Getty Images/Xurxo Lobato
Amancio Ortega is not your typical billionaire.
He spends his days quietly strolling through the central plaza of the Galician city of La Coruña in northern Spain wearing a decidedly unstylish ensemble of a blue blazer, white shirt and gray trousers, and he is often found enjoying cafeteria lunches with factory workers at his company. There is little to indicate he has a net worth of about $80B, a figure that makes him the richest person in Europe, the richest retailer in the world and, for a brief moment in 2015, the wealthiest person on the planet.
Until 1999, no one had ever published a photo of Ortega, and he reportedly has only granted interviews to three journalists in his entire life. But while many may not have heard of him, they have likely worn Ortega’s clothing. Ortega is the founder and majority owner of Inditex, the largest fashion group in the world, best known for its flagship brand Zara. The clothing company also owns Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Zara Home, Kiddy's Class, Tempe, Stradivarius, Pull and Bear and Bershka. With more than 6,000 stores around the world, the only person who apparently doesn’t wear Inditex’s clothes is Ortega himself.
Born in a small Spanish village in 1936, the youngest son of a railway worker and housemaid, Ortega learned at a young age how to make clothes by handworking for a local shirtmaker. He worked his way up through the textile industry, eventually revolutionizing the business through his Zara stores. Thanks to a shortened supply chain, the company can take concepts from fashion show runways and fashion blogs to the warehouse and then shop floors in three weeks, less than half the time it takes the competition. Most Zara clothes and other Inditex product lines are produced in Spain, Portugal and Morocco, rather than factories in China.
The result is posh, roomy stores filled with cutting-edge fashions at bargain prices. This fast fashion strategy made Ortega a fortune, which he has used to invest in smart, striking real estate, like Madrid’s Torre Picasso, the tallest building in Spain, and Miami’s Epic Residences and Hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels in the country.
While he retired in 2011, the 81-year-old Ortega still keeps busy — spending time with company workers, investing in charitable organizations and tending chickens on his country estate. — Joel Warner