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Esprit Poaches From Zara for Comeback Attempt

Will Esprit ever be as cool as it was in the '80s?
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It makes sense that retailers would want to emulate a business model as successful as Zara's. Its owner, Amancio Ortega, is the world's third richest man, and parent company Inditex reported sales of $20.7 billion last year alone.

Esprit, a brand that hasn't been all that cool or successful since the '80s (when it was really cool), hopes that revamping its business model in the image of Zara's will complete its ongoing makeover into a more profitable and fashion-forward brand. And perhaps help it reclaim the stylish image -- not to mention sales -- it had in the '80s and '90s.

Specifically, that means upgrading technology and distribution to keep up with Zara's disturbingly fast turnaround on designs, Reuters reports. Esprit has brought on several former Zara staffers, including Jose Manuel Martinez Gutierrez, who spent nearly 10 years perfecting Zara's supply chain -- which uses math and robots -- to make that goal a reality. He told Reuters he's already invested in a "state of the art, fully automated distribution center" in Germany.

Martinez said the brand, which saw its full-year profit plummet 98% in 2011 -- forcing it to close all stores in North America, will also focus on improving design and value for money. One important difference between Esprit and Zara, though, is that while Zara owns all of its own stores, one fifth of Esprit locations are franchised, meaning different entities are in control of inventory and pricing. This could make Esprit's attempts to mimic Zara's speedy distribution model a bit more difficult.

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Still, Esprit seems set on keeping up with high street giants like Zara, H&M and Uniqlo. But will the brand's product and image get to where it needs to be to compete? Over the past couple of years, the brand has experimented with trendier styles, collaborated with big-name models like Gisele Bündchen and Christy Turlington, and debuted cool, artsy-looking campaigns and videos. Those efforts haven't made much of an impact for the most part, so it sounds like the brand has a ways to go before we can truly call this a comeback.