Zara reopens its doors in Belfast - and here's a sneak peak of what's inside the expanded store
It has been one of the most anticipated store openings in Belfast for years - finally today, after almost three months, fashion chain Zara opens its doors.
The revamped city centre store now has a whopping 1,600 sq metres of retail space - 400 sq metres more than previously - and has also almost doubled the number of people it employs from 60 to 103, creating much-needed jobs in the retail sector.
Zara, which is beloved by supermodels and stars alike, closed in January for an ambitious 15-week refit and expansion. The Spanish brand is famous for its cutting-edge collections and chic European styling which offer fashion-forward clothing at high street prices.
In a special preview, the Belfast Telegraph got a behind-the-scenes peek at the new store as merchandisers, sales staff, shop fitters and cleaners worked frantically to get the new store looking pristine ahead of the opening.
And there are some big changes inside and out. The facade onto Donegall Place has been relocated to create a new entrance, with the expansion taking over former retail premises on the corner of Castle Street. Meanwhile, newly created window space will showcase all the collections in store at any time - previously it was just womenswear.
And local fashionistas can expect even more choice as all the collections have expanded, and the store will have two deliveries a week of lines that reflect global trends and the tastes of the Belfast shopper.
Two whole floors have now been devoted to the womenswear collections which will feature both the Zara and Trafaluc brands - the latter of which is aimed at younger women in their 20s. Menswear and childrenswear now share the top floor in a newly spruced-up environment featuring neutral painted walls, clean lines and special overhead lighting to guide the shopper through each zone and let the clothes take centre stage.
Zara's collections for summer are heavily influenced by two trends, the 1970s and the 1990s, evoking some of the best references of those eras including denim, suede, boho prints and fringing. The tailoring for women is body-hugging silhouettes with tops, cropped blazers, white jeans and micro dresses making a comeback alongside retro and romantic prints.
Inside, the Belfast store is the first one in Ireland to feature the chain's new retail concept which is said to evolve with the shopper.
The Zara business model, which doesn't slavishly follow catwalk trends or use advertisements, is heavily based on customer feedback which sees the most popular lines, colours and styles evolving over any one season.
The opinion of the Zara customer will dictate which colours and styles are most coveted, and they will appear again in collections - which the company attributes as the secret to its international success.
This vital customer information is constantly fed back between store and the 200 designers at Zara through daily analysis of sales data and anecdotal information to customer reactions to its fashions and accessories.
The new store also has impressive green credentials, installing new systems to ensure the most efficient use of water, heat and light.
- Zara's Belfast store is the first one in Ireland to feature the new store concept
- The fashion chain does not advertise; its philosophy is by giving customers what they want when they want it is the best draw
- Collections evolve in store according to customer demand
- Fast product turnaround is enabled by having over half of its manufacturing in or close to Spain
- Technology is a key part of the business strategy, fully rolled out RFid (frequency identification in stocks) in Zara UK leads to much more efficient stock control and ensuring the right items in most demand are on the shop floor for customers
- A small commitment of products at the start of each season means each store can adapt its collections throughout the season, according to customer demands