Uniqlo operator to increase variety of Muslim wear

TOKYO — Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing is planning to enrich its lineup of localized products.

In an interview on the sidelines of the 19th Nikkei Global Management Forum on Tuesday in Tokyo, Fast Retailing Chairman and CEO Tadashi Yanai said, “We will increase the variation [of our items] to answer our customers’ growing need for modest clothing.”

In collaboration with British designer Hana Tajima, Fast Retailing sells Muslim wear such as hijabs for women and baju melayus for men. Yanai said the company intends to strengthen its ties with Tajima.

“If we were to sell them in even stricter Muslim countries, we have to make them as such,” Yanai told the Nikkei Asian Review. “If we were to sell our clothes in India, they may have to conform to Hindu” requirements, Yanai explained in going beyond Muslim clothing items with localization.

However, he was also a bit cautious in going too far in that direction. “We are a global brand. If we localize too much, we will lose our edge,” Yanai said.

Localization, if not carried out properly, could lead to a stockpile of unwanted products, and maintaining the right balance between global and local items is crucial to successfully operating in a rapidly growing business.

“Asians share a similar body size,” Yanai said. “Popular colors or skirt lengths may differ in different markets. Our global products can be sold anywhere.”

Fast Retailing plans to increase Uniqlo outlets in China to 1,000 by 2020, about twice as many as it has now and the most of any country in the world. Japan has roughly 800 stores and that number is expected to remain around that level until 2020.

To operate more stores in China, Fast Retailing of course will have to hire and train additional staff. When asked to elaborate on his effort in finding enough employees for the outlets in the country, Yanai said, “We look for talent who can work not only in China, but also in Tokyo or Europe or anywhere in the world.” He added that both fellowship and leadership skills are required to become a manager at a Uniqlo store.

Fast Retailing recently has been pursuing a strategy of “don’t make, ship or sell unwanted products.” To achieve that goal, consumer research and inventory management is crucial.