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  • Uniqlo: Unseating the “Gap”

    The target—$50 billion in yearly revenue by 2020.

    TADASHI YANAI, FOUNDER OF THE GLOBAL clothing retailer Uniqlo, is on the other end of a videoconference screen. From his Tokyo office, Yanai-san speaks enthusiastically about Uniqlo’s innovative fabrics. “Americans believe cotton is best,” he says, “but we’ve invented new fabrics that will change your lifestyle.”

    First, Yanai marvels over Heattech, a proprietary warmth-generating Uniqlo cloth developed in partnership with the Japanese company that provides carbon-fiber for Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Next, he boasts that Airism, Uniqlo’s cooling fabric, is “so light you don’t even know you’re wearing it. It is the number-one must-buy product for summer.”

    I ask if he wears it on steamy Tokyo workdays. He smiles broadly and, at that moment, the richest man in Japan unbuttons his shirt to show me his Uniqlo underwear.

    Yanai is refreshingly open about his goals these days: making Uniqlo the number-one apparel retailer in the world. His target—$50 billion in yearly revenue by 2020—will require whiplash gains above Uniqlo’s current revenue of $12 billion, driving the company ahead of front-runners Inditex (which owns Zara), H&M and Gap.

    This swaggering ambition might ring hollow if Yanai hadn’t already turned heads among apparel-industry cognoscenti. He established a beachhead in the American market, opening three attention-getting stores in New York City—including a gargantuan flagship on Fifth Avenue, the second-biggest store in the Uniqlo empire. He lured designer Jil Sander out of retirement for a wildly successful multi-season collaboration. And then there’s the retail environment: Yanai’s scripted sales techniques and sleek spaces are studied by Uniqlo managers in Japan before being spread to markets around the globe.

    Good luck.

    Calvin Wilson
    Founder and CEO
    Upstart: Business and Management for 20-40 Year Old Professionals
    calvin.wilson1@verizon.net
    http://twitter.com/Upstart__Nation

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