Japan is known for its love of fashion. And now one of its bigger chains, the cheap and cheerful Uniqlo, is set to arrive on our shores.
Tadashi Yanai, the chairman and president of Uniqlo’s parent Fast Retailing, has confirmed Australia will figure in its audacious bid to become the world’s biggest casual clothing company.
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“We would like to get into the Australian market. Hopefully by 2012, if not by 2013 at the latest,” Yanai told The Australian, referring to plans to open 300 stores a year in other parts of Asia.
So what can we expect from Uniqlo, and what can we learn?
A Japanese power
Uniqlo founder Tadashi Yanai is Japan’s second richest man, with a fortune estimated by Forbes at $US7.6 billion earlier this year. He started the company in 1984 and started growing it aggressively in 1991; today there are almost 1,000 stores around the world. During a period in which Japan’s economy and business community has been under pressure, the expansion of Uniqlo has been a rare bright spot.
The casual revolution
Like companies such as The Gap, Tadashi Yanai has built an empire around the idea that casual clothes are not the preserve of the young and trendy. “The image I was aiming to project was that casual clothing is perfect for everyday use,” he said in a speech in 2001.
“In those days there were only two kinds of casual clothing – the cheap and poorly made kind or the brand labels that were of good quality but expensive. I realised that if I were to produce high quality and inexpensive clothing then it would be imperative to dispose of all waste in the process. I am proud that I have been able to achieve such a turnaround in people’s perceptions and produce clothing that people actually wear.”
A unisex approach
One key to the expansion of the business – and the adoption of casual clothes as fashion has been – Uniqlo’s ability to appeal to both genders. “I noticed that casual clothes are ageless – what is more they are unisex,” Yanai said in 2001. “Until that time we had made clothes aimed solely at young men, but we started creating clothing for people of all ages and both sexes.”
Get the staples right
One expatriate has labelled Uniqlo as the perfect place for skivvies and socks. Uniqlo is a fan of basics products and block colours – it’s not cutting edge, frilly or bold. Of course, this is part of the business strategy – if you can get them in for the basics, you might be able to tempt them with something a little more extravagant, such as a wool coats and cashmere jackets.
Cheap and cheerful
Uniqlo’s parent company isn’t called Fast Retailing for nothing. It competes firstly on price, although quality is comparable to The Gap and Bonds. It’s a lesson Yanai keeps in mind.
“Businesses are at the mercy of the evaluation of the consumer. There are customers who will only buy if the price is right and from the outset we must provide added value.”