TOKYO (Reuters) - Fast Retailing Co’s (9983.T) casual clothing brand Uniqlo is rethinking its “Made for All” strategy, looking to offer lower priced lines in smaller Asian cities and more generous sizes to fit the U.S. market, a top executive said on Tuesday.
Asia’s biggest clothing retailer is studying ways to offer a better fit for U.S. consumers - a move that could help Uniqlo expand its customer base in the world’s biggest market as it adds more stores in suburban areas.
“This is going to be our next challenge in the United States: how to adjust our clothes for a more ‘3-D’ fit, particularly for women,” Group Executive Vice President Yoshihiro Kunii, who oversees production at Fast Retailing, told Reuters in an interview.
“There are many different ethnic groups in the United States, and this makes it tough to come up with the optimal range (to match the fit),” he said, declining to specify a time frame for completing the review. “But we need to do this, and want to come up with a solution as soon as possible.”
Uniqlo has long marketed the “Made for All” concept, offering the same products universally rather than tweaking its designs or pricing for individual markets.
From now on, however, Fast Retailing will develop and design about 10 percent of Uniqlo’s products with local needs in mind, Kunii said, with a view to possibly selling those products in other markets if the demand arose.
Success in the United States is vital for Fast Retailing as it marches towards Chief Executive Tadashi Yanai’s goal of turning his company into the world’s No.1 clothing retailer by 2020, overtaking Zara’s Inditex S.A. (ITX.MC), Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) (HMb.ST) and Gap Inc (GPS.N).
Uniqlo operates 17 stores and one online store in the United States, and has said it would add 20 to 30 stores annually to reach 100 over the next several years. The company had nearly 1,300 stores worldwide, as of the end of August last year.
“New York, London, Paris - these are at the forefront of the fashion industry. To establish ourselves in these markets is crucial,” Kunii said.
Uniqlo’s rapid expansion has been driven so far by Asia, mainly its home Japanese market, where it operates more than half of its global outlets.
One way to do better in Asia, Kunii said, was to offer a lower price-point for consumers in second-tier cities, such as northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai, where incomes tend to trail those in the capital.
“There’s a difference in the amount of money that customers can spend on clothes,” he said. “So we need something that’s more within reach, even though that might mean a slight drop in quality. It would be reasonable and affordable, but maintain Uniqlo’s quality.”
At the other end of the quality spectrum, Uniqlo will this year boost its range of products using U.S.-grown, premium grade Supima cotton by 20 to 30 percent globally compared with last year, Kunii said.
For the first time, Uniqlo this year received approval to use the registered trademark of Supima to label clothing using the sought-after cotton, which is softer and costs roughly twice as much as regular cotton. Uniqlo’s Supima Cotton T-shirts start at $9.90 in the United States.
Editing by Alex Richardson