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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.


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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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Politics of deceit: Anatomy of MoUs built on backstabbing, empty words

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Just like prior to 2002, Kenya is on the cusp of a regime change in 2022 hence the heightened political deal-making.

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Rafiki Microfinance in fresh crisis amid internal fall out – The Informer

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A deep pocketed investor is mulling walking away from a possible takeover of scandal hit Rafiki Microfinance bank which is under the management of Kenya’s deposit insurer, the Kenya Deposit Insurance Corporation (KDIC) amid internal management wrangling at the bank pitting rival camps, The Informer has established.

Those close to the foreign investors say the investors are likely to end possible buyout plans after reports of internal fighting and possible cover up of financial mismanagement by new management at the loss making micro-financier.

Rafiki -the third largest microfinance institution in Kenya – is currently over-sighted by KDIC which is headed by KDIC chief executive Mohamud Ahmed as the company hunts for a strategic investor to buy out the Chase bank shareholding.

The fights are likely to attract the eye of Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) investigators which has been keen on reining in possible bank collapses, after the fall of Chase Bank, The Informer has learnt.

The troubled Rafiki, which was owned by the collapsed Chase Bank, is in the middle of a transition and is seeking to recruit a chief executive officer (CEO) to replace its former Managing Director Ken Obimbo who recently left the post.

Obimbo who has been CEO since 2015 exited the company in March this year in controversial circumstances after a near six year stint.

Obimbo took over from Daniel Mavindu currently serving as the lender’s chairman.

Rafiki is working with an executive headhunter on the CEO search.

“The CEO will be expected to provide effective strategic leadership and direction to the management team with a view to accomplish the mandate of the bank,” said the firm involved in the search in a notice published in newspapers on April 16.

“Minimum qualifications (include) at least ten years of direct experience in financial services, seven of which should have been in top management positions in a Microfinance bank or similar environment.”

Ahead of the expected corner office hiring Rafiki has tapped its Chief Finance Officer (CFO) Paul Karanja Macharia to the helm of the CEO post in acting capacity.

Macharia has previously worked at Equity Bank and Chase Bank (Finance Departments) and was a Finance Manager at Chase Bank before joining Rafiki in 2016.

The roles were on the spotlight after the collapse of Chase Bank.

He will be acting CEO from 1st April 2021 for 90 days as the search for a substantive CEO is undertaken.

Amid the search for new CEO, the microfinancier is recording a string of high profile exits.

Insiders contend that Macharia has a reputation for bullying and harassing staff who approach him for approvals and is widely feared.

Macharia’s appointment has compounded the internal wrangling as employees form different camps to defend their roles.

“He enjoys being feared and mistreats staff in Finance Department leading to high number of staff exit in the department.” Another source intimated.

Under his brief role, the bank has been hit by high profile exits. Some say he has targeted non-Kikuyu staff at the bank in what raises the specter of possible tribalism at the micro-financier.

Among those who have faced the purge include former long serving Head of Marketing and Corporate Affairs Zak Syengo who is among the senior executives who have left the company in recent weeks under Macharia’s brief reign.

Syengo who is a close ally of the current chairman Daniel Mavindu and a former Strathmore alumni has resigned but is serving notice pending his exit.

Mavindu is a well-connected business man who still has vast interests in the lender does not see eye to eye with the acting CEO.

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It is alleged it is on this basis that the acting CEO Macharia has initiated a purge of senior level managers deemed not to be in his camp.

Other high profile exits include that of Derrick Lwatati who was the General Manager – Business Development.

Lwatati has been moved by Macharia to Rafiki Homes (a subsidiary of Rafiki dealing with development and sale of properties) as General Manager.

The move is widely viewed as a demotion considering the standing of the two companies and Rafiki homes not yet being operational and a continuation of the purge of non-Kikuyus.

Other high profile exits by Heads of Departments (HoDs) are expected at the bank in the near future.

At the centre of the mass exits are allegations that staff including HODs are being intimidated by the Acting MD and are fearing for their jobs.

Prevailing atmosphere among staff, The Informer, understands is that of fear and uncertainty staff are going through work motions just to protect their jobs.

HOD’s are said to be targeted and victimised and anyone deemed not to be in the CFO/ Acting MD’s camp is targeted for elimination.

Our investigations have established that the Head of Credit is on suspension, Head of Marketing has resigned, about 3 or 4 other HOD’s are already being targeted for suspension.

“The CFO/Acting MD is unprofessional and on a wide scale witch-hunt campaign. How many more staff must undergo this kind of injustice,” says part of a petition being filed for presentation to the National Assembly by workers.

“If this injustice is happening to senior managers then what is to expected to happen to the rank and file will this not adversely affect productivity,” adds the petition which is to be copied to KDIC, CBK and other regulators.

Workers have asked the CBK, KDIC, and the Rafiki Board that is led by Mavindu to address the complaints before it’s too late.

“How is the Board correcting these irregularities, are staff safe to air views contrary to those of the CFO/ Acting MD without fear of victimization,” says the petition.

The disputes have raised concerns among investors seeing that Rafiki’s parent company collapsed under duress.

Rafiki Microfinance Bank was a subsidiary of Chase Bank and launched its operations in the Kenyan market in 2011 targeting the microfinance industry.

Chase Bank was placed under receivership on April 7, 2016 following a run on deposits after reports of liquidity problems spread online.

Chase Bank was re-opened on April 27, 2016 under the management of the Kenya Deposit Insurance Corporation (KDIC).

Mauritian lender SBM Bank in 2018 carved out and bought 75 per cent of certain assets and liabilities from Chase Bank in what was considered as cherry-picking ‘good assets.’

Rafiki was a subsidiary of Chase bank but was not bought by SBM.

Rafiki has 19 branches spread across 11 counties in Kenya.

The fights have threatened to derail multibillion ongoing programs by the lender.

Jubilee Insurance in 2015 inked a bancassurance deal with Rafiki Microfinance Bank to distribute life insurance products in a bid to further boost its presence in the country.

Jubilee Insurance CEO Patrick Tumbo said then the partnership with Rafiki will help in improving access to life insurance products among Kenyans.

“This partnership will enable Rafiki Microfinance Bank customers to access our life products with ease from their banker across the country,” Tumbo added then.

Germany’s insurance and asset management firm Allianz which serves more than 100 million retail and corporate customers in more than 70 countries worldwide recently completed the acquisition of 66 percent stake (1,522,622 ordinary shares) in Jubilee General Insurance Company (Kenya), leaving the holding company (JHL) with 34 percent of the shares.

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June Ruto Engaged To Nigerian Professor In A Low-key Ceremony –

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June Ruto, daughter to Deputy President Willian Ruto on Saturday, May 8, 2021 got engaged to the love of his life, Alexander Ezenagu.

Alexander Ezenagu is a Nigerian who works as an assistant Law Professor at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar.

According to Nigerian politician and businessman Osita Chidokevent who attended the event at Ruto’s Karen home, the event was “small and simple, and family-focused”.

“His position as Deputy President was relegated as he played the role of a father. Hon. Ruto and his wife (Racheal) were great hosts. I regaled them with Igbo customs, proverbs, and more. They are looking forward to visiting Ani Igbo to eat roasted yam and red oil. They also want to see Umuaro and Umuofia as described by Chinua Achebe. Well, I told them that visiting Obosi and Alex’s village Uli will suffice,” posted Chidokevent on Facebook.

Read: Junet Castigates DP Ruto For Proposing Further Amendments To BBI Bill

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Chidokevent says that he was the chief negotiator for the brideprice, which has already been agreed upon.

“I was the negotiator at the bride price settlement ceremony. We haggled, we negotiated and at the end, we agreed on how many cows would be a fair price for the hands of June,” he added.

It is not yet clear when the wedding will be held, but it might not be far away.

Email your news TIPS to [email protected] or WhatsApp +254708677607. You can also find us on Telegram through www.t.me/kahawatungu

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