Ten years ago Uniqlo had just 100 stores, all in Japan. Next year, it will have 840 in Japan and a further 1,170 elsewhere. The two-thousand or so stores are performing phenomenally with the clothing retailer set to amass sales of $14 billion in the financial year of 2014. Uniqlo's massive growth owes nothing to fortune. It's a brand driven by an owner-founder who does things differently with a bold vision and a braver outlook in every aspect. His company is already the #2 clothing store in Japan, but his ambition is to make it #1 in every country where it operates. Uniqlo's mission statement begins: 'We consistently provide fashionable, high quality, basic casual clothes that anyone can wear anytime anywhere – and always at the lowest possible market prices.' And it's certainly a mission Uniqlo has rigorously stuck to. Anyone who's browsed one of the brand's stores or wears its clothing will attest its excellent quality relative to its affordability. Innovation flows throughout the company, from the advanced technicality of its fabrics to the lean, flat, open way the business is organised. Even more impressive perhaps is Uniqlo's relentless commitment to protecting the planet and securing a sustainable future, not only for itself, but for the whole world.
Commitment to innovation Uniqlo's HeatTech clothing range is described on the brand's website as "cutting-edge fabric which takes body heat and stores it within air pockets deep within the fibres to keep the wearer warm." The range is a prime example of the innovation behind everything Uniqlo does.
Clear vision While most clothing brand follow trends, Uniqlo sticks to the basics. Its own integrated product planning, design, manufacturing and distribution teams work together to bring Uniqlo customers 'made for all' clothing that can be worn whenever and wherever.
Not following the latest fashions means Uniqlo can make massive production orders that its high-street competitors can't. More items are made, more items are ordered, and as a result, they're cheaper to purchase.
Uniqlo's owner-founder Tadashi Yanai ensures that its not just Uniqlo's clothing that's high-quality, but its customer service too. His employees are openly encouraged to make suggestions in what is a flat organisation. Every in-store employee is consistently trained in everything from their folding technique to the way hand over things to customers.
The exemplary training Yanai provides his employees is only going to get better as his plan to build a Uniqlo university in Tokyo, where 1,500 store-managers will be trained annually, comes to fruition.
Another of Yanai's brave decisions is to conduct all of Uniqlo's business in English. Given that its only presence used to be in Japan, a nation where few people understand English, it was a risk. He foresaw Uniqlo's potential to become a global brand and this was a key decision in enabling its international growth. English's status as a worldwide language avoids the tricky silos that many Japanese brands encounter when looking to grow.
Beyond fashion In 2004 Yanai established "the Uniqlo Way" to crystallise Uniqlo's goal of "Changing clothes. Changing conventional wisdom. Change the world." And it's not just hot air either - Yanai means business. For example, Uniqlo's recycling effort has moved millions of its discarded products to poverty-stricken people all over the world.
Yanai wants to turn Uniqlo into far more than a clothing store. He wants to create an institution. And with the braver way he conducts business and grows his brand, he might just do it.