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Rosalia Mera, Spain’s richest woman; at 69

Rosalia Mera

EPA/File 2003

Rosalia Mera

MADRID — Rosalia Mera, a seamstress who cofounded a clothing store in Spain that grew into Zara, one of the world’s largest retail chains, has died at the age of 69. She was Spain’s richest woman.

Inditex SA, the owner of Zara, issued a statement Friday confirming her death but did not provide more details and declined comment via e-mail. Spanish media widely reported that Ms. Mera, a major stakeholder in Inditex, suffered a stroke while on vacation on the Mediterranean island of Menorca and died Thursday night at a hospital in La Coruna, the city where she was born in Spain’s Galicia region.

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Ms. Mera founded the first Zara store in 1975 in La Coruna with her husband at the time, Armancio Ortega. He is listed by Forbes as the world’s third-richest person.

They were going to call the store Zorba after the ‘‘Zorba the Greek’’ movie, but there was a bar with that name a few blocks away from the site, so the letters on the Zorba sign were rearranged to spell out Zara.

The store specialized in low-priced versions of more expensive popular clothes, and the formula turned into a success, with stores opening across Spain and then internationally.

Ms. Mera held 6.99 percent of Inditex stock, according to company filings at the Madrid stock exchange, and her fortune was estimated by Forbes at $6.1 billion. The magazine says she was the world’s 195th richest person but was in the number one spot on its list for ‘‘wealthiest self-made woman.’’

She also became known for voicing opposition to the current conservative government’s plans to change Spanish abortion laws. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is a close ally of the Catholic Church on moral and social issues and has repeatedly said he will revise Spain’s abortion law, though he has not yet offered any proposals. The previous Socialist government passed a law allowing 16-year-olds to get abortions without parental consent. Ms. Mera said that law is ‘‘just fine’’ and ‘‘should be left as it is.’’

In addition, she opposed government cutbacks in the name of austerity affecting Spain’s cherished education and national health care programs.

Besides the Zara chain, Inditex also owns retailers Bershka, Masssimo Dutti, Oysho, Pull & Bear, Stradivarius, Uterque, and Zara Home. There are 1,763 Zara stores around the world.

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