Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo is going strong in India, turning profitable within three year’s of its entry into the market. The company’s India CEO Tomohiko Sei speaks to Shubhangi Shah and Ivinder Gill on the brand’s plans for the Indian market.
Uniqlo turned profitable within three years in India despite two pandemic years in between. What do you attribute your success to in a market that is known for its loud tastes when your products are anything but that?
Our LifeWear philosophy of technology and innovation has been widely accepted in the Indian market, which is the biggest reason for our success, and the key differentiator. As a Japanese brand, we invest a lot in technology and innovation. All Uniqlo items are very high on quality and consumers find value for money in our products, bringing customers back for more. Our philosophy is ‘simple made better’, and to amp that up, we also have designer collaborations, like with Italian brand Marni.
When you launched in India you had a kurta collection. Is there more India-centric clothing in the offing? Have you tailored your collection to suit the Indian climate?
The kurta collection in association with designer Rina Singh was a new offering that we wanted to bring to Uniqlo as part of our gratitude to the Indian customer during our India entry. The Indian climate is different, but our line-up is the same as global. We are focused on daily essentials. So, while Delhi witnesses winter, Japan also has summer. We have premium linen, Supima cotton T-shirts, UT graphics and even our fabric innovation, which is AIRism. For winter, we have HEATTECH thermal wear, the ultra-light down jacket, a fluffy yarn fleece jacket.
Your online store generates 15% of your sales. Which geographies are you seeing the most demand from?
The top three regions are Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, beside several more cities shopping online.
No. For now, we would like to focus on our own platform and channels.
Why did you launch in Delhi first?
Delhi is India’s capital, so there is a symbolic connect. Also, as an apparel company, we have spring, summer, fall, and winter collections, and Delhi is where we have all four seasons and where we can showcase our full line-up of products.
Your repair and remake service is talked about a lot. Also the flower delivery service and cafe. Will that be coming to India as well?
Yes, but it will take some time. It needs preparation, the right operations to set up, and licensing — so step by step we will work toward it. Eventually, of course, we do want to bring those services to India too. It’s also dependent on market to market and culture. In our operations over three years we are trying to do our best. The first stage is always to get them inducted to our product because that is the hero at the end of the day, but all these nuances like the flower shop will be lined up.
Do you have plans to introduce Uniqlo’s sister company GU, which is relatively lower priced, in India?
While they do come under the same parent brand, we are not aware of GU’s plans for India. We are focused on building Uniqlo at the moment.
While Uniqlo looks at durability and it’s the core philosophy of the brand, are you looking to add anything to the brand?
We don’t chase short-term, fast fashion. We chase long-term must fashion, durability, and functionality. And, we are a fashion brand at the end of the day, even if the positioning that we want to have in the market is very different. We have MARNI, we have Ines De La Fressange, we had kurtas with designer Rina Singh. So there is a lot of fashion, which is also evolving. Globally, trends keep changing year on year and season on season. You can wear designer clothes; that’s your leisure and that’s your want. But that’s not your need. But you would need that very good wireless bra to sustain you on a daily basis. That’s what we are targeting, but in a fashionable way for sure.
Your founder has said that you are working to become the number one fashion brand in the world. So how do you think that’s happening?
I believe we can do that. I think we don’t need to beat each other because the philosophy is totally different. Zara is a very good brand to show the latest in fashion, but we have a very opposite philosophy; we are more focused on the essentials part. That’s why I think both brands can survive; we don’t need to compete. But we believe our concept has a big potential and demand from the world. Also, long-term, our philosophy stands out.
Internally how do you look at yourself? As a Japanese brand or as a global brand?
A global brand, which comes from Japan.
Japan is a country that rose like a phoenix after World War II, with a spirit of resilience, and is now one of the biggest economies of the world. Does Uniqlo mirror Japan’s spirit, especially as your choice of brand ambassadors has been similar — people who have shown resilience and honesty of spirit and emerged winners?
These factors have, indeed, created our brand image. So we should continue to focus on those points and not go into short-term things. Once we get into these short-term (temporary) things, we will lose our uniqueness. It’s like building blocks. That’s what’s made Japan, and how it rose from all the challenges.