In 1984, a clothing company called Ogori Shōji opened a shop in Hiroshima, Japan called ‘Unique Clothing Warehouse’. It was decided that the brand would be registered under the contraction ‘Uni-Clo’, from the ‘Unique Clothing’ part of the name. But in 1988, the staff in charge of registering the name misread the ‘C’ as a ‘Q’, and it stuck. The name of the store was changed to Uniqlo, and ten years from the date of its first opening, there were over 100 of the popular casual clothing shops in Japan.
In the late 1990s, Japan was going through a bad recession. Uniqlo adopted a ‘specialty-store of private label apparel’ strategy (SPA) in regards to their clothing, which allowed them to design, produce and distribute their product exclusively. And by outsourcing their manufacturing to foreign countries, like many major clothing labels, they were able to keep costs low. The combination of quality but low-cost apparel proved to be a hit with consumers who were, at the time, fighting to hang on to every penny.
Uniqlo’s first foray into the European market did not go well, and in 2002-2003, profits took a hit. This forced the business to rethink their strategy. They teamed up with Japanese fashion magazines, celebrities and new designers to breathe new life into the brand. The strategy was successful, even at the London store, and in 2005 Uniqlo established branches in Hong Kong, South Korea and the United States.
Uniqlo now operates in 16 countries worldwide. In 2009, the company ambitiously vowed to become the largest SPA store in the world, with profits of five trillion yen or 61 billion USD per annum by 2020. With all the successes the company has had so far, it’ll be interesting to see just how close they come to this lofty goal, which would entail a continuous growth rate of 20 per cent for the next four years.