Rosalia Mera, Spain’s richest woman and co-founder of Zara, dies at 69

Rosalia Mera, a seamstress who co-founded Zara, a clothing store in northwestern Spain that grew into one of the world’s largest retail chains, has died. She was 69.

Inditex, the owner of Zara, issued a statement confirming her death but did not provide further details and declined to comment via e-mail. Spanish media widely reported that Ms. Mera, Spain’s richest woman and a major stakeholder in Inditex, had a stroke while on vacation on the Mediterranean island of Minorca and died Aug. 15 at a hospital in La Coruña, the city where she was born, in Spain’s Galicia region.

Ms. Mera founded the first Zara store in 1975 in La Coruña with her then-husband, Amancio Ortega. He is listed by Forbes as the world’s third-richest person.

They originally planned to call the store Zorba after the film “Zorba the Greek,” but there was a bar with that name a few blocks away from the site, so the letters on the Zorba sign were changed to spell Zara.

The shop specialized in low-priced versions of more expensive popular clothes, and the formula turned into a success for store openings across Spain and then internationally.

Spanish businesswoman Rosalia Mera (Alberto Martín/EPA)

Ms. Mera held 6.99 percent of Inditex stock, according to company filings at the Madrid stock exchange, and her fortune was estimated by Forbes at $6.1 billion. The magazine says she was the world’s 195th richest person but names her the “wealthiest self-made woman.”

She also became known for voicing opposition to the current conservative government’s plans to change Spanish abortion laws. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is a close ally of the Catholic Church on moral and social issues and has repeatedly said he will revise Spain’s abortion law, although he has not yet offered any proposals.

The previous Socialist government passed a law allowing 16-year-olds to get abortions without parental consent. Ms. Mera said that law is “just fine” and “should be left as it is.”

In addition, she opposed government cutbacks in the name of austerity affecting Spain’s education and national health-care programs.

Besides the Zara chain, Inditex owns retailers Bershka, Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Pull and Bear, Stradivarius, Uterqüe and Zara Home. There are 1,763 Zara stores around the world, and Inditex has a total of 6,058 stores and 120,000 employees.

— Associated Press

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