Brand Strategy Marketing Uniqlo

Uniqlo India’s CEO on its aggressive expansion plans

By Amit Bapna, APAC editor-at-large

January 5, 2024 | 6 min read

Chief exec Tomohiko Sei shares the brand’s story so far, plus what it has in store.

All set for 2024 and beyond: Uniqlo's Mumbai store opening

All set for 2024 and beyond: Uniqlo's Mumbai store opening

Uniqlo is marching forward on its brand journey into India, most recently expanding its footprint in the country by launching its 13th store there – this time in the northern city of Faridabad.

As part of the Japanese retail holding company Fast Retailing Company, Uniqlo now boasts more than 2,400 stores worldwide across Asia, Europe and North America. Its Indian expansion is fairly recent, but the brand has aggressive plans to expand to various parts of the country.

First setting up its production office in Bengaluru in 2016 and then launching its first Indian store in New Delhi in October 2019, it has also opened two stores in quick succession in the country’s commercial capital, Mumbai, and recently on-boarded Bollywood actor Katrina Kaif as the first-ever brand endorser in India.

Tomohiko Sei, its India chief executive, tells The Drum: “When we enter a new market, it is of paramount importance for us to find the right partners, communities and locations in which to operate.”

It is only when such criteria are met that it commits to physical store expansion, he says, adding that the brand does not chase expansion for the sake of it and that to move ahead, it must be able to identify high quality on all of these touch-points.

The party in India is just starting

For its part, India has a fast-evolving retail landscape; it can be a very complex market for any retail player wanting to have a national footprint, beset with local nuances and varying consumer sets.

As Sei puts it: “In India, the demand for value for money and quality is stronger than in other countries. Indian customers have an eye for detail and are more likely to factor the quality and functionality of products into their purchasing decisions.”

Another unique feature he has witnessed is that while the Indian value-for-money mindset is powerful, once the Indian consumer has been convinced about the value equation they are more than ready to open their wallet, he says.

From an overall expansion perspective, the brand’s goal is to make the Uniqlo LifeWear clothing accessible to as many people as possible. “We are continually studying our customers’ shopping experiences and listening to them via our social media and e-commerce platforms to work towards bringing our products to more and more people in India.”

The company has looked at India as a long-term market and has been on a learning spree since the first store launch. “Finding the right partners and locations, understanding customer demand, operations, logistics and, most importantly, developing internal teams” have been part of this journey, says Sei.

Will slow and sustainable win this race?

Slow fashion, a relatively new concept, is even newer to most mainstream brands since it clashes with business objectives.

Sei says Uniqlo is on a journey to help consumers make informed choices by ensuring transparency through its in-store communication, website and product labelling. “At the core of our brand is the concept of LifeWear, which is high-quality clothing made to be worn many times. We prioritize quality and durability, which reduces waste and means that customers can depend on our clothing to last a long time.”

Even as the fandom for Japanese design and aesthetics grows in India, Uniqlo is a young brand in a busy market made up of a plethora of home-grown apparel brands as well as many global players that have been around for far longer.

Sei says the team is cognizant of the fact that awareness is not overly high in India just yet, which is why it is going the whole hog in its marketing deployment to create the buzz.

Getting Bollywood actor Katrina Kaif is part of that plan. “Her easy-going personality helped find resonance with the brand personality,” says Sei. Kaif is the face of its recently unveiled Winter campaign.

However, the celebrity route is not something the brand chooses to take often, the exec explains. “For a large number of our campaigns, we have always got people from the community who are users and, hence, already familiar with the brand. Instead of being celebrities in the conventional sense, they are friends of the brand.”

Brand Strategy Marketing Uniqlo

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