Brisbane walk around
Brisbane walk around

Name change that made $28 billion

By the time Uniqlo arrived on Australian shores, it was a finely tuned yet chaotic retail operation selling elegant Japanese clothes.

But it took a number of decades to mould the store and product style, while the punchy name was created completely by chance.

RELATED: Uniqlo boss: $28 billion job is 'more suitable for a woman'

Tadashi Yanai took over the family retail conglomerate, and under his stewardship in 1984, the first incarnation of the now ubiquitous chain was launched. It was called Unique Clothing Warehouse.

 

The first Unique Clothing Warehouse opened in 1984. Picture: Uniqlo
The first Unique Clothing Warehouse opened in 1984. Picture: Uniqlo

 

The Yanai family had evolved its company, now known as Fast Retailing, from their first store in an industrial city in far southwest Japan, Ube.

In 1988, Unique Clothing Warehouse was well established in its homeland and work was underway to debut offshore.

But as the company worked to register the store's name in Hong Kong, the "C" in its contracted name was misread as "Q", according to the South China Morning Post.

Mr Yanai liked the sound of this, which prompted him to shorten the name to Uniqlo.

By 1994, Fast Retailing was listed on the Hiroshima stock exchange with Uniqlo branches operating across the country.

 

Uniqlo boss Tadashi Yanai at the opening of the Uniqlo in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. Picture: Nicole Garmston
Uniqlo boss Tadashi Yanai at the opening of the Uniqlo in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. Picture: Nicole Garmston

 

From the mid-'90s, the fashion chain copied American retailers The Gap and others to produce its own clothes sold exclusively through its own outlets.

It was at this time Uniqlo redesigned its now famous logo and modernised the layout in store, with the high-quality apparel sold at a reasonable price a hit with Japanese people reeling from the financial shocks following the burst of the "bubble economy".

 

By this point it had the same name but looked nothing like the end product. Picture: Uniqlo
By this point it had the same name but looked nothing like the end product. Picture: Uniqlo

 

"In the beginning, the ratio of original products in Uniqlo stores was not high," company spokesperson Beryl Pei-Chi Tung said, according to the SCMP.

"That was the case up until 1998 when Uniqlo opened its first store in Tokyo in the Harajuku district, with all the products on sale carrying the Uniqlo brand.

"This helped us to establish a position of having high-quality products at reasonable prices, which is the fundamental value behind our products."

When Uniqlo opened the Tokyo store it launched its "fleece campaign" that centred around colourful and warm clothes from as low as $25.

"Functionality, innovation and technology are the strong pillars that contribute to the popularity of Uniqlo products," Ms Tung says.

"For example, the Heattech, Airism and Ultra Light Down ranges were manufactured with new functional materials that meet the various lifestyle needs of our customers.

"It is also important that we use premium, natural materials - such as cashmere, extra-fine merino, premium linen, supima cotton and so on - but still have reasonable prices."

 

Uniqlo now has more than 20 stores in Australia.
Uniqlo now has more than 20 stores in Australia.

 

The brand is now a world-wide force valued at $28 billion and occupies some of the most prestigious retail corners across the globe.

Uniqlo opened its first Australian store in 2014 at Melbourne's Emporium and now has more than 20 sites across the country.

RELATED: JOB 'MORE SUITABLE FOR A WOMAN'

The 70-year-old Tadashi Yanai said last month he wanted a woman to succeed him because he claimed they had the right qualities to run the company.

"The job is more suitable for a woman," the Fast Retailing chief executive said. "They are persevering, detailed oriented and have an aesthetic sense."

Japan has often been criticised for its lack of gender diversity in senior roles with only 4.1 per cent of executive positions at publicly traded companies being occupied by women.

But Mr Yanai has said he wanted to increase the gender ratio at Fast Retailing to an even split having reached its goal last year of having 30 per cent of women in management positions.

Are you fan of the retail chain? Comment below. @James_P_Hall | james.hall1@news.com.au


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