By  on August 18, 2013

LONDON — Rosalía Mera, Spain’s richest woman, who founded and built Inditex with her former husband Amancio Ortega, has died, the company confirmed Friday.

“The Inditex Group is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Rosalía Mera. The group wishes to send its sincere condolences to her loved ones and friends at this extremely difficult time, after the loss of a person who contributed so much to the origins and development of the company,” the company said.

An Inditex spokeswoman declined further comment, saying the company wants to respect the family’s privacy.

According to press reports in Spain and Britain, Mera was 69 years old and had suffered a stroke on the island of Menorca, where she was on holiday. She was flown home to La Coruña, where she died Thursday evening. She was one of the richest women in the world, with a net worth of $5.5 billion.

Born in 1944, Mera dropped out of school at age 11 to work as a seamstress. In the Sixties, with husband Ortega, she started making dressing gowns and lingerie based on designer brands in their living room. By the early Seventies, they had several hundred employees and many retailers. Realizing they would profit more by selling directly to customers, they founded Inditex in 1975 and opened the first Zara store in La Coruña that the same year. The couple had intended to call it Zorba after the “Zorba the Greek” movie, but a bar in the city had already claimed the name. Since they already had molds for the letters, they opted for Zara.

Today, the company has more than 6,000 outlets for brands including Zara, Zara Home, Massimo Dutti and Bershka. In the year ended Jan. 31, the retailer notched net profits of $2.96 billion on sales of $20.48 billion.

Although Mera, a billionaire, no longer served on the board, she still owned 5.05 percent of the company through the family investment vehicle Rosp Corunna, according to an Inditex spokeswoman. Ortega continues to own 59.3 percent of Inditex. He is the richest person in Europe and the fourth-richest in the world with a net worth of about $57 billion.

Mera is survived by her daughter, Sandra, and her son, Marcos Ortega Mera.

After Inditex’s initial public offering in 2001, Mera put the $600 million that she netted at the time into a diverse range of interests: a marine fish farming group, a maker of a fingerprinting system for newborns and the pharmaceutical firm Zeltia. She also invested in London’s Bulgari Hotel and was behind a contest for young jazz musicians in Spain. Her Paideia Foundation works to integrate physically and mentally disabled people, like her son Marcos, into larger society.

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