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Cut-price clothier puts best foot forward

Fast Retailing - the Japanese company behind the hugely popular Uniqlo chain of clothing stores - is consolidating its shoe business in order to better compete with rival footwear firms and with the aim of making shoes its second-largest revenue source.

The company recently posted the biggest decline in its sales in four months due to the hottest Japanese summer on record hitting demand for its autumn lines, but the company believes it can head off growing competition from other fast-fashion stores - such as the Aeon and Ito-Yokado supermarket chains as well as Zara, H&M and Forever 21 - in the shoes sector.

Uniqlo has announced that it will integrate all its shoe brands into just two names, the existing Uniqlo Shoes, which was set up in 2009, and the new Candish line of footwear.

The company has been snapping up smaller domestic players in recent years, including the Y5.2 billion (€48.86 million) purchase of Viewcompany Co. in 2008 and the takeover of Onezone Corp. three years previously for around Y2 billion (€18.79 million).

According to analysts, Uniqlo at one point controlled 13 shoe brands. Faced with growing inefficiency and overlapping markets, it began to close unprofitable outlets and streamline the business.

The company now has 90 Candish stores across Japan and has launched a new range of shoes to mark the new strategy and the imminent arrival of fall in Japan. The new Cushion Series of shoes come as either round pumps, available in 10 colous and costing Y1,990 (€18.70), or the ribboned ballet shoes, which are set at the same price but are available in 16 colors.

Fast Retailing says the new footwear incorporates three insole layers that are shock-absorbent and provide extra cushioning.

New arrivals at Candish stores for the autumn and winter seasons include a range of eight boots with concealed inner heels that add 3 cm to a wearer's height. The entire range of products, which are made from a specially developed synthetic leather and include versions with fashionable faux fur around the ankles and jockey-style boots, are priced at Y4,990 (€46.87).