By  on March 16, 2005

LONDON — Zara’s little sister has moved to London — and she’s ready to rock the High Street.

Bershka, the Inditex-owned juniors’ label, has just opened its first British flagship at 221 Oxford Street, a few yards from fast-fashion retail meccas Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Urban Outfitters and Zara.

The 10,800-square-foot space, formerly occupied by the retailer E Expensive, spans three floors and sells women’s wear, men’s wear and accessories. The offer is young, edgy and full of bright colors — the sort of clothing that takes stylish young things from day to night to early morning in Ibiza.  

There are hot pink fitted denim jackets, denim A-line skirts with braided fabric belts and cargo pants with satin belts for 25 pounds, or $48 at current exchange; cinnamon-colored fringed ponchos, jersey minidresses with knotted racer backs, and snappy cotton one-button jackets for 19 pounds, or $36, and an acid yellow leather biker jacket for 89 pounds, or $170. Cotton printed thong underwear costs 5 pounds, or $10, while T-shirts with cut-off sleeves cost 4 pounds, or $8.

Raul Estradera Vazquez, an Inditex spokesman, said the London opening is part of a Europe-wide rollout of Bershka stores. “London is the most competitive market in Europe, which is why we wanted to wait for the best location here,” he said during the soft opening last week. “We think it’s a very aggressive fashion offer that will fit well with customers in Great Britain.”

In December, the brand opened its first U.K. store, in Newcastle in northern Britain. Estradera Vazquez said Inditex would wait to see how both English stores did before rolling out more units in the U.K. Bershka launched in Spain in 1998, and in 2002 launched men’s wear. The chain is now the second-largest brand in the Inditex stable after Zara, and has 305 units worldwide, 80 percent of which are in Europe.

Last year alone, the brand opened 49 stores, eight of which were in France and six in Italy. There are Bershka units in Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Mexico, but Estradera Vazquez said there are currently no rollout plans for the U.S. Inditex generally has been cautious about expansion in the American market, where it has only a handful of stores. Inditex officials have said in the past that they believe the group still has significant room for expansion in Europe and want to focus on that growth first before tackling the U.S. in a significant way.The delivery cycle at Bershka is similar to Zara’s, with fresh product deliveries arriving twice a week, and the complete offer renewed every 4 to 5 weeks.

Estradera Vazquez said part of the brand’s strategy is to sound out its customers on the shop floor. “We’re very customer-oriented, and listen to what they have to say — and then we try to respond in a very short time,” he said.

No advertising is planned for the U.K., and Inditex is relying on the brand’s merchandise and window displays to speak for themselves. The current in-store design is simple — white floors, metal sales racks and bright green, pink and yellow walls. There is a mix of African masks, wooden parrots, palm trees, rattan peacock chairs, bird prints and giant photos from the latest in-house ad campaign. The windows are filled with the same kooky jungle theme.

In 2003, Bershka’s sales were 395 million euros, or $525.4 million, equal to 8.5 percent of Inditex’s overall sales. The company, whose fiscal year ended on Jan. 31, will announce 2004 sales in the next few weeks.

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