LA CORUNA, Spain, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Rosalia Mera, who left school at 11 to work in a clothing store and as a seamstress and went on to found the Spanish retail chain Zara, has died. She was 69.
Zara, which became the flagship brand of the Inditex Group, made Mera the world's richest woman to acquire her wealth other than by inheritance, the Financial Times reported. Her ex-husband, Amancio Ortega, the co-founder of the chain, is the world's third-richest man.
Mera died early Thursday, shortly after she was flown back to her native Galicia from the resort island of Menorca, La Voz de Galicia reported. She suffered a cerebral hemorrhage Wednesday.
While Mera worked closely with her husband to build their company from a home business making bathrobes to a worldwide brand, she focused more on philanthropic work after they separated in 1986, the Times said. She founded Paideia Galiza, to help at-risk children.
The first Zara store opened in 1975 in La Coruna, the capital of Galicia, one of Spain's poorest provinces. Ortega, who had just seen the movie "Zorba the Greek," originally chose the name Zorba but changed it when the owner of a nearby bar named Zorba objected.
In 1986, Zara opened a store in Portugal, its first outside Spain. Inditex now has more than 5,500 stores around the world under the Zara name and others.
While Mera took a less active role after the divorce, she continued to be a co-owner and held 7 percent of the stock when Ortega created Inditex in 2001. She was believed to be worth almost $7 billion.
Ortega and Mera had a son and daughter.
Inditex released a statement Thursday announcing her death: "The Group wishes to send its sincere condolences to her loved ones and friends at this extremely difficult time, after the loss of a person who contributed so much to the origins and development of the Company."