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Feb 14, 2017
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Uniqlo chairman Tadashi Yanai says Zara is a source of inspiration

Feb 14, 2017

Uniqlo founder and chairman, Tadashi Yanai, has revealed that Zara has been a source of inspiration for the business in terms of international expansion strategies as it gears up to open the first Uniqlo store in Spain in the fall.

Fast Retailing chairman and CEO Tadashi Yanai - Fast Retailing

“I have a lot of respect for Inditex. Like us, they have gone from being a local business to becoming a global phenomenon with stores all over the world. Zara has been an example for us, we have followed its path,” says Yanai in an interview with Efe at Fast Retailing’s Tokyo headquarters.

The 68-year-old businessman, considered to be the richest man in Japan and number 35 in the world, has never concealed his ambition to outpace Zara owner Inditex as the world's largest clothing company.

The Japanese company, with turnover of USD$17.3 billion in 2016 (16.2 billion euros), ranks third on worldwide market capitalisation after Inditex and H&M.

“There is no doubt that we can compete, but on the other hand I believe that we are complementary brands. While Zara focuses on trends, we sell everyday basics with a fashion element. This means Zara is not our main competitor,” says Yanai in his office on the 31st floor of Midtown Tower.

Uniqlo, which has currently more than 1,800 stores in 18 countries, announced today the opening of its first store in Spain, which is launching this fall on Barcelona’s Paseo de Gracia.

“I’m very excited, I’ve been wanting to open a store in Barcelona since I visited the city in 1991 or 1992 with my family. It’s a very artistic, beautiful and open city,” continued the Fast Retailing chairman and CEO. The group employs more than 100,000 people globally.

The company is looking into opening further stores in Barcelona and Madrid as part of the expansion in Spain, which has become the sixth largest European market for the brand after the UK, France, Belgium, Germany and Russia.

Although the number of overseas stores of the Japanese label, known for its high quality basics at affordable prices, now surpasses those based in Japan, the majority of its revenue is still generated in its home country – a picture its chairman believes may change in the next two years.

As for the overall expansion strategy, the focus will be placed in Asia, especially China and India, said Yanai. Latin America still remains largely untapped by the business, which opened its first store in Hiroshima in 1984 under the name of Unique Clothing Warehouse.

“It’s an unknown market for us. Maybe the opening of stores in Spain will help us reach Latin America and even Africa,” he said.

Yanai, who boasts of a global and open mind-set, struggles to come to terms with the rising trade protectionism in the US, a country where Uniqlo has invested significantly. Yanai has always looked up to America, in fact his office is filled with old photographs of New York City and Time magazine covers.

“I don’t like to talk about politics, but Donald Trump’s views seem totally wrong to me. ‘America First’? Protectionism in such a powerful country can plunge the world into chaos. I am very scared,” commented Yanai.

The Japanese businessman also finds hard to accept Brexit. Uniqlo opened its first store in the UK in 2001.

“I can’t understand why they want to leave the European Union. [The UK] is a country that should take the lead on the global stage, instead it’s doing the opposite. It’s very disappointing,” said Yanai, who admitted Uniqlo has not yet felt the impact of Brexit.

After turning a small clothing store into a global brand, Yanai now hopes the company continues to be successful when he decides to reduce his involvement, however retiring is not an option for him.

He says he will never retire, but will take an honorary position in the company when he steps down as chairman and CEO.

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