Uniqlo Competitors Analysis: Who Is Leading In Fashion Retail?

Uniqlo Co., Ltd., or Uniqlo, is a clothing retailer company that designs, manufactures, and distributes casual wear for all genders and age groups.

It has expanded its horizons to multiple countries in Asia, Europe, Australia, and North America. They focus on manufacturing, designing, and retailing different kinds of high-quality casual wear. What sets Uniqlo apart is its exceptional clothing quality, original comfortable designs, and highly flexible unisexual capacity to accommodate anyone of different genders.

The company started in 1949 under Ogori Shoji, a textile company. They had stores in Japan in Ube, Yamaguchi Prefecture, called “Men’s Shop OS.” The business had its ups and downs until 1984 when it opened a store called the “Unique Clothing Warehouse” in Japan’s Hiroshima region.

The brand name was supposed to be a shortened version of “unique clothing,” presumably “Uniclo.” However, it became Uniqlo because of a typographical error in administration work done in Hong Kong while the brand was registered.

Uniqlo continued to expand its reach in the ensuing years, for instance by supplying the Japanese Olympic team with clothing, distributing recycled shirts for refugees, and expanding its presence globally as more and more stores opened up in city centers across the globe. As of May 31, 2022, Uniqlo has 2,372 stores worldwide, 812 of which are in Japan.

Meanwhile, Statista estimates Uniqlo to have around 55,590 employees. On the other hand, their annual revenue stands at 841.2 billion Yen or approximately 6.2 billion US Dollars (on profits of 123.2 billion Yen).  

Apart from continuously expanding its physical store footprint (particularly in China and Southeast Asia), Uniqlo has begun to double down on its e-commerce operations as well. Online sales made up 10 percent of the firm’s revenue in 2021, a number it expects to increase up to 30 percent in the coming years.

And since everything, from design to distribution, is done in-house (Uniqlo doesn’t sell its clothes in other stores), Uniqlo can reliably assess how trends evolve. However, a huge portion of the firm’s items consists of essentials (such as white t-shirts or socks), which makes demand substantially easier to predict.

Uniqlo falls under the Fast Retailing group, previously known as Ogori Shoji. Other brands owned by the group are Comptoir des Cotonniers, Princesse Tam Tam, GU, Helmut Lang, Theory, J Brand, and PLST.

The methodology with which competitors of Uniqlo are ranked is based on various data points. Information such as the number of stores, revenue, number of employees, parent brands, daughter brands, and everything else deemed relevant is being considered.

This analysis is limited to fashion retailers focusing on mid-market consumers, thus excluding luxury brands such as LVHM, Chanel, and similar brands. The same applies to pure-play e-commerce stores that do not operate any physical branches.

So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the top 12 competitors of Uniqlo.

1. Zara (Inditex)

Headquarters: Arteixo, Spain

Founder(s): Amancio Ortega, Rosalia Mera

Year Founded: 1975

Zara is one of the world’s largest retail companies. Based in Galicia in Spain, Zara offers clothing for both genders, children’s clothing (which was aptly named Zara Kids), different kinds of shoes, and high-quality accessories. The world’s biggest fashion group, Inditex, is its parent company.

Zara is different from Uniqlo because of its adaptive supply chain. To give more insight, the company runs through the design, manufacturing, and distribution processes in just two weeks after a particular fashion was publicly revealed. To further strengthen this adaptive supply chain, they have this policy to keep factories at 85% minimum capacity, allowing flexibility and frequency on their production lines.

Most people don’t know, though, that Amancio Ortega is the 17th wealthiest man in the world today. Most of Zara’s products are manufactured in Spain, but they’re slowly branching out to different markets worldwide. The company started with Zorba but changed its name to Zara after realizing a local bar had the same name.

As of 2021, Zara’s revenue is at 19.59 billion Euros. They have 2,007 stores worldwide and are technically a sister company of Bershka and Massimo Dutti.

Sources: QuickBooks Commerce, Forbes, The New York Times Magazine

2. Hennes & Mauritz (H&M)

Headquarters: Stockholm, Sweden

Founder(s): Erling Persson

Year Founded: 1947

Hennes & Mauritz, commonly shortened to H&M, is a company that drives innovation through environmental sustainability. One example is their Agraloop™ Biofibre™, which converts food crop waste, typically oilseed hemp, into simple hoodies or more sophisticated trench coats.

H&M has varying degrees of quality, depending on which clothing they are working on. They have far more variety in attire compared to Uniqlo. H&M was said to have grown because of its effective multi-faceted promotion strategy that encompasses physical and online advertising and brand awareness by flashing off their relatively low-price clothes.

As of the latest developments, H&M has teamed up with also Swedish-brand Ikea for an introduction of Atelier100. It’s a maker-based concept store that focuses on the local creative scene. In a nutshell, it’s a space where local designers can discuss clothing designs and sell them, much like a co-working space.

As of the latest data, the company’s current revenue was pegged at $23.46 billion. They have 4,801 stores worldwide as of 2021. They currently have around 110,000 employees.

Sources: Forbes, H&M

3. PVH (Phillips-Van Heusen)

Headquarters: New York City, New York

Founder(s): Moses Phillips, John Van Heusen, Dramin Jones

Year Founded: 1881

One of the oldest retailers on the list, the PVH corporation focuses on “driving fashion forward.” Popular brands such as Calvin Klein, Olga, True & Co., Tommy Hilfiger, and Warner’s are under their company’s jurisdiction.

Dramin Jones, a Prussian immigrant, started a shirt manufacturing company back in 1865 while Moses Phillips and his wife were selling hand-sewed shirts to coal miners in Pennsylvania. The two companies merged in 1907 after Jones died four years prior.

And around 50 years later, that same business acquired t-shirt manufacturer Van Heusen. In 2011, the company was renamed from Phillips-Van Heusen to PVH.

The PVH also shared its Forward Fashion Corporate Responsibility strategy, which details its vision to eliminate carbon emissions and ethically source its materials. One of its major goals is to reach 100% usage of renewable sources to power its stores and eliminating single-waste plastics by 2030.

PVH’s revenue stands at $9.1 billion as of 2021. With over 31,000 associates, they have a total of around 6,000 stores worldwide.

Sources: PVH, The Clothier and Furnisher, Business of Fashion, Apparel Resources

4. Ralph Lauren

Headquarters: New York City, New York

Founder(s): Ralph Lauren

Year Founded: 1967

The Ralph Lauren Corporation focuses on top-quality lifestyle products, including accessories, homes, fragrances, hospitality, clothing, and apparel. They market, distribute, and design their products from scratch to create a unique identity.

Founder Ralph Lauren, who began his career by selling ties in a showroom close to the Empire State Building, was actually born Ralph Lifshitz. But after being repeatedly teased in school for his last name, his brother decided to change it to Lauren when Ralph was 16.

While his namesake firm started out manufacturing ties as well, it had its first major breakthrough in 1971 when Ralph Lauren introduced its now legendary Polo Pony. A year later, it launched its first polo shirt collection, which would go on to heavily feature set pony.

Today, Ralph Lauren operates a variety of different brands, which all target a different set of consumers. For example, its Chaps division creates casual sportswear for men at highly affordable prices.

Ralph Lauren’s total revenue as of 2022 stands at $6.2 billion, with 151 locations spread worldwide. They currently employ 22,200 individuals, a 9.36% increase from 2021, signifying a steady recovery from the pandemic.

Sources: Ralph Lauren, Esquire Magazine, Retail Insight Network

5. American Eagle Outfitters

Headquarters: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Founder(s): Jerry Silverman, Mark Silverman

Year Founded: 1977

The American Eagle is a global retailer that focuses on high-quality, trendy clothing with accessories and personal care products on the side. They are also known for their relatively low prices, capitalizing on the American lifestyle under the Aerie and American Eagle brands.

According to the company’s financial report, AEO, as it’s shortened, is taking immediate action to answer consumer demand. They’ll do this by “resetting their inventory and expense plans.”

However, they remain confident of their brand’s strength and will “reflect structural improvements” akin to their plan last 2019. This approach is almost identical to Uniqlo’s responsive approach to consumer requests.

While its headquarters are in Pittsburgh, it started as a small store in Novi, Michigan, in 1977. As of January 2021, American Eagle Outfitters is found in 1,307 locations worldwide, employing as many as 37,000 people. In 2021, the firm generated $5 billion in revenue.

Sources: American Eagle Outfitters, Fast Retailing

6. The Gap

Headquarters: San Francisco, California

Founder(s): Donald Fisher, Doris Fisher

Year Founded: 1969

A specialty apparel clothing company, The Gap offers a variety of accessories and personal care products on top of its typical retailer items. They also have many brands, including Gap, Old Navy, Athleta, and the Banana Republic. They also have a worldwide presence, just like the others mentioned above.

The Gap focuses on natural-looking classic blues, denim, and neutral style. The firm relies heavily on data to come up with new style ideas. For example, in early 2015, then-CEO Art Peck laid off all of the firm’s creative directors, saying they were “false messiahs” due to the lack of data usage.

The company had its origins because the founder, Donald Fisher, could not find a pair of jeans he liked. More precisely, no jeans fit him at the time, eventually pushing himself to create jeans that fit his taste and size.

Another interesting fact about The Gap is that they focused on the physical in-store aesthetics. They removed flashy orange walls and put softer lighting under shelves, replacing the clunky traditional t-shirt racks. This added appeal presumably led to an increase in sales from $480 million to $13.6 billion, on top of the usual widening of demographic and reach.

Apart from its namesake business, Gap also operates three other world-renowned brands, namely Banana Republic, Old Navy, and Athleta (which it purchased for $150 million back in 2008).

The Gap has a revenue of $3.48 billion and 2,835 locations worldwide. However, most of their stores are found in the United States alone. As of 2021, they had 117,000 employees under their wing.

Sources: Reuters, Harvard Business School, Business Insider, CNBC, Statista

7. NEXT

Headquarters: Enderby, England, UK

Founder(s): Joseph Hepworth

Year Founded: 1864

The first British clothing company on the list, its former name was J. Hepworth & Son until 1982 when it changed to “Next plc.”

NEXT sells clothing, homeware, and beauty products. They also provide warehousing, distribution networks, websites, and marketing services to other companies in need. For example, in 2021, NEXT entered a joint venture with Gap’s e-commerce businesses to provide customers with click-and-collect options.

Its online presence, which was ushered with the launch of its website back in 1999, is nothing to scoff at either. In the U.K. alone, a total of six million people are currently shopping on the website.

NEXT recorded revenues of £4.86 billion in 2022. They currently have around 477 stores as of 2022, scattered around the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Sources: Proactive Investors, Bloomberg, NEXT, Forbes

8. Abercrombie & Fitch

Headquarters: New Albany, Ohio

Founder(s): David Abercrombie, Ezra Fitch

Year Founded: 1892

Abercrombie & Fitch began as an outdoor gear shop operated by David who met high-profile lawyer Ezra Fitch eight years later after the latter shopped at his store. The pair hit it off immediately, which led Fitch to invest in the business that rebranded into its current name in 1904.

The firm became the de-facto leader in sporting goods by the 1930s, counting influential people such as Ernest Hemingway as regular customers. Over the coming decades, it went through various ownership changes and even filed for bankruptcy in the 1970s.

Most consumers these days have known A&F for its highly sexualized branding, which involved hiring good-looking and often Caucasian people. In 2003, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the firm due to its alleged discriminatory hiring practices. The firm settled for $40 million a year later. In 2015, the firm officially abandoned its “good look” hiring policy.

Apart from the namesake Abercrombie & Fitch brand, the firm also owns a variety of other fashion brands including Hollister Co., Gilly Hicks, and Social Tourist.

Today, Abercrombie & Fitch generates annual revenues of $3.71 billion last while boasting a workforce of 44,000 people across 854 worldwide locations.

Sources: Abercrombie & Fitch, Business of Fashion, Bloomberg, Business Insider

9. Primark

Headquarters: Dublin, Ireland

Founder(s): Arthur Ryan

Year Founded: 1969

Primark is an international apparel retailer that focuses on one word: affordability. They have all kinds of clothing for all ages, from young to old. They also sell beauty and homeware products on the side.

However, Primark and Uniqlo’s general differences lie in managing their pricing strategy. The former relies on simple trends to create a pricing strategy that enables them to sell their clothing at a relatively thin margin. On the other hand, the latter depends on lowering the costs of some of their inventory for product visibility. One’s generally inexpensive, while the other is situationally inexpensive.

In recent times, Primark has publicly stated that it plans to eliminate single-use plastics from its operations by 2027. And in just three years later, it wants to ensure that all of the workers in its global supply chain are paid a living wage.

Some fun fact about Primark is that they’re commonly called Penneys in Ireland. This was their name before it became Primark. That very first Penneys store it launched is still in operation to this date.  

Primark generated £5.593 billion in revenue during the fiscal year 2021. The firm currently counts 71,000 employees that are spread across 407 locations in Europe and the United States of America.

Sources: Primark, ABF, The Guardian

10. Forever 21

Headquarters: Los Angeles, California

Founder(s): Do Won Chang, Jin Sook Chang

Year Founded: 1984

Forever 21 is a fashionable clothing retailer shop that offers dynamic fashion basics and high-style designs. They sell all sorts of beauty products, household goods, clothing, and several types of accessories for all genders, ages, and sizes.

As of late, Forever 21 is focusing on targeting women. According to data, 45% of their online customers are millennial women.

Their pricing strategy is dictated by product demand. If one product is gaining popularity, Forever 21 will put out “deals” to temporarily lower the price of that clothing in question. This is reminiscent of Uniqlo’s pricing strategy, which does almost the same.

In 2019, Forever 21 went bankrupt, closing around 350 stores. However, they have been active in talks with their lenders to continue operations in their worldwide locations. A year later, in February 2020, the firm was saved from bankruptcy after mall operators Simon Property Group and Brookfield Properties as well as Authentic Brands Group (ABG) acquired its assets for $81 million.

In the past, competitor H&M also accused the company of “copying their designs,” which as of late remains unfounded.

Forever 21 generates an estimated $4 billion in revenue on an annual basis. They currently have 540 locations worldwide.

Sources: Forever 21, BBC

11. Mango

Headquarters: Palau-solità I Plegamans, Spain

Founder(s): Isak Andic, Nahman Andic

Year Founded: 1984

Arguably the least popular on this list, Mango focuses on clothing that emphasizes Mediterranean culture and style. In their current marketing style, they aim to attract fashion-conscious individuals. This ultimately means they’re gunning for the younger folk.

Mango is unique in how the company approaches international consumers with its multi-domestic strategy. Simply put, they adjust their products according to country-specific norms.

This makes Mango different from Uniqlo and almost everyone here on the list. Their capacity to change their product according to geography gives them that “welcoming” feel to the natives in the area.

They maintain a localized network of raw materials manufacturers in Asia, Europe, and Africa. This minimizes the coordination, logistics, and transportation cost to produce designs based on their local communities.

Mango’s revenue is currently at 1.2 billion Euros, a staggering 24.8% increase from the previous year. Most of their customers come from the United States, Europe, and India. They have around 2,700 stores scattered across 110 markets worldwide.

Sources: Mango, FashionNetwork, UK FashionNetwork

12. Esprit

Headquarters: North Point, Hong Kong / Ratingen, Germany

Founder(s): Douglas Tompkins, Susie Tompkins

Year Founded: 1968

Esprit is a clothing, accessory, jewelry, houseware, and footwear manufacturer that prides itself on style and quality.

Husband-and-wife duo Doug and Susie Tompkins had previously started outdoor retailer The North Face but sold the company to a local businessman two years later. Tragically and somewhat ironically, Doug Tompkins, in 2015, died during a hiking trip in Chilean Patagonia, the region that served as the inspiration for one of The North Face’s biggest competitors.

Esprit, for example, is implementing a narrow base supply chain model strategy to ensure production is only done with high-performance manufacturers. This meant they could focus their supervision across the 25 factories they handle without too many issues on the management side.

The firm generates approximately $1 billion of revenue as of FY2021. They have around 3,300 employees in 225 retail stores worldwide.

Sources: Sourcing Journal, Fast Retailing, Esprit

Honorable Mentions

There are multiple other brands that we wish to talk about. Some of these are pure-play sports brands such as Adidas, Nike, and similar. Uniqlo itself is no stranger to athletic wear. In 2018, for example, it signed a $300 million sponsorship deal with tennis star Roger Federer.

While definitely situated in a different price segment, luxury brands such as Gucci or Chanel are indirectly competing with Uniqlo as well. After all, they often share the same mall space throughout the globe.

Online e-commerce stores, like ASOS, are in a different world (literally). These retail clothing companies don’t have physical shops, giving them a diverse buyer base and better geographical reach than the brands mentioned above. While the upside is ease-of-access, the downside is that one cannot judge the quality of their products from the get-go.

Lastly, technology-driven entrants like SHEIN bring a different angle to the clothing and fashion apparel industry. It is currently the most prominent fashion retailer in the world. Still, they’re currently in the crossfire of multiple controversies that include tax evasion, sub-standard quality, and similar.

Hi folks, Viktor checking in! Years of experience in various tech-related roles have led me to start this blog, which I hope provides you with as much enjoyment to read as I have writing the content.