The net worth of Japan’s wealthiest person, Tadashi Yanai, the billionaire behind everyday fashion brand Uniqlo, touched a peak of $41.6 billion this week, spurred by a shopping frenzy for Uniqlo’s pandemic-friendly clothes from masks to tracksuits.
Yanai’s fortune was buoyed by a 114% rise in shares of flagship Fast Retailing since March, when they fell amid a pandemic-induced global sell-off. Yanai, who has a 47% stake in the world’s third-largest clothing retailer, has more than doubled his fortune since Forbes’ World’s Billionaires list where he was ranked No. 41 with a net worth of $19.7 billion.
Fast Retailing owns the Uniqlo brand in addition to brands like Theory, Helmut Lang, J Brand and GU. Analysts attribute the stock jump to the company’s new digital strategies and its focus on practical, everyday clothing, preferred by those working from home.
“Sales are good due to its product lines fitting the stay-at-home demand,” says Dairo Murata, senior analyst at JP Morgan in Tokyo. “Fast Retailing has always been promoting the ‘LifeWear’ concept, and selling clothes which fit the work-from-home style well.”
The Japanese retailer–which has more than 3,600 stores across 26 markets spanning Asia, North America and Europe–offers the LifeWear range which it promotes as “simple” and “high quality everyday clothing.” It also incorporates proprietary technologies like “Heattech,” which converts moisture to warmth and is currently used in everything from loungewear to T-shirts and socks. Another notable feature is its “AIRism” technology, which keeps the fabric breathable and is currently used in its range of cloth masks. The triple-layer AIRism masks with bacterial filters, which were rolled out in June in Japan were quickly snapped up by hordes of online and offline customers.
However, Fast Retailing’s annual revenues and profits took a hit due to the closure of stores during the pandemic. It reported a 12% drop in annual revenues to 2 trillion yen, or $19 billion, for the year ended August 31, 2020 and a 44% drop in its net profit to $853 million. Uniqlo shut nearly half of its 748 stores in China in January–reopening them in late April. In Japan, 311 of its 817 stores were shuttered in late March and reopened in early May.
Despite these store closures, the Japan Uniqlo business was a bright spot in an otherwise down year. It recorded a 2% increase in profits even as revenue rose 20% year on year in the June to August quarter. Japan Uniqlo sales were boosted by e-commerce sales which rose 29.3% for the fiscal year ended August.
“The spread of Covid-19 has spurred a change in values and encouraged us to scrutinize the way that we live,” Yanai noted in a November message featured on the company’s website.
“The meaning of clothes is also changing as we witness a strong shift away from clothes worn to beautify or emphasize the