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Zara has a fleet of secret stores where it plots how to get you to spend more money and win the fast-fashion arms race

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  • Zara has a collection of secret pilot stores at its headquarters in Spain, where it mocks up designs for its real stores.
  • The retailer employs a full-time team of architects and visual-merchandising experts whose sole job at Zara HQ is to design and curate every aspect of its fleet of stores, from the sleek decor and light-bulb color to the music being played and the exact positioning of clothing.
  • When we visited Zara’s pilot stores on a Tuesday afternoon, the teams were hard at work laying out the latest collection. While we were not able to photograph the future collection, Zara shared some photos with us that show what the space looks like.

It doesn’t matter if you’re shopping in New York, Hong Kong, or Bogotá — every Zara store you walk into has an identical aesthetic and an almost identical layout.

That doesn’t happen by chance. In fact, there is a full-time team of architects and visual-merchandising experts whose sole job at Zara HQ is to design and curate every aspect of the store, from the sleek decor and light-bulb color to the music being played and the exact positioning of clothing.

These two teams have a 3D canvas on which to test out their visions in the form of several mock Zara stores across all of its categories: women’s, men’s, TRF, and home.

These so-called “pilot stores” are hidden in the depths of Zara’s sprawling headquarters in northern Spain and are completely off-limits to the public.

They display upcoming collections that have never been seen publicly before and therefore harbor some of the secrets that allow Zara to keep up in the fast-fashion arms race.

When we visited Zara’s pilot stores on a Tuesday afternoon, the teams were hard at work laying out the latest collection. While we were not able to photograph the future collection, Zara shared some photos that show what the pilot store space looks like:

From the outside, the pilot stores do not look too dissimilar to a typical Zara store you might find in a mall. But don’t be fooled — these secret locations are completely off-limits to the public.


From the outside, the pilot stores do not look too dissimilar to a typical Zara store you might find in a mall. But don't be fooled — these secret locations are completely off-limits to the public.play

From the outside, the pilot stores do not look too dissimilar to a typical Zara store you might find in a mall. But don’t be fooled — these secret locations are completely off-limits to the public.

(Courtesy of Zara)

There is a pilot store for each of Zara’s categories: women’s, men’s, home, and TRF. These locations serve as the prototype stores for all Zara locations around the world.

Inside, Zara’s team of visual-merchandising experts are hard at work curating the store layout. It looks exactly like your typical Zara store, with the signature black-and-white color scheme and clothing displayed on racks and on mannequins. The only difference here is that this clothing won’t make its way to actual stores for another two weeks.


Inside, Zara's team of visual-merchandising experts are hard at work curating the store layout. It looks exactly like your typical Zara store, with the signature black-and-white color scheme and clothing displayed on racks and on mannequins. The only difference here is that this clothing won't make its way to actual stores for another two weeks.play

Inside, Zara’s team of visual-merchandising experts are hard at work curating the store layout. It looks exactly like your typical Zara store, with the signature black-and-white color scheme and clothing displayed on racks and on mannequins. The only difference here is that this clothing won’t make its way to actual stores for another two weeks.

(Courtesy of Zara)

The team here receives new items twice a week and then decides exactly how they should be displayed. This includes deciding what should be paired together and where it should be placed in the store to best draw in customers.

They use mannequins to show which clothing works well together to inspire customers and hopefully encourage them to buy complete outfits.

The design and layout of its stores are crucial for the business, not only because they create an appealing shopping experience, but also because this is the retailer’s main marketing avenue.


An example of Zara's store layout in one of its stores in Bilbao, Spain.play

An example of Zara’s store layout in one of its stores in Bilbao, Spain.

(Courtesy of Zara)

Zara is known for being one of few retailers that do not run conventional advertising. Therefore, its stores and website serve as the face of the brand.

The store needs to have a sleek, clean image that lets the clothes speak for themselves, a spokesperson for Zara told Business Insider, explaining why it opted for the minimalist, black-and-white color scheme.

A visual-merchandising expert who was working in the store during our visit said that the team positions the top trends of the moment, inspired by magazines, in the most visible areas of the store. For September, the big trend is animal prints, she said.


Zara has grown in popularity because of its ability to jump on trends quickly. It has often been accused of crossing the line between being inspired by a catwalk show or designer and actually copying them. This photograph shows a Zara store in Milan.play

Zara has grown in popularity because of its ability to jump on trends quickly. It has often been accused of crossing the line between being inspired by a catwalk show or designer and actually copying them. This photograph shows a Zara store in Milan.

(Courtesy of Zara)

The newer items are put near the entrance of the store to grab the attention of customers, as after all, they are in the business of selling newness, another employee says.

Another visual-merchandising expert who has worked at the company for 16 years said the design of the store hasn’t changed much in the time she has worked there.


This photograph is from a Zara store in Milan.play

This photograph is from a Zara store in Milan.

(Courtesy of Zara)

The focus has always been on “newness, newness, newness,” she almost chanted. This means that the stock is rotating constantly. By the time the newest collection is in position, the next clothing racks are arriving and ready to be arranged.

The biggest change the stores have seen over the past few years is the addition of screens, she said. “The store is evolving to adapt to the times and attract younger customers.”


Screens in a Zara store in Bilbao, Spain.play

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Screens in a Zara store in Bilbao, Spain.

(Courtesy of Zara)

Part of the reason for using the pilot stores is that they help to keep the brand image coherent, especially as the retailer has expanded enormously over the past two decades.


Zara has grown from having one store in La Coruña to 2,238 locations in 96 countries around the world. This photograph shows the womenswear display at a Zara store in Milan.play

Zara has grown from having one store in La Coruña to 2,238 locations in 96 countries around the world. This photograph shows the womenswear display at a Zara store in Milan.

(Courtesy of Zara)

It also means that store managers can’t have completely free rein over the design.

Twice a year, at the launch of major trends or collections, store managers from around the world come to Zara’s HQ to visit the pilot stores and take photographs of the layout in order to replicate it in their own countries.

At this point, they also share their insights into what is working and what is not in their own country.

As Zara delivers new items to its stores every two weeks, the inventory and design of its stores are constantly changing.


Zara focuses on newness. Women's wear at a Zara store in Milan.play

Zara focuses on newness. Women’s wear at a Zara store in Milan.

(Courtesy of Zara)

Each time the pilot store is adjusted, store managers receive photographs of the new layout so they can easily update their stores.

Store managers also work with local commercial teams to discuss any necessary changes that need to be made to the layout in order to cater to different local tastes and seasons. For example, if it is the cold season in one region, jackets and coats are placed near the front of the store. Meanwhile, in countries with hot weather, the reverse will be true at that time.

According to one visual-merchandising expert, Zara modifies the store layout in Asia to be more appealing to a younger crowd, as that is the retailer’s primary customer there, she said.

Alongside the visual-merchandising experts, Zara has a team of 31 architects who are the brains behind all of the structural details in the store. They are called in when a new location is scouted by Zara’s expansion team to make the final call on whether what is being proposed for the space is actually possible.


Zara's sleek furniture design in one of its Milan stores.play

Zara’s sleek furniture design in one of its Milan stores.

(Courtesy of Zara)

From then on, every piece of furniture and light fixture in every store is designed by this team.

There is even a fake cash register set up in the pilot stores.


The cash register in this pilot store is identical to what you might find in one of Zara's standard locations.play

The cash register in this pilot store is identical to what you might find in one of Zara’s standard locations.

(Courtesy of Zara)

Architects talk to cashiers and sales assistants who work in Zara stores to determine the most logical layout in this area.

That includes determining the height of the register, the exact position of the security tag bin, and where to store old hangers. Each detail is thought out to make the process as efficient as possible and to ultimately serve more customers more quickly.

About 50 meters away from these pilot stores is a separate area and team that is devoted to creating the shop windows of each of Zara’s collections.


A sales assistant arranges the shop window in Soho, New York.play

A sales assistant arranges the shop window in Soho, New York.

(Courtesy of Zara)

“They decide the color, the decoration, and how the way to show the trends,” a spokesperson for Zara said.

The biggest trend of the moment will be put in the window. For early fall, the predominant trend is animal print.

This team dresses the mannequins, takes photos, and passes them on to stores. This display is changed every 18 to 20 days.


Zara in Soho, New York.play

Zara in Soho, New York.

(Courtesy of Zara)



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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