Uniqlo: A Global Fashion Phenomenon

Uniqlo World's #1 Casual Wear Brand

About 15  years ago, the name Uniqlo might have drawn blank stares outside Japan. Fast forward to today, and it is synonymous with quality, affordability, and style on a global scale.

Uniqlo’s meteoric rise in recent years has positioned it as a formidable player in the international fast fashion arena. Competing with giants like ZARA (Inditex), H&M, and Gap, the company has still managed to expand rapidly.

What strategies did Uniqlo employ to carve out a substantial share of this highly competitive market so swiftly?

A few key factors underpin the brand’s success: a steadfast dedication to innovation and a distinctive company culture.

The founder, Tadashi Yanai, is known for saying, “Without a soul, a company is nothing.” This philosophy is embodied in the 23 Management Principles he established, which are instilled in every employee. These principles emphasize prioritizing customers, giving back to society, and fostering a culture of self-disruption.

The Uniqlo Brand Strategy

The brand’s message encapsulates a clear vision: “Uniqlo is a modern Japanese company that inspires the world to dress casually.” Rather than chasing fast-fashion trends like its competitors, the comapany’s corporate strategy has been to “totally ignore fashion trends.

The brand philosophy, “Made for All,” positions its clothing to transcend age, gender, ethnicity, and other distinctions. Contrary to its name, its clothes are simple, essential, yet universal, allowing wearers to blend them with their unique style.

This design-focused clothing brand offers unique functional performance through in-house fabric and design innovation. It sets itself apart from price-driven competitors by branding its signature innovations with names like HeatTech, LifeWear, and AIRism.

Uniqlo also provides an exceptional physical shopping experience by impeccably managing its stores, fostering a positive employee culture, and utilizing in-store technology such as video tutorials to highlight product attributes.

Key Success Factors

It is impossible to put the weight of Uniqlo’s global success on only a few strategies. But we have shortlisted the ones we believe had the most impact:

1. Delivery System Supporting a Clear Brand Promise

Defining a clear brand promise and consistently delivering on it across all customer touchpoints are two major challenges for any brand. Successful brands create supportive organizational and operational structures to implement strategies that fulfil this promise.

The company has effectively defined a clear brand promise: to offer high-quality, performance-enhanced, universal, basic casual wear at affordable prices. 

Moreover, it has established a robust delivery system to uphold this promise.

It manages its product planning, design, manufacturing, and distribution in-house, enabling the company to stay attuned to customer preferences based on in-store purchases. This approach minimizes costs related to overproduction and unnecessary overheads.

Stocks can be updated within weeks and replenished within days. By focusing on core products made from a limited range of fabrics, Uniqlo consolidates its fabric purchases into large orders, gaining greater negotiating power with suppliers. This results in lower prices for customers, effectively fulfilling the brand promise.

2. Product Development Approach and Efficient Supply Chain

Tadashi Yanai often remarks, “Uniqlo is not a fashion company; it’s a technology company.”

Indeed, it’s approach to apparel resembles the iterative product development seen in the tech industry rather than the trend-driven cycle of fast fashion. While leading competitor Zara thrives on rapidly responding to changing fashion trends, getting items from factory to store in roughly two weeks, Uniqlo takes the opposite approach.

It plans the production of its wardrobe essentials up to a year in advance, focusing on a few styles of urban practical basics rather than a wide variety of trendy fashion.

The company also boasts a highly efficient supply chain. By developing detailed marketing strategies for each season, merchandisers can adjust production by style well in advance to match demand.

Concept meetings with key product creation teams are held about a year before a product’s launch. During production, around 400 skilled staff members visit production centres to ensure quality and address any issues.

The company has global production centres located in Shanghai, Ho Chi Minh City, Dhaka, Jakarta, and Istanbul.

The production department addresses customer concerns by keeping the product teams informed about consumer feedback. This close collaboration between product and marketing teams ensures a cohesive strategy and effective execution.

3. Company Culture and Visionary Leadership

In 2019, Tadashi Yanai was ranked 54th among the best-performing CEOs in the world by Harvard Business Review. Since 2000, he has delivered a 700 per cent return for shareholders, and the market capitalization has increased by USD 39 billion.

His visionary leadership and creation of a strong company culture focused on teamwork and customer experience are widely credited for the phenomenal growth over the past 36 years.

Uniqlo’s emphasis on teamwork is evident in its flat organizational structure, where employees are actively encouraged to provide suggestions. The company’s values and goals are directly translated into processes and measures, strongly reflected by employees worldwide.

Financial transparency is a hallmark of the company, with daily sales figures charted and posted. The brand also places significant importance on the retail store experience, meticulously managing every customer touchpoint.

Staff training is a top priority, with new employees undergoing an extensive three-month training program, far above the industry average. Every aspect of their activities is recorded and analyzed, from the technique of folding apparel to the way credit cards are returned to customers with both hands and full eye contact.

Employees are trained to use six standard phrases, such as “Did you find everything you were looking for?” and greet customers with, “Welcome to Uniqlo!”

In 2000, the company established Uniqlo University in Tokyo, training 1,500 new store managers annually.

A notable example of the company’s commitment to customer experience is Yanai’s decision to conduct all operations in English in 2012, an uncommon move in Japan. This decision has significantly contributed to the brand’s global success and serves as a lesson for other aspiring global companies.

Additionally, employees continuously seek to improve internal processes and the customer experience. In 2004, after observing competitors Zara and H&M, Uniqlo opened its first large-format store in Osaka, enhancing customer satisfaction and profitability.

The Customer Center also utilizes customer feedback to refine its products constantly.

To read about anotherupcoming brand that is bringing back the traditional way of cooking back into fashion, read about P-Tal, An Ayurvedic Kitchenware Brand.

Conclusion: The Path to Becoming a Global Asian Brand

Uniqlo Store in Shenzhen Wanxiang Tiandi
UNIQLO Shenzhen Wanxiang Tiandi store (Source: Company Website)

Uniqlo embodies the Japanese philosophy of simplicity and essentiality, reflected in its marketing, communications, and operations.

It is remarkable how it has evolved from a single inherited men’s tailoring shop in Tokyo into a global casual wear giant and one of the most impressive brands in Japan and Asia. Under Tadashi Yanai’s visionary leadership, the parent company, Fast Retailing, aims to become the world’s largest fast fashion retailer.

The secret behind the company’s success lies in its robust delivery system and unwavering commitment to innovation. By clearly defining its brand promise—providing high-quality, performance-enhanced, universal, basic casualwear at affordable prices—and maintaining an efficient supply chain, it consistently exceeds customer expectations.

Building and sustaining a brand that remains relevant and resonates with a diverse customer base is one of the most challenging aspects of brand management today. Uniqlo has successfully met this challenge, maintaining a strong and relevant brand personality across various markets.

Uniqlo has numerous opportunities to achieve its goal of becoming the largest global apparel retailer. The company plans to focus on international expansion and growing its online sales. 

With its impressive company culture, bold leadership, and consistent financial growth over the past 15 years, there is no doubt that Uniqlo is on the right path to global success.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is Uniqlo fast fashion?

No, Uniqlo is not fast fashion brand. It usually plans it wardrobe 1 year in advance and focusses on high-quality, universal and basic casual wear at affordable prices.

Is Uniqlo good quality?

Yes, Uniqlo has high quality products with an in-house fabric and design innovation department to maintain its quality and affordability.

Does Uniqlo have free returns? What is Uniqlo exchange policy?

Uniqlo has free returns. Most of its products can be returned or exchanged within 30 days from the date of original purchase, provided they are unused/unwashed, and in the original selling condition, accompanied with original bill, Intact with original tags, credit/debit card used and its payment slip.
For the complete refund policy, please click here.

Where is Uniqlo from? Is Uniqlo Japanese?

Uniqlo is a Japanese brand headed by Tadashi Yanai.

Is uniqlo ethical?

Uniqlo’s overall ethical rating is “It’s a start” which means that the company has taken a few steps in the right direction, but there is long way to go.

How much is uniqlo shipping?

In India, Uniqlo has a shipping fees of Rs. 250 for shopping up to Rs. 3000 and free for all orders above Rs. 3000/-

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About Hemant

With expertise in traditional and digital business operations, Hemant Bindal, through Webrigo Business Solutions, helps entrepreneurs and businesses unlock their full potential and help them tackle the challenges they face in today's dynamic market.

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