Uniqlo Co., Ltd. (株式会社ユニクロ Kabushiki-gaisha yunikuro?) (pronounced "YOU-nee-klo") is a Japanese casual wear designer, manufacturer and retailer. The company, originally a division of Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., has been a wholly owned subsidiary since November 2005, listed on the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
In addition to Japan, the company operates in China, France, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Origin in Japan
Since March 1949, a Yamaguchi-based company, Ogori Shōji (which, until then, had been operating men's clothing shops called "Men's Shop OS") existed in Ube, Yamaguchi.
In May 1985, they opened a unisex casual wear store in Fukuro-machi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima under the name "Unique Clothing Warehouse". It was at this time that the name "Uniqlo" was born, as a contraction of "unique clothing". In September 1991, the name of the company was changed from "Ogori Shōji" to "Fast Retailing", and by April 1994, there were over 100 Uniqlo stores operating throughout Japan.
Private Label Strategy
In 1997, Fast Retailing adopted a set of strategies from American retailer The Gap, known as "SPA" (for specialty-store/retailer of private-label apparel), meaning that they would produce their own clothing and sell it exclusively. Uniqlo had begun outsourcing their clothing manufacturing to factories in China where labour was cheap, a well-established corporate practice. Japan was in the depths of a recession at the time, and the low-cost, high-quality goods proved popular. Their advertising campaigns also proved fruitful.
In November 1998, they opened their first urban Uniqlo store in Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku district, and outlets soon spread to major cities throughout Japan. In 2001, sales turnover and gross profit reached a new peak, with over 500 retail stores in Japan. When Uniqlo decided to expand overseas, it separated Uniqlo from the parent company, and established Fast Retailing (Jiangsu) Apparel Co., Ltd. in China. In 2002 their first Chinese Uniqlo outlet was opened in Shanghai along with four overseas outlets in London, England.But sales did not go well in England, and stocks in Japanese warehouses were overflowing. In 2002 and 2003, Uniqlo profits dropped sharply. In 2004, the company began joint ventures with Japanese fashion magazines, and hired such celebrities as Norika Fujiwara to appear in commercials. They teamed up with new designers, and profits rose, including at London outlets. The acquisition of other fashion companies by Fast Retailing also helped the struggling company get back on its feet.
Uniqlo in Shinsaibashi, Osaka. 2005 saw more overseas expansion, with stores opening in the United States (New York), Hong Kong (Tsim Sha Tsui) and South Korea (Seoul), their South Korean expansion being part of a joint venture with Lotte. As of year-end 2005, in addition to its overseas holdings, Uniqlo had around 700 stores within Japan. By 2006 sales were $4 billion. By April 2007, the company had set a global sales goal of $10 billion and a ranking among the top five global retailers, joining what at the time was Gap, H&M, Inditex, and Limited Brands.
Fast Retailing signed a design consulting contract for Uniqlo products with fashion designer Jil Sander in March 2009. Shiatzy Chen has been approached by Uniqlo to produce a capsule collection of ready to wear pieces to launch in November 2010 while Asia's largest Uniqlo store outside Japan opened its doors in Kuala Lumpur in the same month.
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"In creating its clothing lines, Uniqlo embraces both shun and kino-bi. Shun means 'timing, best timing, but also at the same time it's a trend,' something that's updated and just in time, neither early nor late. The company offers clothing basics, but basics that are current, that respond to what's going on today in art and design. Kino-bi means function and beauty, joined together: the clothing is presented in an organized, rational manner, and that very organization and rationality creates an artistic pattern and rhythm. All these qualities reflect the defining characteristics of modern Japanese culture, modern ' Japaneseness.'"
—Nobuo Domae, CEO, Uniqlo USA (April 2007)