| DHAKA, July 5
DHAKA, July 5 On a bustling Dhaka street full of
buyers looking for deals on export rejects and designer fakes, a
flight of stairs leads up to an anomaly in a country known for
producing international clothing brands - a global high street
Uniqlo, owned by Japan's Fast Retailing Co, is
opening two stores in Bangladesh, a favourite low-cost sourcing
hub for many international retailers but a country where, until
now, they have not sold their clothes.
Inside the brightly lit confines of the larger of Uniqlo's
two Dhaka stores, staff frantically rushed among stacks of
clothing manufactured exclusively for the local market to add
the final touches before a grand opening on Friday.
The Japanese retailer, in a tie-up with Bangladesh's Grameen
Bank, founded by Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus, has dared to
venture into a $70 billion retail market untouched by global
chains, where about 30 million people make up the middle-income
In April, more than 1,100 garment workers died in the
collapse of a eight-story building in Bangladesh, putting
pressure on international fashion brands to improve worker
safety and livelihoods.
MIDDLE CLASS FOCUS
At 1,000 sq ft (90 sq metres), the Dhaka store is a far cry
from Uniqlo's large-format shops elsewhere and stocks mostly
menswear - women in Bangladesh, a largely Muslim nation, still
prefer to wear traditional clothes.
A group of college students, who looked curiously at the
store from across the street, had never heard of the brand.
"The store looks good from the outside. I can shop here for
Eid, but not always," said Jamshed Robin, a 25-year-old
political science student, looking at the price catalogue.
Eid al-Fitr is a key religious holiday and marks a major
shopping period for Muslims.
A typical slim fit pair of jeans here costs 990 taka
($12.73) and a short-sleeve shirt costs 890 taka ($11.44),
before a 5 percent local tax. That means they are aimed at the
small but growing middle class, rather than the masses who make
up the ranks of garment factory workers and who earn a minimum
monthly wage of $38.
Uniqlo, on its website, says its T-shirts cost 20-30 percent
more than those sold in the local market, and says it is banking
that customers will pay a little more for the higher quality.
"We're not selling Uniqlo products, we're going to be
selling Grameen Uniqlo which is more geared to the local market,
for between about 200 and 1,000 yen ($2-$10)," said Naoto
Miyazawa, a Fast Retailing spokesman in Tokyo.
Fast Retailing has so far not joined a global safety pact
for factories in Bangladesh drawn up after April's disaster at
the Rana Plaza complex, in an industrial suburb north of Dhaka,
preferring instead to ramp up its own inspections.
Miyazawa said the company had not yet decided whether to
sign up to the pact because its details were still unclear.
Uniqlo is investing $4.6 million in Bangladesh. The company
describes the initiative with micro-lender Grameen as a "social
business venture" on its website and plans to reinvest the
profits to alleviate poverty in rural areas.
"We want to deliver innovative designs and fashion to the
middle class customers here and have plans to open more stores
across several cities that will create more jobs," said Yukihiro
Nitta, chief executive officer of the joint venture.
Uniqlo will hold 99 percent of Grameen Uniqlo Ltd and Grameen
Healthcare Trust will hold the rest.
At its second store, in a residential middle-class suburb,
the power goes out twice before its restored with a generator.
Outside 28-year-old sales executive Omar Iqbal is eager to
check out the glistening store.
"It will be nice to wear a global brand to work," he said.
"Will their clothes have the Uniqlo logo on them like Adidas
($1 = 77.7700 Bangladesh takas)
(Additional reporting by Sophie Knight in Tokyo; Writing by