By Megan Gustashaw.
Uniqlo and Zara are both in the business of fast fashion on a global scale but style-wise, they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. While Zara is trend-driven to a fault, Uniqlo is all about wardrobe essentials. Uniqlo’s flashiest collaboration, for example, a capsule collection by French designer Christophe Lemaire, includes things like gray hoodies and white canvas sneakers. That is, even when the Japanese retailer goes for hype, it doesn’t ever get weird.
While Uniqlo’s brand slogans include “quality comes first, then price” and “simple made better”, following a slightly lackluster 2016, which forced the company to cut revenue predictions for the next five years by 40%, its putting more emphasis on something more core to the Zara strategy: speed.
According to Bloomberg, at the opening of the company’s new design and delivery center in Tokyo last week, Uniqlo owner Tadashi Yanai—a former hippie turned Japan’s richest man—told press that Uniqlo intends to shorten its design-to-delivery cycle down to just 13 days; on par with Zara’s breakneck cycle. "We need to be fast," he said. "We need to deliver products customers want quickly.” But Yanai clarified that, despite a similar production strategy, Uniqlo and Zara are still worlds apart. "Zara sells fashion rather than catering to customers’ needs," he said. "We will sell products that are rooted in people’s day-to-day lives, and we do so based on what we hear from customers.”
As such Uniqlo wants to use its new state-of-the-art (i.e. heavily automated) production facilities to create more custom-made products for shoppers. Although it’s unclear whether “custom made” means personalized graphic T-shirts or made-to-measure dress shirts.
Uniqlo will also use artificial intelligence to design and deliver more desirable basics to stores at exactly the right time. That cobalt blue hoodie or coral dress shirt, for example, will hit Uniqlo a moment or two before it actually becomes “a thing”; a skill Zara has famously mastered over the years.
In tandem with a faster retail cycle, Uniqlo also plans to open some 200 new stores across China and Southeast Asia annually. Interestingly, however, Uniqlo’s U.S. retail footprint will actually get smaller over the next several years. Uniqlo plans to shut stores in mid-level shopping malls (a trend across many retailers) and open new ones only in more premium locations in order to improve its brand image in the U.S.
So expect a more intuitive, stylish Uniqlo just around the corner—or a few miles away, depending on where you live.
This story originally appeared on GQ.
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