Made to Measure

Every rag-trade magnate seems to have a rags-to-riches tale. Amancio Ortega Gaona's begins in the '50s, when he was working at the Espuma clothing store in his Spanish hometown, A Coruña. A basic but expensive quilted housecoat got Ortega to thinking: he could make a more affordable version, and women would buy it. In 1963 he set up shop in the family kitchen with his sister and brother, producing dressing gowns and lingerie.

Today, the Ortegas' company, Inditex, is an innovative fashion powerhouse valued at more than $8 billion. Its biggest chain, Zara, has emerged as a serious challenger to Gap,...

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