Zara is opening its doors in downtown Seattle on Thursday, the end of a long wait for well-traveled fashionistas on a budget.
Zara is famous for building a successful global brand out of “fast fashion.” Its designers closely follow what’s happening on the runway, and quickly deliver ready-to-wear apparel inspired by haute couture. The company is constantly tweaking its collection in response to local customer reaction, with stores receiving new items twice a week to keep things fresh.
Zara is also known for its lavish storefronts in major global crossroads, such as New York’s Fifth Avenue and the Champs Élysées in Paris. The prime location helps draw in new customers and gives luster to its stylish but relatively inexpensive clothes.
Now, with an 8,200-square-foot store that’s taking a big chunk of the front of Westlake Center, the retailer expects that gore tex-clad Seattle will embrace Euro chic.
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“It’s an interesting challenge,” said Jesús Echevarría, chief communications officer for Inditex, Zara’s corporate parent and the world’s largest fashion retailer. The conglomerate is based in the Galician city of A Coruña, in Spain’s own rain-soaked northwestern corner. Echevarría added that due diligence had shown that Seattleites had “a lot of interest” in having a Zara of their own.
The arrival of a global giant is also a step up for Westlake Center, a shopping mall that has lagged in relation to neighboring retail. Recently it’s experienced some revitalization, with Nordstrom Rack and Portland athletic wear brand Respect Your Universe opening.
“This is a game-changer,” said Jeff Green, a retail real-estate consultant based in Phoenix. He said Westlake has suffered for years from a quirky layout and many retailers’ preference for being on the street next to other big retailers. “Zara is going to pull from the entire Seattle market.”
Mall owners General Growth Properties had no comment.
CoStar, a data provider that tracks commercial real estate, says that Westlake Center has about 24,000 square feet available for lease. GGP said in a fact sheet posted on its website that the mall has about 118,222 square feet of retail space.
Zara’s new store spans two floors with apparel for women, men and kids; its first floor offers a 141 feet wide facade onto Pine Street.
In a pre-opening tour, the front of the store was dominated by 1960s-inspired bright yellow and cyan coats retailing for $139; another part of the store highlighted animal prints. According to the store’s design philosophy, racks are uncluttered and clothes are arranged in colors and assortments that match.
In a retail universe increasingly penetrated by online commerce, “for us, the store is an essential place, and we take care of it, ” Echevarría said.
Zara has 49 stores in the United States, mostly concentrated along the East and West coasts. As of October, there were about 1,800 Zaras around the world. Echevarría said that Zara has been expanding here by looking at individual opportunities, “step by step.”
Nelson Fraiman, a Columbia Business School professor who closely studies Zara, said that in the U.S. stiff competition and general indifference toward avant-garde fashion has kept a lid on the company’s growth. But when Zara decides to invest “they’re very smart” in picking their locations, he said.
Zara is treading on a path carved by Sweden’s H & M, also an affordable yet fashionable apparel retailer that opened its first Seattle store in 2008.
Now H & M has six stores in the Puget Sound region. Suitsupply, a Dutch purveyor of affordable tailored suits, opened its 10th U.S. location in Seattle in January.
Zara’s Seattle debut may help convince other retailers that the city is ready for fashion that goes beyond fleece and polypropylene offered by Patagonia and REI.
“Seattle has been viewed as crunchy, more health conscious and less status and apparel-oriented,” said Green, the retail real-estate consultant. “So it’s nice to know that it’s changing.”
Ángel González: 206-464-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @gonzalezseattle