Uniqlo ups overseas ante

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Indy Lifestyle Online

From decidedly humble beginnings in Japan, the Uniqlo chain of clothing shops is making its mark on the global fashion scene with the announcement that it will open a huge store on New York's swish Fifth Avenue.

One of the pioneers of "cheap chic," the company has secured around 8,300 square meters of retail space on the first to third floors of a building on the iconic avenue, which will make the outlet the largest Uniqlo store in the world.

Fast Retailing - the company behind the label - opened its first New York store in 2006 and is aggressively raising its profile around the world.

The retailer is planning to open its fourth global flagship store in Shanghai in May - a sleekly designed store over 1,100 square meters designed by the architects  who worked on Apple's stores - while it opened its first Russian store in Moscow in March and has plans to launch more outlets in Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin and Milan.

With one eye on the growing wealth of Asian consumers, Uniqlo stores are also due to open in Taiwan, Malaysia and other countries in South-East Asia before the end of the year.

And despite the global economic downturn, Fast Retailing Chairman Tadashi Yanai told the Wall Street Journal recently that the company is planning to spend as much as $11 billion on further acquisitions.

Yanai is Japan's richest person, according to the Forbes magazine rankings, and his company's net profit leapt 55.7 percent to Y55.4 billion (€440.3 million) in the six months to February.

And that expansion plan is in the face of stiff competition from foreign firms that are cashing in on consumers' preference for cut-price clothing, such as Sweden's H&M, Spain's Zara or US-based Gap.

The latest domestic opening took place on April 23, when a new 1,650 square meter store opened within the Takashimaya Times Square shopping complex close to Tokyo's Shinjuku Station. At nearly three times the size of a regular Uniqlo shop, it is the largest outlet within a Japanese department store.

Trade was so brisk on opening day that staff had to limit the number of customers coming through the doors.

Business is so good for Uniqlo that Yanai has recently hinted that he might have the company's shares listed overseas.

JR

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