By and and  on May 12, 2014

TOKYO — As Fast Retailing embarks on its journey to become the world's largest apparel retailer, it has a secret weapon — a fast-fashion brand it has quietly developed into a substantial chain of stores in Japan with ambitions for overseas growth that echo those of its flagship Uniqlo brand.

The retailer's eight-year-old label called GU, which takes its name from the Japanese word for freedom, "jiyuu," is growing rapidly in terms of sales and storefronts. Clearly taking aim at Hennes & Mauritz, Forever 21 and Zara, Fast Retailing is positioning GU as a fast-fashion player that pumps out low-priced, trendy clothing with a quick turnover. While GU's current focus is still very much on Japan, it's clear the brand sees its potential to become a contender beyond its home market, particularly in Asia. Currently GU counts just one international door in Shanghai but that is set to change. On Tuesday the brand will stage a fashion show in Taipei and announce plans to open two stores in that city come fall: one in the basement of an exiting Uniqlo flagship and a second freestanding location in a shopping mall.

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