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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

Screens in a Zara store in Bilbao, Spain.

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(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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General

Sordid tale of the bank ‘that would bribe God’

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Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.
BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.
It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.
BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.
The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.
He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.
In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  
BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.
The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.
The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.
It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.
The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.
It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”
This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.
The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.
And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.
“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.
BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.
“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.
A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.
“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.
CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.
This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.
For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.
In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.
Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 
The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.
Criminal culture
In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).
The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.
This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.
Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.
“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.
These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.
“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.
BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).
Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).
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Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

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Agricultural Development Corporation Chief Accountant Gerald Karuga on the Spot Over Fraud –

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Gerald Karuga, the acting chief accountant at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), is on the spot over fraud in land dealings.

ADC was established in 1965 through an Act of Parliament Cap 346 to facilitate the land transfer programme from European settlers to locals after Kenya gained independence.

Karuga is under fire for allegedly aiding a former powerful permanent secretary in the KANU era Benjamin Kipkulei to deprive ADC beneficiaries of their land in Naivasha.

Kahawa Tungu understands that the aggrieved parties continue to protest the injustice and are now asking the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe Karuga.

A source who spoke to Weekly Citizen publication revealed that Managing Director Mohammed Dulle is also involved in the mess at ADC.

Read: Ministry of Agriculture Apologizes After Sending Out Tweets Portraying the President in bad light

Dulle is accused of sidelining a section of staffers in the parastatal.

The sources at ADC intimated that Karuga has been placed strategically at ADC to safeguard interests of many people who acquired the corporations’ land as “donations” from former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Despite working at ADC for many years Karuga has never been transferred, a trend that has raised eyebrows.

“Karuga has worked here for more than 30 years and unlike other senior officers in other parastatals who are transferred after promotion or moved to different ministries, for him, he has stuck here for all these years and we highly suspect that he is aiding people who were dished out with big chunks of land belonging to the corporation in different parts of the country,” said the source.

In the case of Karuga safeguarding Kipkulei’s interests, workers at the parastatals and the victims who claim to have lost their land in Naivasha revealed that during the Moi regime some senior officials used dubious means to register people as beneficiaries of land without their knowledge and later on colluded with rogue land officials at the Ministry of Lands to acquire title deeds in their names instead of those of the benefactors.

Read Also: Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme To Undergo Viability Test Before Being Privatised

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“We have information that Karuga has benefitted much from Kipkulei through helping him and this can be proved by the fact that since the matter of the Naivasha land began, he has been seen changing and buying high-end vehicles that many people of his rank in government can’t afford to buy or maintain,” the source added.

“He is even building a big apartment for rent in Ruiru town.”

The wealthy officer is valued at over Sh1.5 billion in prime properties and real estate.

Last month, more than 100 squatters caused scenes in Naivasha after raiding a private firm owned by Kipkulei.

The squatters, who claimed to have lived on the land for more than 40 years, were protesting take over of the land by a private developer who had allegedly bought the land from the former PS.

They pulled down a three-kilometre fence that the private developed had erected.

The squatters claimed that the former PS had not informed them that he had sold the land and that the developer was spraying harmful chemicals on the grass affecting their livestock and homes built on a section of the land.

Read Also: DP Ruto Wants NCPB And Other Agricultural Bodies Merged For Efficiency

Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Kisilu Mutua later issued a statement warning the squatters against encroaching on Kipkuleir’s land.

“They are illegally invading private land. We shall not allow the rule of the jungle to take root,” warned Mutua.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee recently demanded to know identities of 10 faceless people who grabbed 30,350 acres of land belonging to the parastatal, exposing the rot at the corporation.

ADC Chairman Nick Salat, who doubles up as the KANU party Secretary-General, denied knowledge of the individuals and has asked DCI to probe the matter.

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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William Ruto eyes Raila Odinga Nyanza backyard

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Deputy President William Ruto will next month take his ‘hustler nation’ campaigns to his main rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, in an escalation of the 2022 General Election competition.

Acrimonious fall-out

Development agenda

Won’t bear fruit

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