New Year’s Business Report】A Study of the Cheap Fashion Industry: Is the UNIQLO Empire’s Dominance Unshakeable? | FRIDAY DIGITAL

New Year’s Business Report】A Study of the Cheap Fashion Industry: Is the UNIQLO Empire’s Dominance Unshakeable?

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Cheap, simple, functional.
What is the strategy of the rivals to face the giant ship?
Shimamura, Workman, MUJI, Lite-On, H&M, GAP, etc.

UNIQLO also features famous actresses and athletes as ambassadors, including Haruka Ayase, Ayumu Hirano (left), and Kei Nishikori.

UNI-BARARE”. About 15 years ago, this term became popular among young people. It refers to the embarrassment of being caught wearing clothing made by UNIQLO, but now the term “unibare” has become a dead word.

The FRIDAY reporter became convinced of this when he visited the UNIQLO Ginza Store, a 12-story super-sized store. The store was filled with a wide range of people, from young people to elderly couples to foreign tourists, all in high spirits at the beginning of the new year. There was no shame or shyness on their faces.

The spark that ignited Japan’s budget fashion boom was the 1998 UNIQLO fleece jacket craze (at the time, 1,995 yen),” said Mr. Kuroda, who had worked at the Hokkaido Takushoku Bank and the Yamaichi Bank. The previous year’s bankruptcies of Hokkaido Takushoku Bank and Yamaichi Securities had made consumers more thrifty, and the lightweight, warm, yet inexpensive fleece jackets sold like hotcakes.

The contribution of fleece, which grew into a phenomenal hit product, selling approximately 26 million pieces a year at its best, enabled UNIQLO to successfully establish itself as a national apparel manufacturer.

However, the challenge of “fashionability” loomed before UNIQLO.’ In 2008, H&M, a global casual brand headquartered in Sweden and offering products in the same price range as UNIQLO, entered the Japanese market. The arrival of the “black ship” put UNIQLO in a difficult position.

In 2009, UNIQLO introduced the “+J” series in collaboration with the luxury fashion brand Jil Sander to dispel the image of “cheap but tacky. The design was unique at the time, and succeeded in giving consumers the impression that UNIQLO had fashionable clothes.

However, sales were not as strong as expected. (The price tag (approximately 7,000-15,000 yen for outerwear) was cheap for those who knew Jil Sander, but too expensive for those who were used to UNIQLO prices.

Learning from this lesson, the price setting was changed to “a little higher than usual” for subsequent collaborations. In this way, UNIQLO succeeded in developing products that were widely accepted in terms of both design and price,” says fashion distribution consultant Takahiro Saito.

UNIQLO, now the number one fashion brand in Japan with more than 2,400 stores worldwide (approximately 800 stores in Japan), continues to produce more hit products by fully utilizing its unique strength of “ultra mass production. Mr. Saito continues.

Mr. Saito continues, “By taking advantage of economies of scale and purchasing good materials in large quantities, we have succeeded in reducing the cost per item to the absolute minimum. There are also some powerful operations that we are able to perform because we are a blue-chip company. We scout out talented people from other companies who can be entrusted with purchasing and manufacturing high quality materials.

We have people who can develop sophisticated products by taking advantage of good materials purchased at low prices – this strategy has enabled UNIQLO to maintain high quality and low prices. At this year’s first sale, a cashmere sweater was available for 8,990 yen, probably worth close to 30,000 yen. And that’s because even luxury brands use the same fabric.”

Workman is well-known for its commercial song by Ikuzo Kichi. The company has gained tremendous support from middle-aged, hard-working male customers, and has achieved rapid expansion.

Fast Retailing, which operates UNIQLO, also operates GU (founded in 2006), an even cheaper brand than UNIQLO, with approximately 460 stores in Japan, and boasts the third largest apparel company in the world with group sales of approximately 2.7 trillion yen.

Are other low-priced fashion companies helpless in the face of this giant empire? No, UNIQLO is not the only company that is growing its business. Shimamura, which has more stores than UNIQLO in Japan, is one of them.

Shimamura is known for its high management efficiency in the apparel industry. The reason is inventory turnover. While UNIQLO’s turnover is 60 days, Shimamura’s is less than 30 days. Although Shimamura does not manufacture products in its own factories and basically sells them wholesale, it has product planning capabilities, and its “Lined Warm Pants” for women (launched in 2003) were a big hit.

The company plans to expand overseas, mainly in Southeast Asia, and has already succeeded in turning a profit in Taiwan,” said securities analyst Shigeki Unozawa.

In fact, Shimamura had been experiencing declining sales and profits from ’18 to ’20. In fact, Shimamura’s sales and profits had been declining from 2006 to 2008, but since new president Makoto Suzuki took office in 2008, sales have been on a V-shaped recovery.

Shimamura has succeeded by stocking a wide variety of products in a shallow market. However, during the previous president’s term, Shimamura adopted a strategy of stocking a large number of hot-selling items and narrowing down the product numbers. The fun of finding unexpected bargains at Shimamura has disappeared.

After the current president took office, he returned to a ‘sell-out-and-forget’ style, and by balancing this with private brands of relatively expensive functional clothing, such as Crossy, he was able to increase both sales and profits.

The apparel business of MUJI, which operates about 1,000 stores worldwide, is also expected to do well this year.

Last fall, MUJI increased its lineup of functional products, such as washable knitwear, water-repellent coats, and wrinkle-resistant long-sleeved shirts, and this seems to have been a success,” said Minami.

One of the early companies to find strength in functional products was Workman, Japan’s largest specialty store for work clothes, which enjoys tremendous support for its sweat-absorbent, quick-drying, cool-feeling, and fatigue-relieving innerwear.

Workman is a member of the Basia Group, the same company that owns Cain’s, the largest home improvement center in Japan. Although its designs are not as good as those of UNIQLO and other retailers, many of its clothes can be used for outdoor activities and match the lifestyles of people who place importance on functionality. The concern is that sales are falling in reaction to the rapid expansion,” says distribution strategist Kensuke Kojima.

While other companies continue to grow by demonstrating their individuality in terms of functionality and sales methods, “Lite-On,” which carries brands such as “Champion” and “Levi’s,” is facing an uphill battle.

However, UNIQLO is now selling jeans that are comparable in quality for ¥3,990, less than half the price of those sold by Champion and Levi’s. UNIQLO jeans are developed by designers scouted from Levi’s and Edwin.

Price hikes due to rising costs have also hurt Lite On. Demand for low-priced products and luxury brands will continue to grow, but the mid-priced segment will continue to suffer. We are searching for our next move, but we have not been able to find a clue.

Provide functional products at low prices. In 2012, when prices remain high, the battle for the budget fashion industry will intensify further.

Shimamura’s appeal lies in the ability to find one’s own “bargains” among an overwhelming number of products.
Fast Retailing Chairman Tadashi Yanai, who created the “UNIQLO empire” in his own lifetime, is said to have total assets of approximately 5 trillion yen.
Until 2010, Shimamura had been unable to make its presence felt in the shadow of the company’s booming food business, but recently its functional products have been selling well.
Workman’s “Workman Girls” campaign has attracted a lot of attention. However, it has been unable to establish a presence in the shadow of the food business until ’22, but recently sales of functional products have been strong.

From the January 26, 2024 issue of FRIDAY

  • Photo Sankei Shimbun, Kyodo News

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