Photograph by Caitlin Abrams
With Zara’s Mall of America store opening just a month away, I’m worried for Twin Cities shoppers. Much like the bride who has made wedding planning a full-time occupation only to feel let down after the honeymoon, we’ve spent years pining for this European mecca of fast fashion. After we swarm the place, and then show up at the office in matching double crepe dusty rose blazers (just $69.90, and so on-trend!), what then? Will the reality of Zara live up to our years of longing?
If you’re not familiar, Zara is the flagship brand of the Spain-based Inditex Group and one of the largest fashion retailers in the world with more than 2,100 stores. Its prices tend to be slightly higher than competitors such as H&M and Forever 21, but that only adds to Zara’s straight-off-the-runway mystique. Zara is renowned for churning out new products and getting them to stores within two weeks. That breakneck cycle also creates urgency—shoppers know if they don’t grab it now, it probably won’t be there next time they visit. New merchandise arrives as often as twice a week.
“There’s a thrill in knowing there will always be something new,” says Jill Renslow, MOA’s senior vice president of marketing and business development. Renslow’s personal wardrobe includes several Zara jackets and dresses. “Zara crosses the boundaries of age and style.”
It’s rare to create the sort of fervor that prompts shoppers to line up on opening day. I remember when the first Trader Joe’s opened in town and people stood on the sidewalk for more than an hour to buy the same peanut butter–filled pretzels that I walked right up to and plucked off the shelf soon after the store opened. But it wasn’t about the pretzels. It was about being part of the moment.
Aaron Keller, CEO and founding partner of Capsule brand agency in Minneapolis, talks about these “moments” in his new book, Physics of Brand, co-authored by Dan Wallace and Renée Marino. “A brand becomes more memorable the more moments are in your head,” Keller says. “Experiences—they build the value of the brand.”
I’ve had a couple of really memorable experiences at Zara in New York, where the line for the fitting room was so long, I decided it might be faster to save up for a more expensive pair of pants elsewhere. But then, I think of how much I still love those 3-year-old cropped navy trousers with the gold zippered waistband. Knowing that I waited 30 minutes to try them, and that I paid around $60, only makes the acquisition seem more epic.
“The Zara in-store experience feels different than other fast fashion brands because they merchandise with such an emphasis on individual pieces,” says Maggie Shea, owner of brand strategy consultancy HotHouse Collaborative, and a big fan of Zara coats. “They isolate and highlight a statement piece or an elevated basic, surprise you with material and great detail, and then, bam!—they hit you with a reasonable price point. You can’t help but fall in love.”
Eventually, the honeymoon will end. After all, it wasn’t that long ago Twin Cities shoppers were dancing outside H&M. But the magic of Zara is likely to keep shoppers coming back for more.
Then again, we always want what we don’t have, so let’s start the campaign for UNIQLO . . . now!