Uniqlo’s march from Japanese favorite to global ubiquity, in charts

Parisians want their Heattech, too.
Parisians want their Heattech, too.
Image: Reuters/Charles Platiau
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Uniqlo has gotten so big beyond Japan that, for the first time, it has more sales outside its home country than in it.

Its parent company, Fast Retailing, announced on Jan. 11 that Uniqlo’s international revenue for the recent quarter clocked in at 258.2 billion yen (about $2.3 billion). The sum inched out Uniqlo’s Japan revenue of 257 billion yen, marking a milestone for the retailer.

While Uniqlo has been a Japanese favorite for more than a decade, outside of Japan its popularity is more recent. The last five years is really when its international sales started to take off, as the company has aggressively expanded across the globe in a bid to become the world’s biggest clothing maker. It’s still well behind H&M and Zara in sales, but growing quickly. In the recent quarter, it’s international sales grew 31.4% versus the same period last year.

The company has been successful at selling international customers across Europe, Asia, and North America on its functional basics. Its stores are packed with low-priced cashmere and merino wool sweaters, inexpensive jeans and chinos, and walls of socks and underwear. Items such as its warm Heattech under layers and UltraLight down jackets have become so popular that Uniqlo is selling them in vending machines at airports.

One place where the company hasn’t done quite as well as it has wanted is the US. While it was quickly embraced in New York, where it opened its first store in 2006, Uniqlo has struggled to gain traction outside the city and urban areas such as San Francisco since it started expanding across the country in 2012. Its recent quarter, however, marked a positive turn, recording a profit “after suffering persistent losses,” the company said.

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In the meantime, Uniqlo is thriving in plenty of other places. In China and Korea, its thermal clothes are big sellers. In Southeast Asia and Oceania, its finding an audience in the year-round heat for summer items. And its global march just keeps on going.