Rosalía Mera: Seamstress who accrued a fortune as co-founder of Zara


Rosalía Mera, who, with her husband, co-founded the Zara fashion range and chain of shops, was Spain’s wealthiest woman – and, according to Forbes magazine, the “wealthiest self-made woman on the planet”, with a fortune estimated at more than $6bn.

“Self-made” because, while other women farther up the Forbes list had inherited their fortunes from dads, husbands or sugar-daddies, Mera had left school at 11 to work as a seamstress – and realised that others were making huge amounts of money from her craft.

She was born on 28 January 1944 in the working-class Matadero suburb of La Coruña, the Galician port city in north-west Spain. Skipping secondary school during the hardships of the mid-1950s, she got work as a seamstress, and sometime sales assistant, at the La Maja clothing shop in her home city.

She was 22 when she met and married Amancio Ortega, who had moved north from Léon as a teenager to Mera’s home city of La Coruña in Spain, because of his father’s job as a railway worker.

Ortega, now the fourth wealthiest man in the world with more than $51bn to his name (he once got into the top three), had been working in a shirtmaker’s shop at the time, and Mera was already selling her homemade clothes from a newly-founded company she had set up called GOA. The two decided to go it on their own. With Spanish women slowly but noticeably asserting their femininity in highly Catholic Spain, still under Franco’s dictatorship, Mera started making lingerie and relatively sexy dressing gowns in the newly-wed couple’s living room in La Coruña. (Galicians call it by its local name, A Coruña, but, largely because of Franco, it has become best-known by the Castilian version, La Coruña).

Mera’s self-created lingerie was a bit shocking at the time, but it went down well with Spanish women, not to mention their menfolk, and it reflected the changes that Spain was going through at the time. It was, perhaps, a minor change – but it was one of many pieces of the jigsaw which would add up to an end to the dictatorship and to a democratic Spain. 

Seeing the market potential of their products in a Spain that was aching to become part of the democratic world, Mera and Ortega founded the fashion retail company Zara in 1975 within the holding company Inditex. This would eventually become one of the world’s largest clothing retailers, with brands such as Bershka, Massimo Dutti, Stradivarius and Oysho, more than 6,000 stores in 86 countries and net sales in 2012 of around $21bn.

But it was the spread of the Zara brand and stores, initially in La Coruña,  expanding to Portugal in 1988, followed by New York and Paris and eventually London, that put Rosalía Mera and her husband on the global billionaire map. Zara and Inditex are still based in La Coruña, in the municipality of Arteixo.

Divorced from her husband in 1986, Mera wound down her direct interest in Inditex and Zara, although she maintained enough shares to keep her among the wealthiest women in the world as Zara expanded.

Outside of the retail empire she helped to construct, and prompted by her son, Marcos, who suffers from a mental disability, Mera began focusing on humanitarian causes – not least through her Paideia Foundation, which seeks to integrate mentally or physically disabled people into the world by finding them jobs.

She invested in various other causes close to her heart, including a marine fish-farming group and a company that analyses products from the oceans that they believe could lead to cancer treatments. To keep those funds coming in, she was also an investor in London’s Bulgari Hotel.

Thanks to the shareholding she retained in Inditex, and thereby Zara, Mera saw her fortune soar to over $6bn in recent years, particularly as Zara caught on worldwide. Mera was, however, the first to admit that what goes up must come down – and that what’s in today, in fashion, must, by definition, be out tomorrow. Hence, in her later years, she invested mostly in charitable organisations. She left the board of Inditex in 2004, retaining a sharehold of just under seven per cent, giving her enough income to finance her social projects, including a contest for young jazz musicians.

Rosalía Mera suffered a stroke on 14 August while holidaying with her daughter Sandra and her family on the island of Menorca. She was flown by air ambulance to her home city of La Coruña, where she died in the San Rafael hospital the following day.

Rosalía Mera Goyenechea, seamstress, fashion designer and entrepreneur: born La Coruña, Spain 28 January 1944; married Amancio Ortega 1966 (divorced 1986, one son, one daughter); died La Coruña, Spain 15 August 2013.

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor