Selling Basic Technology Clothes

Tadashi Yanai is not a familiar name to many. He is the founder of Uniqlo which is the world’s fourth largest retail apparel company.  This is right behind the top three which have more recognizable names: Inditex (owner of Zara), H&M, and Gap.

Uniqlo has 1,163 stores, mostly in Japan which generated $10.6 billion in revenue. The parent company of Uniqlo is Fast Retailing in which Yanai stake in makes him worth $11.5 billion, ranking him the richest man in Japan.  He differentiates his company from other global retailers like Zara and H&M which are “fast fashion” compared to Uniqlo which is not after the latest fashion but into basics. This includes leggings, jeans, Oxford shirts, and sweaters that are affordably priced.

Yanai likes to point out that his firm is actually a technology company that is selling clothes.  The company’s current key innovation is HeatTech a proprietary heat-retaining synthetic material. This material was developed by Toray Industries which also produces carbon fiber for wind-turbine blades and Boeing Dreamliners.  This material is then shipped to Chinese factories for apparel production. In the fall/winter 2011 season Uniqlo was able to sell over 100 million pieces of HeatTech.

Yanai envisions in the future Uniqlo clothes of one-size-fits-all clothing that automatically adapts to the wearers contours. Also clothes that only need to be rinsed in water, shake it off, and all the dirt is gone. For now though he has one big goal to achieve, have Uniqlo attain revenues of $50 billion by 2020. To reach this Yanai plans to open 1,000 stores in the U.S. With five stores in operation he still has a long way to go.

Given the fact that in two and a half decades the 63 year old has already built the fourth largest apparel retailer in the world, many are giving him the benefit of the doubt. He is also expanding in China and other parts of Asia.

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