Uniqlo – Tadashi Yanai “One Win and Nine Losses”. Every Success is Built on Countless Failures.
Understand the complexity: Entrepreneur and Creativity behind the Uniqlo success.
Two Stories: 1 – Profile of entrepreneur Tadashi Yanai. 2 – Naoki Takizawa: The Secret Behind Uniqlo’s Winning Formula. Karin Roitfled‘s interviews Naoki Takizawa.
1 – Profile of entrepreneur Tadashi Yanai.
“Thank you for waiting.”
“Did you find everything you were looking for?”
“Good-bye, we hope to see you again soon.”
Each customer is expected to hear at least four of these phrases (of course, with the advisers’ own names) as they go about their shopping excursion. The second and fifth are repeated because they are required at two points—on the floor, and at checkout.
After this warm-up, the advisers put away their notebooks and break off to their floors, giving themselves a round of applause.
At 9:45, the music starts, piped in via a company called Activaire, which also services the stores in the U.K. and France. They offer a “global music palette” meant to be familiar, optimistic, and vaguely international.
At ten o’clock, the doors open, and customers begin their assault. As for Ahmed, he has yet to catch up, and already shoppers are pulling pairs of jeans down in bunches and heading up to the fitting room. He keeps folding.
To many Japanese, Uniqlo’s success abroad is a bit of a puzzle. Most of the Japanese stores are small shops in malls or roadside outlets. The brand reached a peak there around 2000, when its ubiquity started to become an object of derision. “They were unisex, suburban, and everywhere,” says Murata. “In the early 2000s, when the fleece was hot, they sold 26 million of them in one year. Japan’s population is only 120 million. People started calling them ‘Unibore.’ ”
Uniqlo made its first attempts to expand abroad in 2001, opening 21 stores in England and, later, three in the U.S. The majority of the English stores were small storefronts in the suburbs, and the three American stores opened in malls in New Jersey. Within five years, Uniqlo had shut many of them down, including all three in New Jersey. “They just did not work,” says Shin Odake.
Yanai, though clearly obsessed with control, is also a deeply pragmatic manager, and fascinated by failure. (His autobiography is called One Win, Nine Losses.)
In 2005, he announced a reversal of strategy for international expansion: The suburban stores in Japan would stay, but growth abroad would be focused in splashy stores in the major cities of each continent. Yanai hired a creative team to rebrand the company abroad, including Kashiwa Sato of Samurai, Masamichi Katayama of Wonderwall, and Markus Kiersztan of MP Creative. The relaunch of Uniqlo would start with the New York store.
Uniqlo works quickly, and the transformation was surprisingly fast. “In a normal company,” says Odake, “you would spend a lot of time and money investigating how it would all work.”
But Uniqlo designed and built the Soho store in about eight months, with 150 workers working twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week.
Unlike many retail flagships, the store is purposely non-referential. It’s not Hollister’s fantasy version of California, or Ralph Lauren’s fantasy of Waspworlds anywhere. “Uniqlo is the brand that happens in a nonexisting space,” says Kiersztan. “It’s a white box, always on a white background. It’s not a lifestyle brand.” The drama of the store, therefore, would come from the overwhelming sense of plenitude.
While he was working on the design, Katayama focused his thoughts by making a poster from a photo he had found of a store in London that had covered a five-story building with raincoats. And Uniqlo’s Soho store is a surprisingly literal extrapolation of that poster: The store is wallpapered with thousands of Uniqlo items stacked floor to ceiling, arranged in a rainbow of colors. “A lot of it is a bit of an illusion,” says Kiersztan. “When you think of stacking up cashmere sweaters, maybe you have 65 colors, but you make it look like you have a thousand by repeating stacks. Or when you walk in, there’s the glass display—we call it the ‘fish tank’—with 36 spinning dummies, to give the consumer the feeling that there’s a lot to be found.” When store managers noticed that the towers of jeans sagged at the top, cardboard-backed dummies were inserted on the highest rows.
Soon after the Soho store opened, management noticed a blip in the sales statistics that prompted another midcourse correction: The styles of clothes Uniqlo had designed for America—an approximation of the Gap, with a looser, relaxed-in-the-middle fit—weren’t selling. Uniqlo doesn’t do market research, so instead they started to ship over smaller, Japanese sizes, and when those items started moving, they resized the American orders. Uniqlo had stumbled on an underserved market: the urban basics shopper.
You can’t walk into the Gap, or even the newly hipsterized J.Crew, and find yourself a wide selection of skinny jeans. This is because, with the notable exception of American Apparel, most American retailers have designed their small, medium, and large sizes to approximate the physiques (and tastes) of the general American population. Most of these customers do not want their basics fitted. What Uniqlo discovered, however, is that there are a lot of people who do—especially in New York. “People were trying to get that kind of look downtown, but weren’t completely satisfied,” says Mark-Evan Blackman, chair of the Menswear Design Department at F.I.T. “That customer essentially walked across the street and into Uniqlo clothing.”
2 – Naoki Takizawa: The Secret Behind Uniqlo’s Winning Formula
Naoki Takizawa joined Uniqlo as creative director in 2011 and is set on developing the high street label’s utilitarian democratic style. Having previously worked at Issey Miyake and Helmut Lang as menswear creative director, the Japanese designer aims to bring luxurious simplicity to a mass market.
“Fashion has changed so much since I started my career,” he told us. “In the Eighties, wearing designer labels was a way of telling people that you belonged to a certain group – a way of showing your status. But, that all changed in the Nineties and Noughties – practicality and comfort became more important, as did discretion. Wearing a white T-shirt and jeans was enough, perhaps teamed with an expensive handbag. That’s where Uniqlo filled a gap – it was ‘Made For All’ like the tagline reads.”
Uniqlo is known for creating wearable wardrobe staples that don’t demand attention or drama, but rather items that reliably co-ordinate with pieces that shoppers already own. Takizawa admits that there is hard balance to strike between creating items that are pared-down, but still covetable.
“If the piece is too simple, then the customer won’t buy it,” he explained. “You need a good detail, nothing too much, but there needs to be something there. When Uniqlo’s founder, Tadashi (Yanai), first approached me about the job, he told me that he respected my work, but that I should consider using my skills on a broader scale. ‘Your vision is so narrow,’ he said. I thought that it would be a huge challenge coming from the luxury market, but seeing the factories and the millions of items that are made there is incredible. I have never designed for so many people in my life.”
Despite the obvious disparities between working for high-end fashion houses and a high street brand, Takizawa says that there are more similarities that at first might appear.
“I have always wanted to bring clothes to everyone,” he said. “But now I create what they need. I want to make you comfortable – nothing should be stiff; I want to change your mood. Why do you drink water? To make you feel refreshed? Why do you put on a certain outfit? Because it makes you feel a certain way. People will always be my inspiration.”
source : Vogue UK