This week, Uniqlo opened up its first retail format in Germany. The Japanese fashion chain is definitely on the expansion path. We spoke to Yuki Katsuta, senior vice president of global research and design for Fast Retailing / Uniqlo, about how he listens to the customers' voices. Interview by Barbara Markert

Uniqlo has undertaken a strong expansion in the last years and today counts 1,200 shops worldwide. What does this mean for your business, especially for your design department?
This big number of shops is our strength. Thanks to them, we can analyse the many different voices of our consumers. Their feedback is very useful for us in developing new products together with our partner Toray Industries, but also for our fashion statement. I have been in this business for over 20 years and the most important thing is to have an ear in the stores, to hear the needs and wishes of the clients.

How do you manage to analyse these voices?
Every Friday I hold a broadcast meeting with all the shop managers of Uniqlo. I start at 7 o’clock in the morning in my office in Tokyo connecting me to a video conference with our store manager in New York, at 9 I speak with San Francisco, at 10 with Korea, then with China. After lunch I continue my research with London and Paris. For me, it is very important to speak and not to e-mail with all my managers. I want to know what the youth in the country is thinking at the moment, what products are sold, which trends are important in New York and if we can adopt them in Japan. I try to filter all these opinions and I discuss afterwards the results with our design teams in New York, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Do you analyse local trends or do global trends exist?
In my opinion, today the trends didn’t come out of one country or one continent. I have the impression that trends don’t even wander from one city to another anymore, but that everything happens at the same time everywhere. That is why this input from the stores is so important. As a fashion enterprise we need to guide these results in fashion. Uniqlo is known for basic designs. We are not a brand that creates trends, but we need to offer also a strong fashion statement to enable the costumer to mix and to combine.