Uniqlo’s parent company Fast Retailing is on the verge of opening an international research and development centre for its fast fashion business GU in London, in a move that could pave the way for the brand’s launch in the UK, Drapers understands.
GU in Japan
Fast Retailing launched GU (pronounced “jee you”) in 2008 as a younger, cheaper and trendier sister to Uniqlo. It has more than 330 stores in Japan, China and Taiwan.
Drapers understands the Japanese retail group has previously worked on a feasibility study on the UK market for GU. It is now looking to ramp up its local design presence by opening the research and development centre later this month.
A spokesman for Fast Retailing said the centre will focus on capturing the latest fashion trends and helping to speed up the process of planning, designing and launching GU products.
“This brand offers high-quality seasonal fashion at surprisingly low prices and is now building its reputation in Japan for low-priced apparel,” said a job advert for a creative manager based at the new GU R&D (research and development) London centre.
There is already a GU R&D centre in Tokyo. The two centres will work together on developing the brand’s spring 17 collection.
When contacted by Drapers, Fast Retailing would not commit to any plans to open GU stores in the UK.
However, when its most recent trading results were released at the end of February, chairman, president and chief executive Tadashi Yanai said: “GU’s ability to satisfy customers’ desire to have fun with fashion without spending a lot of money has rapidly propelled the brand to the top of Japan’s fast fashion industry.
“GU clothes also incorporate an element of Japanese ‘kawaii’ [cuteness] that will differentiate the label from US and European competitors, and help the brand establish itself as the global fast fashion leader.”
GU sales increased 31.6% to ¥141.5bn (£879.2m) for the year to August 31 2015, while operating profit trebled to ¥16.4bn (£101.9m).
The company said it wants to more than double sales to ¥300bn (£1.8bn) and operating profit to ¥40bn (£248m) in the medium term, but did not give a specific timeframe.
A source told Drapers the business could be a rival for fast fashion value chains such as Primark in the UK.
On March 18, Uniqlo will reopen its refurbished flagship store at 311 Oxford Street in London. Sales space has been expanded from three floors to five totalling 24,110 sq ft. The store will feature a new concept area called Uniqlo WearHouse London, which has been designed as a “cultural hub” to host events throughout the year.
The space will have a private entrance via a lift from Oxford Street, as well as access from inside the store, and feature technology such as LED tickers and rotating mannequins.
Uniqlo will debut a new collaboration with London department store Liberty in the store, along with its spring 16 collaboration with designer Christophe Lemaire.
Uniqlo Europe’s chief executive, Takao Kuwahara, said: “London was Uniqlo’s first market outside of Japan when we opened in 2001. Our London global flagship store followed in November 2007, offering the largest Uniqlo sales floor space in the world at the time.
“The redevelopment, almost 10 years later, demonstrates Uniqlo’s longstanding commitment to London and our desire to continue to improve our offering for both a local and a global customer audience.”
Fast Retailing is the parent company of several other brands and retailers, including J Brand, Comptoir des Cotonniers, Princesse Tam-Tam and Theory.