Obituary: Rosalia Mera / Rich fashion mogul, co-founder of Zara

Jan. 28, 1944 - Aug. 15, 2013

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Rosalia Mera, a Spanish entrepreneur who had dropped out of school at 11 to work as a seamstress and went on to help start a global fashion empire, Zara, becoming the world's richest self-made woman, died Aug. 15 in La Coruna, Spain. She was 69.

Her death was announced by Inditex, the holding company that owns Zara and seven other apparel concerns. Spanish newspapers said she had a stroke Aug. 14 on the Mediterranean island of Minorca and was flown to a hospital in La Coruna, in northwestern Spain, where she lived.

Forbes magazine ranked Ms. Mera as the richest woman in Spain this year and the 66th richest woman in the world. She ranked first among women who had acquired their wealth through their own efforts, rather than inheritance or marriage.

Her former husband, Amancio Ortega, with whom she started the company as an equal partner in 1974, is listed by Forbes as the world's third richest man, with assets of $57 billion.

Zara changed the apparel industry, chiefly by speeding up its mass-market response to new designs coming from the leading fashion houses in Paris, Milan, New York and other cities. Zara could come up with its own variations on those designs and have them in stores within two weeks; previously, six months was the industry average.

Zara designs, produces, distributes and sells its own lines in its own retail stores -- 1,763 in 86 countries, including the United States. It uses no subcontractors or intermediaries and relies little on advertising. Devotees of the Zara label include the Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton.

In 1985, Zara and its "fast fashion" model came under the corporate umbrella of Industria de Diseno Textil, or Inditex S.A., a conglomerate whose eight brand names, each with its own chain of stores, aim at specific markets. Massimo Dutti, for example, targets urban cosmopolites, while Bershka is youth-oriented.

Rosalia Mera Goyenechea was born on Jan. 28, 1944, in a working-class neighborhood of La Coruna, a port city in Galicia, a center of Spain's textile industry. Her father worked for a utility company and her mother for a butcher shop.

Ms. Mera skipped secondary school and in 1963 met Mr. Ortega, who had left school at 13 to work as a delivery boy for a shirt maker.

When they met, he was working at one clothing shop in La Coruna and she at another. They married in 1966.

The couple separated in 1986 and divorced in the 1990s. Ms. Mera stopped working at Zara after the separation but remained on the board until 2004.

She devoted more time to charity work, much of it through a foundation that she and her husband had set up to help disabled people.

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