There’s a lot of bluster coming out of Yadashi Yanai, CEO of Fast Retailing (parent of Uniqlo), about how his company is going to be the biggest apparel retailer in the world by 2020 at some $64 billion in sales, six times greater than its current size. He also says pretax profits by then will be 10 times what they are today. He plans to do so through a combination of acquisitions and geographic expansion into China, Southeast Asia, and the U.S. For Uniqlo, this is a necessity, not just an opportunity, given the fact that they are maxed out in Japan, totally ubiquitous, and that they suffered a decline in profits last year.
And, oh yes, they intend to “revolutionalize” how people wear clothes, part of which is to “revolutionize” mass retailing in the U.S. (I’m not sure how they’re defining mass retailing here. I certainly can’t imagine their New York stores stealing customers away from Wal-Mart, regardless of how low their prices are.)
Further, and promised by their slogan, “Made for All,” Fast claims that they are making apparel for everybody (even though they’re not making any for children. Aren’t children part of “everybody?”) And, I don’t find anything that specifically describes how Uniqlo will revolutionalize how people wear clothes, much less how they’ll revolutionalize mass retailing. There’s a lot of esoteric rambling in their promotional literature, like: “….it doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, Uniqlo makes clothes that transcend all categories and social groups. Our clothes are made for all, going beyond age, gender, occupation, ethnicity and all the other ways that define people…” Wow! That’s pretty inclusive.
But wait! In this same booklet that explains its “Made for All” ideology, the endorsements from luminaries would suggest they’re really making “for the few” – young power elites. Actor John Leguizamo, jazz singer and composer Esperanza Spalding, MTV host Suchin Pak, David Chang, head of the Momofuku restaurants empire and owner of Lucky Peach magazine, Lorraine Gordon, owner of the Village Vanguard, and others certainly not feeding from the mainstream trough of “all,” are the people Uniqlo’s image is meant to connect with. Come on now. If you would describe them to be representative of “all,” I would say you have elitism issues.
The marketing booklet goes on “…clothes are simple and essential yet universal….affordable and accessible to everyone…we believe that everyone can benefit from simple, well-designed clothes…if all people can feel better every day, then maybe the world can be a little better too.” And, so forth and so on, attempting to spin cult-like ideology out of thin air.
Bottom line, “made for all,” even if sucessfully executed, doesn’t win in today’s retail environment. In fact, being a “jack of all trades” and likely master of none, will eventually mean nothing to anybody.
Worse, as they charge toward their global vision of owning the world of apparel, doesn’t it sound like another brand that’s near and dear to our hearts? That would be the Gap, which grew into, and arguably defined, the dreaded “U-word”: ubiquity.
Susan Scafidi, professor of the Fashion Law Institute of Fordham University, said, “if Uniqlo plays its cards right, it could fill the void left by the struggling Gap, which will close 21% of its stores by 2013.” Again, wow! Doesn’t professor Scafidi realize that the Gap gap has already been filled by all the other retail concepts who’ve eroded away Gap’s share by offering focused, targeted product and service offerings which cater to the consumer’s increased need for individuality? “Made for All” promises just the opposite.
Here’s a thought for Uniqlo: “All” people have their own individual idea of what is revolutionary and “cool.” And, all people consider ubiquity the quintessential un-cool. So, I believe they have a focus problem that will eventually look like a Gap re-run.