Words from the Wardrobe
translating fashion websites

Translating fashion websites

Cultural nuances that can also affect website design


So, May is almost over. Winter has been and gone. Spring arrived and with it came warmer weather (at least in Spain) and a busier social calendar full of weddings, christenings, first communions, hen dos and divorce parties. If there is one thing we like in Spain, it is a reason to celebrate.

And we like to dress for the occasion too. Spanish fashion is highly esteemed abroad. Many important Spanish designers are a hit all over the world and loads of our fashion, accessory and shoe brands may not appear on the front page of the magazines every day, but have been exporting their products for years.

Although Spanish fashion vocabulary is riddled with foreign words, particularly English and French, it is a sector that also involves important cultural differences that we need to be aware of if we want to reach customers in other countries.

Moreover, when it comes to fashion websites and ecommerce portals, these cultural differences could require changes to the website design. That is why it is important that translators and programmers work together.

As I have explained before, when we develop a software product or a website or create marketing content, we must remember that we may need to translate or adapt it to other languages or cultures in the future. Thinking about localization even before you start developing the original product will save time and money when you expand abroad.

I am going to tell you about a recent project, which is an example of what could happen when we do not bear this in mind.

The big day and the role of mothers

A little while ago, I was asked to translate a Spanish fashion company’s website into English, French, Italian and Portuguese.

The company specialises in occasion, party and event outfits. The website used three categories to display its products: Cóctel/evento, Fiesta and Madrina.

The concept and importance of the role of the madrina is not the same in every country.

Although this concept has become broader, the madrina is the mother of the groom at a traditional Spanish wedding. After the bride, she is the person who possibly attracts the most attention, and therefore dresses differently to other wedding guests. Because of this, many brands have specific madrina collections.

In France, the role of the groom’s mother does not hold the same relevance as in Spain, which would mean that it would not make much sense to have a specific section on the French version of the website.

In Portugal, the concept and relevance of the role of the mother of the groom is very similar.

In Italy, although the concept of mother of the groom exists, the role is not as relevant to warrant having its own collection. It is an outfit that would be part of an event collection, i.e. Italian women would not search for “mother of the groom dresses” on the Internet.

In the United Kingdom, this role is usually taken by the mother of the bride, since traditionally, the bride’s family would pay for the wedding.

Together with my collaborators, we tried to find the best equivalents for each category in each language, taking these differences into account. This was our first conclusion:

In French, we decided to change the category to something more generic, Cérémonie (Ceremony) which would include all types of outfits perfect for attending ceremonies.

In Portuguese, we kept the same category as the Spanish and translated it as Madrinha.

In English, we opted for the Mother of the Bride concept, since many department stores have a specific collection.

In Italian, we decided to use only two categories: Cocktail ed eventi and Cerimonia. The problem with maintaining the Festa category would be that users may understand that the mother of the groom outfits were with the New Years’ party outfits, which does not correspond with the Spanish concept of vestido de fiesta, which is more suited to outfits for grand events like gala dinners or film releases.

The Spanish term madrina does not represent the same concept in all countries

We have hit a dead end with templates

As you can see, we were able to reach a solution for almost all of the languages by broadening or limiting the meaning.

However, we also needed to change the website design for the Italian version.

The problem is that the website was made with a content editor that works with templates and plugins. This type of method means that you need to insert a target language equivalent for every piece of content in the source language.

The company that designed the Spanish website made me create three categories in Italian. They said that “changing the website design to create just two categories in Italian would cost time and money”. In the end, we chose Cocktail ed eventi, Abiti da festa and Cerimonia. Three categories that respect the website’s original structure but that are not particularly useful to an Italian user for the reasons given above.

You are probably thinking that it is not really a big deal, but when you can’t compete with prices, you need to compete with quality. Paying attention to these minor details shows that you understand your customers’ culture and can make your company stand out from the competition.

This is just a little example of why it is important to think about the international dimension of a product or service during the planning stage, and not leave it until the end, when the product is already on the market. In the case of ecommerce pages, you may find that not all your products will sell in all countries. Just imagine the consequences of translating the content for products that you know you’re not going to sell just to stop your website from being wonky.

How can we avoid this? By ensuring that we develop products that are ready to go global. Even if you do not know what languages you are going to need, speaking to your translation provider will help you understand the parts that should be localized and how to do it properly from the start.

Would you like to know how to internationalise your products successfully? Check out some of my other blog posts or email me and tell me about your project.

See you for the next post!

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