Armancio Ortega,  founder and chairman of Spanish fashion group Inditex, understands the power of metaphor. In an article this week in The Economist, the 75-year-old Galician compares fashion with fish.

The metaphor is particularly appropriate for a man born and bred in a small fishing village next to the famous Spanish fishing port of La Coruña.

Flogging fashion is like selling fish, he says.  Fresh fish, like a freshly cut jacket in the latest colour, sells quickly and at a high price. Yesterday’s catch must be discounted and may not sell at all. The article goes on to say that this simple insight has made Inditex one of the world’s two biggest clothes makers. From its base near La Coruña, Inditex’s main brand, Zara, has conquered Europe.




So one metaphor, expanded by a simile, serves to illustrate the entire business model of Inditex and to explain its success since its founding in 1975. Other fashion companies have their goods produced in China and ship them long distances to their markets.  Inditex still sources over half its products from nearby: Spain, Portugal and Morocco; 70 per cent of its sales are in Europe. This enables the company to serve up the latest fashion based on what people want to wear right now. For example if rain is forecast for northern Europe on a particular weekend, Inditex will dispatch more trendy trenchcoats to its Zara stores.

Facts and figures are important in substantiating claims and arguments. But they are not as memorable or powerful as metaphors.

Of all the articles I have read this week, this one in The Economist sticks particularly in my mind. Why? And how? Metaphors paint pictures. They they talk directly to our subconscious and only indirectly to our mind. They tell stories and evoke  moods. When I read that article I thought about a quayside market in La Coruña. I could hear Galician voices speaking . The fish looked shiny and firm like this besugo (sea bream). It smelled fresh – in my mind at least.  That’s because metaphors evoke different associations and feelings in different people. We give them the flavour and colours we want to. We personlise them and they become ours. Which is why we remember them. And when we remember they come alive in a way that is more vibrant and credible than any stored fact. That’s because they come from within our own subconscious. And because they come from there we believe them unquestioniongly, as our own thoughts and experiences, like a faith. As the Jamaican ginger grower said in a memorable McVities Gingernuts advertisement,  I knows it, I grows it!




— Emma Robson