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TOKYO-Most retailers tend to launch their international presence in a new market with a flasgship store in a major city, but Japanese-based Fast Retailing has opted to launch the entry of its Uniqlo (“unique clothing”) brand of casual apparel stores in the US market with three stores in suburban super-regional malls located within a 40-mile radius in New Jersey. Company officials have announced that they will open the three new stores, all in the 8,000-10,000-sf range, by the end of the year.

“Casual clothing originated in the US, and it has been a dream of mine to compete in this market,” according to Uniqlo chairman/CEO Tadashi Yanai, in a written statement. “The US market is the largest in the world, and to continue to grow in the global marketplace, and be a worldwide leader, we must prosper in the United States.”

“We plan to revolutionize the casual wear market here the way be did in Japan,” says Nobuo Domae, EVP and head of the company’s North American operations. Uniqlo has established a New York City office to run the domestic operation.

The openings fall short of an all-out launch of the brand in North America, however, with company officials terming the three stores a “pilot program” to introduce the brand in the US. Company officials hope the “typical” suburban mall locations in what also happens to be both the most densely populated state and the state with the highest per capita family income, will parlay into a stated goal of $1 billion in US sales in five years. Specifics of an all-launch have not been released, with company officials indicating that will come once the pilot stores are “stable and profitable.”

The three locations are Menlo Park Mall in Edison, NJ and Rockaway Townsquare in Rockaway, NJ, both Simon Property Group properties in the 1.3 million-sf range, and the Macerich Co.’s 1.5 million-sf Freehold Raceway Mall in Freehold, NJ. Macerich closed on the acquisition of the latter in April as part of a $2.33 billion portfolio buy from Wilmorite. All three properties are in highly affluent markets and are among the highest per-sf sales generators in the country.

Uniqlo opened its initial store in Hiroshima, Japan 20 years ago, and has grown into a chain of 680 stores, 500 of them in Japan. The company has also successfully entered the markets in Shanghai and the UK, and is said to be eyeing Seoul, South Korea and Hong Kong for new stores.

The company’s business plan has also broken the traditional Japanese mold by sourcing its women’s men’s and children’s clothing lines to China. All of the company’s products are made at 90 factories in that country.

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