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Uniqlo.com to the Rescue of Middle America

Uniqlo.com to the Rescue of Middle America
Photograph by Thomas Linkel/laif/Redux

Uniqlo, the Japanese clothes giant, launched an online shopping site in the U.S. this week. This may not seem like important news to many, but to a certain American consumer—think very well-dressed, without much money, and living between the coasts—it is like a food drop from a Marshall Plan plane in 1940s Berlin. $9.90 slim jeans and $79.90 cashmere sweaters in wearable solids are no longer the special privilege of New Yorkers and Los Angelenos, who, let’s face it, probably didn’t really need more slim-cut cheap clothes anyway. The only people who might be disappointed are the ones who used to pick up cash making runs to the coastal stores and sending the loot to Uniqlo fanatics in the middle states.

It’s also important news for Uniqlo, whose founder and chief executive officer, Tadashi Yanai, has long been boasting that he wants to become the world’s largest manufacturer of clothing, and has been chasing European giants H&M and Zara for years. And it may also be big news for holders of Fast Retailing shares, who have seen earnings disappoint as sales in China have not taken off as hoped and Japanese stores continue to underperform. In Japan, Uniqlo is a bit like the Gap. Its stores blanket the country, its wares are simple and cheap, and the customer seems bored.