Fast Retailing prioritises innovation

15 October 2012

TOKYO: Fast Retailing, the owner of fashion chain Uniqlo, is prioritising long-term innovation over "chasing trends" as it seeks to fuel growth in its home market of Japan and abroad.

Speaking to Wired magazine, Tadashi Yanai, the chief executive of Fast Retailing, argued it was attempting to mirror approaches seen in areas like the technology, rather than apparel, sector.

He said: "In general, the apparel industry isn't about continual process improvement or making the perfect piece of denim, it's about chasing trends."

"At Uniqlo we're thinking ahead. We're thinking about how to create new, innovative products … and sell that to everyone."

The pioneering products that have been rolled out by Uniqlo include Heattech "innerwear", Ultra Light Down and Danpan Warm Pants, which retain extra heat, and are thus especially popular during winter.

Its Sarafine and Silky Dry range of clothing and exercise wear also promise to reduce perspiration levels while not compromising on style.

Such thinking has extended into the retail arena more broadly, with Uniqlo last month opening a "Bicqlo" store, selling its goods directly alongside those of appliance chain Bic Camera, in Tokyo.

Uniqlo's chief operating officer, Yasunobu Kyogoku, recently told Wired Business: "The customer doesn't necessarily know what they want. Sometimes you have to find the answer within yourself."

In forming its supply chain, Uniqlo has also signed ten-year deals with firms such as Toray, the carbon fibre group, and numerous Chinese partners, to build innovative and enduring alliances.

"I think like a Silicon Valley entrepreneur," Yanai said. "Failure is a great teacher. At the same time you must remember, success will never last … Whether it's tech or fashion, it must be for the customer."

Uniqlo's 845 stores in Japan delivered 66.8% of Fast Retailing's sales over the year to August 2012, and it saw a 3.3% expansion in sales in its home market, to ¥620bn in this period. Its international operations also enjoyed a 63.4% lift in revenues to ¥153.1bn.

The company added an extra 111 foreign stores during the last 12 months, taking the total to 292, and aims to have 437 such outlets by the end of August of 2013.

Data sourced from Wired; additional content by Warc staff