Surging demand for $100 Zara dresses and $3,000 Prada handbags in emerging markets has created three new billionaires who hail from countries at the center of the European debt crisis.
Sandra Ortega Mera, the 44-year-old daughter of Amancio Ortega, Europe’s richest man, is worth $1.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. She owns 1 percent of Arteixo, Spain-based Inditex SA, the world’s largest clothing retailer and owner of the Zara clothing chain, whose shares have gained 58 percent this year as unemployment in its home country hovers above 20 percent.
Marina Prada and her brother Alberto Prada Bianchi -- two grandchildren of Prada SpA founder Mario Prada -- are worth $2.6 billion each. Shares of the Italian luxury-goods maker are up 75 percent year-to-date in Hong Kong trading. The Italian government said in September the country’s gross domestic product will probably fall 2.4 percent this year.
“You can’t really get more of a difficult home market than Italy and Spain right now,” said Rahul Sharma, managing director at Neev Capital, a London-based retail advisory firm. “For both companies, the ability to deliver a sense of freshness to their customers has been a big part of their success in Europe. When customers feel like they are seeing something different they are a lot less price sensitive. That becomes aspirational when you go to Asia where the product seems more exotic.”
None of the three billionaires has appeared on an international wealth ranking. Jose Leyte, a spokesman for Sandra Ortega, said she declined to comment on her net worth. A spokesman for Prada in Milan said the siblings also declined to comment.
Defying Spain’s and Italy’s ravaging debt loads and the threat of impending fiscal austerity measures, shares of Inditex and Prada are rising on the demand for their products in countries such as China and Brazil.
Zara’s pricing is an enticement for cost-conscious shoppers searching for affordable fashion. The chain offers items such as $17 scarves and $60 skirts. Inditex, which operates eight retail lines, opened 166 stores in about 100 cities during the first half, including 32 locations in China, the world’s second-largest economy. Zara’s first online store in China opened in September.
Inditex said last month that earnings rose 32 percent to 944 million euros ($1.2 billion) in the first half. Revenue increased 17 percent to more than 7 billion euros on the strength of its global market expansion, the company said.
Prada, which sells $3,000 handbags and $950 shoes, has benefited from Chinese consumers’ hunger for luxury goods. The company reported last month that first-half profit surged almost 60 percent to 289 million euros on a 19 percent revenue gain. Revenue of more than 1.5 billion euros was fueled by a 45 percent sales increase in the Asia Pacific region.
“We understand consumers from all over the world,” said Patrizio Bertelli, the company’s 66-year-old billionaire CEO, on the company’s earnings call Sept. 24. “For instance, Chinese consumers are much more fashion-conscious and aware of what they wear than they were a few years ago. Consumers globally need to be enticed to buy.”
Mario Prada opened his first luxury goods store in Milan in 1912. The store sold traveling trunks, leather handbags, beauty cases and leather accessories. In 1919, it became an official supplier to the Italian royal family. Prada emerged as an international brand in the 1970s, when his granddaughter Miuccia Prada led the company’s design strategy while Bertelli ran sales and distribution. Miuccia Prada, 64, is the company’s chairwoman. Bertelli is her husband.
Marina and Alberto Prada, who are Miuccia’s older siblings and whose ages couldn’t be confirmed, work as consultants to the company: Marina in public relations; Alberto in location scouting and distribution. They each own 12 percent stakes in Prada worth more than $2 billion through three Milan-based family holding companies: Bellatrix, Gipafin and Prada Holding BV.
Since 2009, Marina and Alberto have each accumulated a cash portfolio estimated at almost $200 million, including proceeds from dividends and shares sold in last year’s initial public offering.
Miuccia Prada and Bertelli each own 28 percent of the company. Their stakes are valued at about $5.7 billion. They have both earned more than $500 million from compensation, dividends and share sales since the IPO.
Inditex sold shares to the public in 2001, enriching both Amancio Ortega and his now ex-wife, Rosalia Mera. Mera, 68, who co-founded the company making women’s bathrobes out of the couple’s home in 1963, controls more than 4 percent of Inditex through Rosp Corunna, a closely held investment company based in La Coruna, Spain. Mera owns 86 percent of the shares held by the investment company; the couple’s daughter, Sandra Ortega, owns the remaining 14 percent.
While Sandra Ortega isn’t involved in Inditex management, she manages Rosp Corunna with her mother. The holding company sold about $550 million of Inditex stock in the IPO, and used the proceeds to fund a portfolio of startup companies, including Zeltia SA, a publicly traded Spanish pharmaceutical company, in which it owns a 5 percent stake.
Like her father, who passed Warren Buffett to become the world’s third-richest person in August, Sandra Ortega prefers to stay out of the limelight. A trained psychologist, she lives in Galicia on Spain’s northwest coast with her husband and three children.
Sandra Ortega also serves as vice president of the Fundacion Paideia Galiza, which focuses on helping disabled people integrate into general society. The foundation was inspired by her brother, Marcos, who is mentally impaired.
Retail accounts for almost half of the 20 biggest fortunes in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Amancio Ortega’s fortune now stands at $53.6 billion, more than $10 billion ahead of Ingvar Kamprad, founder of the IKEA furniture chain. Europe’s next three largest fortunes include L’Oreal SA cosmetics heiress Liliane Bettencourt, who has a net worth of $25.5 billion, as well as Hennes & Mauritz AB chairman Stefan Persson and LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA founder Bernard Arnault, both of whom have a net worth of about $25 billion.