Location: Lee Theatre Plaza
Type of goods: casual clothing
Rating: ***** (5 out of 5)
The Uniqlo flagship in Causeway Bay underwent a major facelift and reopened a few weeks ago. The idea was to bring the look and feel in line with that of other "global flagship" stores around the world. Reviewing Uniqlo, now a household name in Hong Kong, seems like a silly proposition. After all, the Japanese retailer has been here for nearly a decade and everyone under the age of 60 owns at least a dozen pieces of Uniqlo clothing. But the recent arrivals of Abercrombie & Fitch, GAP, Forever 21 and now Victoria’s Secret and Topshop have given me the impetus to tell the story of one of the most successful clothing labels in history. And the story started right here in Hong Kong.
|Uniqlo in Causeway Bay|
It was the year 1985. Japanese businessman Tadashi Yanai traveled to Hong Kong and stumbled into Giordano, a home-grown clothing chain created by entrepreneur Jimmy Lai (黎智英). Yanai was impressed by not only the quality of Giordano's locally-designed, Chinese-made clothes, but also its popularity among Hong Kongers and tourists alike. The inspired visitor then scheduled meetings with Lai in Hong Kong, visited factories in Guangdong and returned to Tokyo with a grand plan. He gave his company Unique Clothing Warehouse – later shortened to Uniqlo – a complete makeover based on lessons from Giordano. Ever the voracious learner, Yanai took notes from yet another label, GAP, and integrated the design and manufacturing processes instead of leaving them to wholesalers. The “Lost Decade” of economic stagnation in Japan, combined with the availability of the cheap labor in China, allowed Uniqlo to grow domestically in the 1990s and to expand globally in the new millennium. Today, the label operates more than 1,200 stores and hires over 30,000 employees worldwide.
Uniqlo’s rise to retail stardom has made it a frequent subject for research papers and business school cases. Academics, consultants and retail writers debate over its business model, management philosophy and marketing strategies, while acronyms like SPA (specialty store retailer of private label apparel) and JIT (just-in-time) are tossed around like confetti. Despite all the B-school mumbo-jumbo, Uniqlo’s success comes down to one simple fact: no matter how often you go, you always walk out of the store with a purchase. It is its wearability, affordability, rainbow color choices and pitch perfect quality control that have won our hearts.
|Founder and Japan's richest man Tadashi Yanai|
The new flagship at Lee Theatre Plaza has become the latest landmark in Causeway Bay, pulling shoppers away from Hysan Place and dealing a further blow to the tired old Times Square. Spanning 37,000 square feet over three floors, the new store has gobbled up spaces once occupied by Esprit and California Fitness. The sprawling space is like a theme park, complete with floating mannequins and a future-ready T-shirt section called "UT." Displayed like prized paintings in an art museum and sold in plastic tubes, UTs feature characters from Disney, Star Wars and Hello Kitty, as well as corporate logos of Coca Cola, Kewpie Mayonnaise and Ladurée. Best of all, they only cost HK$79 a pop.
Uniqlo is conspicuously absent in Central, which is a major inconvenience for Hong Kong Islanders who have to travel to Causeway Bay or, God forbid, Taikoo to shop. When I first heard that H&M is getting kicked out of its Queen’s Road Central location because of an exorbitant rent increase, I kept my fingers crossed that Uniqlo would snatch up the space before someone else did. But someone else DID! The store manager at H&M told me that Zara already signed the lease and was scheduled to move in at the end of summer. That means “Uniqlones” like myself will just have to wait.
|Size does matter: Uniqlo's Herald Square flagship in New York City|