My name was never one found on the pre-printed keychains or mini license plates in novelty stores. But I found some solace in the 1,763 Zara store branches around the world. I even joked that the fashion label was named after me, which, naturally, no one believed.
The brand, to which I have absolutely no connection (unless you count saying "like the store" when trying to get someone to spell my name correctly), suffered a tremendous loss this week. Co-founder Rosalia Mera died at the age of 69. Spanish news media have reported that she had a brain hemorrhage while on vacation in Menorca.
The truth is the store -- or really "stores" at this point -- was not named after anyone. Mera opened the first with her then-husband, Amancio Ortega in 1975 in La Coruna, Spain. The original name was "Zorba" after the movie "Zorba the Greek." Jesus Echevarria, communications director for Inditex SA, which owns the Zara brand, explained what happened next to the New York Times Magazine last November:
“I don’t think they were thinking of making history, just that it was a nice name,” Echevarria said. “But apparently there was a bar that was called the same, Zorba, like two blocks away, and the owner of the bar came and said, ‘This is going to confuse things to have two Zorbas.’ They had already made the molds for the letters in the sign, so they just rearranged them to see what they could find. They found Zara.”
And what a good find it was. Short, sweet, rolls off the tongue. Just like Sara, but less common, more pizazzzzz. And nothing like some British royalty to up the ante. The birth in 1981 of Zara Phillips, a granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II, probably wasn't bad for sales. Nor is Kate Middleton's flair for wearing the fashionable yet affordable brand.
Mera and Ortega separated in 1986, the year after they founded Inditex, which now includes eight brands including Massimo Dutti and Bershka. Mera subsequently concentrated on her family and on charity efforts. Still, by 1988, Zara had expanded beyond Spain; by 2012, Inditex had stores in 86 markets. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index places Ortega as the fourth-richest man in the world, with a net worth of $56.9 billion. Mera came in with $5.5 billion, crowning her Spain's richest woman. Forbes ranks her the "world's richest self-made woman." Self-made is an understatement: At the age of 11, Mera left to work as a sales assistant in a clothing shop.
I was younger than that when I began stopping at Zara stores. When I travel, I pose for a picture with the store sign as though I've stumbled on some inside joke in a foreign locale, as though that picture couldn't be taken in thousands of other places around the world. I spent years on an epic quest to find a branch that had a shirt, or really anything, with "Zara" printed in a prominent way.
I have vague, perhaps somewhat apocryphal, memories of a salesman once telling me -- as I again was turned away empty-handed -- that the company didn't believe in putting the brand name on items. Great, I thought, I'm stuck with the one company in the world, that doesn't over-promote. But such reticence seems in line with the brand ethos: According to the Times Magazine piece, Inditex doesn't advertise. While Ortega, who stepped down as the company's chairman in 2011, has apparently never given an interview, shoppers' reactions in stores are quickly factored into design and production decisions.
A few years back, I finally emerged from my search victorious. What I found was the antithesis of the sleek office wear typically featured in the company's stores: A t-shirt with one word, in rhinestones, splashed across it: "Zara."
I bought two.
I soon learned that at my age there's not much utility in rhinestone-encrusted shirts bearing your own moniker (though I did factor one into a Halloween costume once). But maybe I'll try to find one of those shirts tonight, and wear it in honor of the woman who worked, from a very young age, to help give me a good name.
(Zara Kessler is an assistant editor and producer for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)