Money & Power
9 Facts About Uniqlo's Founder, One of the World's Richest Men
Tadashi Yanai's road to billions included detours of big losses as well.
IMAGE Fast Retailing

Tadashi Yanai employs an exacting, perfectionist management style.

There's a reason Uniqlo's sales personnel are very helpful and attentive: Every aspect of customer service is monitored, according to New York Magazine. These activities can range from tidy shirt folding (before clothes are packed into paper bags at the cashier) to the exchange of credit cards (with two hands outstretched).

In 2010, the Economist reported that Yanai's sons are poised to be mere shareholders in the future, and will not be appointed CEO or president of Fast Retailing, which counts Uniqlo among its brands.

At 68, Yanai has still not yet stepped down from Fast Retailing: He wants a successor who can match his tenacity to succeed. He is also known to be a micromanager, approving everything down to the colors of the company’s merchandise.

Bigger global reach is top priority.

One of Yanai's goals is to match or surpass the global success of Inditex, which carries Zara, a rival Spanish brand. In 2016, Inditext earned $25 billion, according to Bloomberg. Yanai targets a 70 percent increase in revenue by 2021, and he is not afraid to say so.

Uniqlo's peg for success is Gap.

It’s not uncommon to think of Uniqlo as Japan’s answer to Gap. In fact, Tadashi Yanai tells the Business of Fashion that a trip to the U.S. and visits to clothing chain Gap inspired him to create the same kind of vertically integrated retail company in Japan. This means that the company does its own design and production instead of outsourcing all of its services. The bottomline is lower cost of goods and increased profit.

He experienced big losses in the United Kingdom.

Since 2006, Uniqlo has opened two more stores in the UK. But the early 2000s was another story—the company had to scale back because of poor sales. In 2004, the company was slated to close 18 spacious stores, including 678-square-meter and 307-square-meter branches in Manchester.

His company experienced a $1.4-billion slump in the stock market—in one day.

Even Yanai is not exempt from business losses. Shares of Fast Retailing went down by 6.7 percent in January 2017, reports Independent. This came after poor winter sales in Japan—the climate was warmer than expected.

He donated a lot of money after disaster hit Japan.

In 2011, Japan experienced the greatest earthquake ever recorded in its history. The 9.0-magnitude earthquake resulted in tsunamis and fires in the northeastern part of Japan. Damages amounted to billions of dollars. Yanai donated 1 billion yen to victims.


He is also shaping Fast Retailing to be a philanthropic company for the benefit of underprivileged children.

He considers Uniqlo a technology company rather than one driven by fashion trends.

Product development is a key aspect of the Uniqlo business, reports the Business of Fashion. Whereas Zara is propelled by runway trends, Uniqlo focuses more on fabric innovation. Heattech, for example, is a kind of warmth-generating winter fabric created by Uniqlo. The brand is also known for low-priced but good-quality cashmeres. In Daily Mail’s comparative test of cashmere sweaters from various retail brands, Uniqlo’s came in first because of their resistance to pilling and shrinkage.

Although Uniqlo does not focus on trends, it has collaborated with big names in the fashion industry.

To attract people who prize exclusivity and style credibility, fast fashion brands have been tapping big-name designers and celebrities as collaborators. Uniqlo is no exception. For three years it got minimalist master Jil Sander to design Chesterfield coats, trenches, and down jackets. The brand has also had on its style roster designers J.W. Anderson, Alexander Plokhov, Jun Takahashi, and French model Ines dela Fressange. In 2016, it appointed Christophe Lemaire as artistic director.

The name Uniqlo was born out of a mistake.

In the 1980s, the company used to go by the name Unique Clothing Warehouse. The shortened version was spelled as "Uniclo." When the company was being registered in Hong Kong, the name was misspelled—the C was replaced with Q. In an episode of Toggle's Conversation With, Yanai says that he eventually became "pleased" with this mistake. The Q sounded "cooler." 

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Nicole Limos
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