Uniqlo has no intention of halting their operation in the land with a leader that would not cease the war he started against Ukraine
Uniqlo in Harajuku. File photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD
Unlike many fashion brands, including H&M, Zara, and Levi’s, Uniqlo won’t budge. The company will keep their stores open in Russia, as the country’s president continues to order military attacks and airstrikes on Ukraine (including civilian targets). Nikkei reported that the Japanese retailer won’t be quitting Russia, even temporarily. There, they operate 49 stores (the first opened in 2010), believed to be the most among countries of the European continent (but small, compared to the 800 in China). With unrelenting international pressure to isolate Russia and the attendant restrictions to trade and finance, many fashion companies have opted to halt their operations, at least for the time being. The Japanese government’s reaction is largely in tandem with the US and Europe: sanctions have been imposed, including the freezing of assets of oligarchs and officials, and the halting of dealings with financial institutions, including Russia’s central bank.
Tadashi Yanai, CEO of Uniqlo’s parent company Fast Retailing, rather put his massive business on a different track, and sticking to his outlier reputation. Known to prefer staying politically neutral (even avoiding commenting on the company’s acquiring of cotton from China’s Xinjiang), he said, “clothing is a necessity of life. The people of Russia have the same right to live as we do.” And the people of Ukraine, many are now asking? Do they not have the right to live peacefully as we do? He did not say. Or, is Uniqlo succumbing to fashion’s preference for the default stance on not having a take-a-side view, even if politics is inherently divisive?
Mr Yanai, dubbed the “man who clothes Asia”, added that he is against the war in Ukraine and exhorted countries to oppose it (Fast Retailing announced that a donation of USD10 million and 200,000 items of clothing would be given to the UN refugee agency). Yet, his urging and staying put in Russia are disparate. Last year, Nikkei announced that Uniqlo “outstrips Zara as most valuable clothier at USD103 billion”. It is possible that Fast Retailing needs to remain in Russia to keep that position, even if it means embracing reputational risks. The man could clothe Europe next! It is not, however, clear if there would be repercussions to Mr Yanai’s questionable decision, even when #boycottuniqlo is beginning to trend on social media. But Russia must be told to get out of Ukraine, and one of the best ways is to hit it where it could be severe: the supply of clothing deemed a necessity.
Updated: 8 March 2022, 9am