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Japan's Uniqlo opens Rome store as part of European expansion

FILE PHOTO: Fast Retailing's Uniqlo sign boards are displayed at a casual clothing store in Tokyo

By Giulia Segreti

ROME (Reuters) - Japan's Uniqlo will open the doors on its new Rome store on Thursday, an important part of plans by owner Fast Retailing to further accelerate growth in Europe and North America.

Its second store in Italy and one of five new openings planned for Europe in the spring-summer season, the Rome shop is a milestone for the group and "the natural step to continue expansion," Mark Barnatovic, Uniqlo Italy COO said on Wednesday.

The other openings include Nice, in southern France, Edinburgh and additional stores in Milan and London.

In its latest results, Fast Retailing forecast record performances from both Europe and North America this year, after reporting higher-than-expected revenue and profit from the two areas.

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However, its ambitious growth moves in the West comes as sales in more mature markets, such as Japan, weaken.

"We now have a very good reaction from our customers, in Italy and across Europe. Now is the right moment to expand, we feel that there is a lot of demand," Barnatovic told Reuters.

The opening also leveraged on an increased appreciation for Japanese style and culture, according to Alessandro Poggi, Uniqlo's Italy Head of Marketing.

"They see us as a new and fresh brand," he said.

ROME MEETS TOKYO

For the second quarter ending in February, four European stores were ranked among the group's top 10 best-selling according to sales. Those included Milan, opened in 2019, which is now in fourth position.

Uniqlo will face competition in Rome from the likes of Zara, H&M and domestic Italian brands including OVS and Benetton.

Barnatovic said the Rome store - hosted in a 1920s arcade on the city's Via del Corso shopping artery - had "a huge potential, close to the one in Milan".

With over 1,300 square metres over three floors, the shop is expected to cater to local shoppers and tourists alike.

The Japanese company has launched collaborations with local artists and designers for clothing lines sold exclusively in Rome and has promoted projects with local entrepreneurs.

"We are using the Romanita - or Roman way of life - to elevate the brand here," Poggi said.

(Reporting by Giulia Segreti; Editing by Keith Weir and David Evans)