MADRID (AP) — Rosalia Mera, a seamstress who co-founded a clothing store in northwestern Spain that grew into one of the world’s largest retail chains, has died at the age of 69. She was Spain’s richest woman and a major stakeholder in Inditex SA, the owner of the Zara chain that expanded rapidly across the globe over the past several decades.
Inditex issued a statement Friday confirming her death but did not provide more details and declined comment via email. Spanish media widely reported that Mera suffered a stroke while on vacation on the Mediterranean island of Menorca and died Thursday night at a hospital in La Coruna, the city where she was born in Spain’s Galicia region.
Mera founded the first Zara store in 1975 in La Coruna with her then-husband, Armancio Ortega. He is listed by Forbes as the world’s third-richest person.
They were originally going to call the store Zorba after the “Zorba the Greek” movie, but there was a bar with that name a few blocks away from the site, so the letters on the Zorba sign were rearranged to spell out Zara.
The store 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.
Mera held 5.1 percent of Inditex, and her fortune was estimated by Forbes at $6.1 billion. The magazine says she was the world’s 195th richest person but was in the No. 1 spot on its list for “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, though he has not yet tabled any proposals. The previous Socialist government passed a law allowing 16 year olds to get abortions without parental consent. 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 cherished education and national health care programs.
Besides the Zara chain, Inditex also owns retailers Bershka, Masssimo Dutti, Oysho, Pull & Bear, Stradivarius, Uterque 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.