Uniqlo remodels its supply chain to race in the fast fashion market

Uniqlo is speeding up its production cycle to compete in the shipping race with other fashion retailers by compressing its design-to-deliver supply chain down to just 13 days.

Few things in life move as fast as fashion trends. Just as a style becomes widely accepted, its immediately replaced by something new and different. It’s no surprise then that self-styled fashionistas want what’s hot on the catwalk as soon as they see it.
Fashion retailers try to oblige by optimizing aspects of their supply chain so the latest trends reach mainstream consumer markets as quickly as possible. There’s even a term for the process, it’s called ‘fast fashion’.
This is top priority for retailers such as Peacocks, H&M, Topshop and Zara. And now, it’s also Uniqlo’s guiding philosophy as of this March announcement.
What ‘Fast Fashion’ Means to the Uniqlo Brand
Uniqlo embracing the fast model marks a departure for the company. For years, its brand message was of “quality first, then price” and “simple made better”. It never really chased the most current trends, instead opting for providing wardrobe essentials. However, 2016 saw a disappointing year for the retailer. The company made a 40% cut to its revenue predictions for the next five years. It’ll now be putting more resources into something Zara has been doing well—speed.
According to Bloomberg, Uniqlo is trying to compress its design-to-deliver chain down to just 13 days. Despite the reduced time, company owner Tadashi Yanai is assuring customers that the Uniqlo brand will retain its identity:
"Zara sells fashion rather than catering to customer needs. We will sell products that are rooted in people’s day-to-day lives, and so based on what we hear from customers."
Uniqlo also announced it plans to improve its supply chain with heavily automated production facilities and artificial intelligence to determine the most efficient design and delivery routes.
Fast Fashion for a World Where Everything is Fast
An article on Glossy.co covering fast fashion suggested that the philosophy of faster delivery is linked to instant gratification, and for many retailers, it has helped lower the return rate. Writer Jeff Manoff describes how during the New York Fashion Week, big names such as Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger revealed see-now, buy-now styles. Several retailers even had one-day delivery options.
There are a few reasons why this is happening according to Manoff:
  • In eight years, the total sale of luxury sales online is estimated to reach $90 billion.
  • Delivery times have been decreasing. They went from nearly 5 days in 2013 to around 4 days just two years later.
  • Customer expectations have also shifted. Unless a delivery is made within two days of purchase, it’s no longer considered “fast”.
  • Even same-day delivery may no longer be enough. Some retailers are now offering one-hour and 90-minute deliveries.
  • Faster delivery is linked to a decrease in return rate which helps overall sales.

Closing Thoughts on Uniqlo’s Clothing Logistics

Uniqlo’s literal change of pace may be a shock to some of its customers. However, it shouldn’t be too much a surprise for anyone looking fashion retail industry trends. Customers want and expect to have things immediately after they order them. As online shopping grows, the number of people with similar demands will also increase. If the fashion, or any retail industry really, wants to stay viable, it’ll need to shorten its supply chain and speed up delivery.
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