• 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:

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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.

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.

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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.
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.

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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.

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. Courtesy of Zara
An example of Zara’s store layout in one of its stores in Bilbao, Spain.

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.

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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.

A visual-merchandising expert who was working in the store during our visit said that...