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Uniqlo VS Ametsuchi: How A Small Fashion Retailer Successfully Fended Off The Goliath In Japanese Casual Wear

Expand your wardrobe beyond cliché casual wear with the David to Uniqlo’s Goliath

Uniqlo, via its parent company Fast Retailing, reported ¥619.7 billion (US$5.96b) in consolidated revenue and ¥70.38 billion (US$677 million) at the end of 2020. Its burgeoning international dominance in retail fashion has left many other casual wear retailers scrambling to find ways to stay relevant against this behemoth.

One of the ways Uniqlo managed to stay profitable relative to its other competitors Zara and H&M was to cater to a resilient market in Japan and Greater China. Its push to improve O2O (offline to online) marketing channels has been successful, with moves such as allowing customers to pick up their online purchases at nearby Uniqlo stores.

Against the backdrop of tightening supply chains, increased prices for raw materials and tepid demand for luxury goods, boutique fashion retailer Ametsuchi has carved out a niche for itself as a D2C retailer in affordable, handmade and tastefully artisanal fashion and interior goods.

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Ametsuchi (天地の歌), for the uninitiated, roughly translates to “Song (or Words) of the Universe”, and is the oldest perfect pangram in the Japanese language. From the get-go, the brand has aimed to align itself with the artisans producing uniquely traditional fabric crafts and turning them into globally accessible brands.

For millennials, this D2C business model is also gaining popularity over traditional B2C marketing models due to lower costs, greater convenience and authenticity that brands can build with their customers.

As an online-first company, Ametsuchi offers the most streamlined, convenient, and straightforward shopping solutions, an attractive alternative to going into a physical retailer.

Furthermore, the company’s focus on authenticity has led the team to personally travel to the area and absorb the local culture, and at the same time, develop products that have a sense of unity with local artisans.

Their products have a refreshingly artisanal appeal, whether they are home accessories, menswear or womenswear. Compared to Uniqlo’s utilitarian outlook to retail fashion, where fashion trends are anticipated and produced using technology for a mass-market audience across more than 1000 stores globally, Ametsuchi’s collection is a more personalised approach to cultivating your own identity and supporting artisans whose style you appreciate.

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If you’re wondering why Ametsuchi’s apparel line is a mix between Japanese, Nepalese and Indian aesthetics — that’s because it is. They produce their textiles and clothing between the 3 regions and are influenced by the local styles.

Many of the company’s signature looks are selling out fast, through a combination of word of mouth marketing and on-demand production.

For the tastemakers and the creatives, this style of fashion may appeal to your sense of freedom, to be outside of mass-market fashion’s grip on society and demonstrate your uniqueness and sensitivity to environmental sustainability.

At a time when everyone seems to be jumping on board the casual wear and athleisure trend, it can be daunting to figure out how to stand out from the crowd. Here are 3 main (financial) reasons why Ametsuchi might be the perfect collection to bring out the gentle (or rugged) individualist in you.

#1 D2C Fashion Retailers Like Ametsuchi Pass On Their Cost Savings To You

If you take a look at Ametsuchi’s website, you will realise that their prices are very affordable, perhaps even more competitive than Uniqlo’s. This is because their lean business model allows them to save on a lot of fixed costs compared to traditional retailers.

Purchasing products from these D2C retailers allow you to absorb the cost savings that are passed on to the consumer, which is one of the objectives of the brand.

#2 Affordable Niche Products And Designs Gleaned From Local Sources

Instead of visiting the Cayhane, Kaya, Kahiko, Iwakura or Oushukouro prefectures in Japan (which has only been made more difficult since the pandemic), experience local culture and craftsmanship through their intricately designed products.

Why go for marked-up tourist keychains in downtown Shibuya, Tokyo when you can have the authentic experience of local Japanese culture through their finely made fabrics?

#3 Better Quality, Dollar For Dollar

Ametsuchi also runs its own workshops, where the team has creative control over what materials they use to create products. This allows them to tailor each handmade product to consumers’ tastes and elevate the standard of quality above that of mass-market manufacturers.

Japan is also well known as a country rich in culture and attention to detail, with a focus on product excellence. With a keen eye for design informing their every aesthetic choice, you can be assured that their handmade products are made of the highest care.

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At a time when fast fashion and casual wear is almost synonymous with Uniqlo, Ametsuchi’s decade-long foray into boutique fashion has elevated the brand above its mass-market competitors. Sure, in terms of revenue and growth, it may trail well behind Uniqlo, but a younger generation of consumers are (perhaps finally) waking up to the fact that being just like everyone else may not be a good thing after all.

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