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Uniqlo Looks to Capitalize on Heattech’s Success with New Brand Innovations

Uniqlo, Japan’s casual-wear giant and unit of parent company Fast Retailing, wants some 15 of its brands to copy the lead of its highly-successful Heattech line.

Heattech apparel is a fashionable yet affordably-priced line of heat-generating inner wear, cool, lightweight undergarments and winter to summer seasonal items that have racked up big sales. Airism, the company’s summer wear line, has become one of Uniqlo’s strategic, stand-alone brands. Clothing in the Heattech line is touted for its comfort, ability to adapt to the wearer’s body and for feeling like a second skin.

And the product has been a hit among consumers. From Heattech’s launch in 2003 through 2013, customers have bought nearly 300 million units of the line.

Although Fast Retailing has posted record sales as it expanded into foreign markets, Uniqlo included, discount pricing and increased labor costs have squeezed profit margins for the last three years. Some analysts have cited the reason for Uniqlo’s recent profitability decline is its lack of the “wow” factor that contributed to its early successes.

The once new high-tech features of the retailer’s product line like Ultra lLight Down, fleece and cool fabrics, are now as much as 10 years old. And recent upgrades to the already successful Heattech line, adding extra-warmth to the products, have done little to stir the buying public.

To counteract diminishing returns, chief researcher and designer at Uniqlo, Yukihiro Katsuta, wants innovation to drive the growth of 15 of the firm’s brands, just as innovation drove Heattech’s early successes.

In 2013, Uniqlo rolled out the LifeWear collection, as a strategic move to innovate in line with Heattech. The clothing is advertised as having great design, the best materials and maintaining affordability. The retailer also recently introduced its Dry Stretch Pants line, featuring a thinner fabric and designed to provide a greater range of motion.

Yukihiro Katsuta, Uniqlo’s head of research and design told Reuters he is eager to keep the company moving forward in terms of innovation and he wants more brands to do what Heattech does. “If we could have 10 tomorrow, I’d want 10,” he said. “When people think of Uniqlo in the winter, they think of Heattech. We want our stores to be an amalgamation of those kinds of products,” Reuters reported.