 32 countries. Its dozens of manufacturing companies clustered around Corunna produce 60 per cent of its garments, and distribution is assured by wholly-owned transport companies.

The higher costs of manufacturing in Europe are amply offset by the benefits of flexible response, the company says. Ortega did not achieve all this alone. He had the good sense to employ an able, computer-literate chief executive, Jose Maria Castellano.

Formerly IBM's chief salesman in Barcelona, he came to sell computers to Inditex 16 years ago and stayed, setting up the systems that enable Inditex to outpace the competition. Analysts like to draw comparisons with Gap of the US or Benetton in Italy. But according to Castellano, Gap is more casual, while Benetton, which also manufactures, concentrates on knitwear and relies on franchises, rather than the Inditex strategy of owning its stores.

Zara is purveying European chic at affordable prices for men, women and children in large, stores selling basically the same clothes in 25 countries. Although present in the US and Asia, its heartland is continental Europe.

Zara's first UK store opened in Regent Street in 1998. Recent openings, including Oxford Street and Kensington High Street, bring the total to seven. Former Vision Express director Mike Shearson has been appointed to run the UK operation, and property agents are seeking another 40 sites. Preparations for the flotation are gathering pace. If all goes to plan, Britons will soon be able to buy both the clothes and the company.