We chat with Uniqlo’s CEO about the unveiling of a Uniqlo theme park, the launch of new localised store concepts and how the brand is expanding its sustainability practices and embracing circular fashion. Inside Retail: Tell me about the Uniqlo Town concept in Singapore and what makes it so different from other Uniqlo stores. Do you see this concept rolling out across the world? Yuki Yamada: Uniqlo Town is a reference to Orchard Road’s local moniker, “Town”, and is inspired by the cl
the close proximity of the three stores. As part of the re-opening of our stores at Plaza Singapura and ION Orchard, we envision a retail concept where we offer three different experiences along Orchard Road for shoppers, together with our flagship at Orchard Central. The concepts of these stores are tied strongly to our commitment to helping customers make effortless sustainable choices, providing clothes that meet their evolving needs, and supporting the local communities. At Uniqlo Plaza Singapura, families with children can learn about the importance of sustainability. It will house a new cardboard-decked Sustainability Corner, which highlights our commitment to the stewardship of valuable resources. Some of the products that will be in the spotlight include jeans made from technology that uses 99 per cent less water and DRY-EX that features polyester made from recycled plastic bottles. There’s also the upcoming launch of the Recycled Down Jackets, as well as the Eco Bag, which enables shoppers to reduce their use of single-use plastic bags. Members of the local eco-community will also come on board to engage our customers with thematic content from our three pillars of sustainability: planet, community, people. With upcycling as our first tri-annual theme, shoppers can look forward to Terra SG, a local social enterprise, and Inez Designs, an embroidery artisan, showcasing how to give used Uniqlo clothing a new lease on life. Our global flagship store at Orchard Central will continue to showcase our full-assortment of Lifewear: innovative, high-quality clothing that is universal in design and comfort and made for all. It is also the only Uniqlo store that offers the UTme! T-shirt customisation service, where shoppers can freely express themselves by creating a one-of-a-kind design to be printed on Uniqlo’s iconic T-shirts. The store’s third level sports a Spotlight Corner where local brands and vendors are highlighted, often in tandem with Uniqlo product or campaign launches. Uniqlo at ION Orchard will cast a spotlight on local arts and culture, hosting a staircase wall-art installation, which will be refreshed every six months. Michael Ng [, aka Mindflyer, and] the founder of Organisation of Illustrators Council [OIC], is the first artist who will see his work exhibited. [His illustration] will capture the evolution of Orchard Road. We will also be collaborating with local skateboarder Pham and graphic designer and illustrator Wu Yanrong for our store opening campaign. IR: The brand unveiled Uniqlo Park — an entertainment venue — in Yokohama, Japan, earlier this year. What was the thinking behind it, and who is it for? YY: Uniqlo Park refers to our store at the revamped Mitsui Outlet Park in Japan, where a blend of retail space and amusement facilities allow families and individuals to rest and play while shopping. Based on the concept of “Play”, it is the first store with a park on the roof and features slides, jungle gyms, interactive spaces and greenery. Uniqlo conceptualised the store as a way to play a greater role in customers’ lives, not only as a place where they can shop but also as a fun and convenient place to spend time with family and friends. IR: How do you think bricks-and-mortar will evolve in light of Covid, and what do you think customers want from a retail experience now? YY: Covid-19 has accelerated the transition to e-commerce, with consumers turning to online platforms to purchase products. We still believe in physical stores, though, as checking the fit and feeling the material with your own hands are important when buying clothes. We see room to blend both the bricks-and-mortar model as well as e-commerce. At the heart of it, we want to offer differentiated experiences for our customers, both online and offline. This is why we are introducing Uniqlo Town, where there are three unique experiences along Orchard Road, and shoppers can now enjoy an engaging and hyper-local retail experience in-store, including being part of activities and showcases. Technology also plays a big part in the way we design our retail experience. For example, the revamped stores at Plaza Singapura and ION Orchard will feature self-checkout terminals, which we first piloted at our store at VivoCity. Customers can now check out almost instantly, as the terminals can scan the radio frequency identification [RFID] tags attached to the items in the shopping basket at once, thus providing a quick and fuss-free payment experience. On the e-commerce front, we continue to improve our efficiency and transform our distribution system to ensure swift delivery of online purchases. Our ambition is to create the world’s most advanced retail industry format that intelligently fuses online and physical store operations for our shoppers. IR: The fashion industry hasn’t always had a great reputation for sustainability, but I feel like the tides are turning now that many retailers are adopting new initiatives. What do you think is the key to balancing profit with sustainability when you’re a retailer? YY: Our business seeks to enrich the lives of our customers and to improve our society. Ensuring sustainability is the most important thing for any business because ultimately, companies cannot succeed if societies can’t develop sustainably. With a focus on the planet, people and community, it is important to us that our clothing makes a positive impact on the environment and society. We espouse sustainability in our LifeWear philosophy of simple, high-quality, everyday clothing with a practical sense of beauty, designed to make everyone’s life better. It is apparel to match the style preferences of wearers, rather than merely following the latest trends. Our clothes are thus long-lasting and function as an integral part of people’s wardrobes to provide the ultimate in high-quality, everyday wear. We employ materials and processes that are more sustainable in the production of our clothing. We are committed to reducing 85 per cent of plastic by the end of 2020 through eco-friendly paper bags made from recycled paper. IR: A lot of retailers now recognise that they need to hire experts who have experience in circular design and sustainability. What is Uniqlo doing in that regard? YY: We also introduced RE.Uniqlo, an initiative that collects pre-worn Uniqlo clothing and gives it new life and new value. The initiative expands the All-Product Recycling initiative we started in 2006 to collect lightly used clothing from customers and donate it to refugees and others in need while promoting product-to-product recycling. The first offering from the RE.Uniqlo initiative, the U Recycled Down Jacket, will be launching in Singapore on November 16. IR: I think modest fashion is a highly underrated market, especially in Western regions, but I know Uniqlo has been in that space for a while now. YY: We noticed there was a demand for modest fashion in the Southeast Asia region, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia. However, options for modest wear with a fashionable twist were limited and/or pricey. There were almost no other mass fashion retailers carrying a modest-wear line five years back. We identified a need for fashionable yet comfortable women’s attire in markets in which we operate and wish to supply the best designs and quality. Hana Tajima’s collaboration with Uniqlo filled this gap in the market. The British-born designer created comfortable new styles in line with Uniqlo’s LifeWear concept to embody refined elegance and effortless comfort. [The pieces were] designed for women of all backgrounds, regardless of age, race, culture or belief. The challenge was to create a line that was not limited to the Muslim community, but available for all women who want both fashionable and comfortable styling. The collection features contemporary and functional designs, which are both culturally sensitive and extremely versatile, making them suitable for women of all races and ages. We are proud of the collection that does not sacrifice style for utmost comfort. We first launched the collection in Fall/Winter 2015 in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. Our latest partnership with Hana Tajima this year for the Spring/Summer Collection is themed “Changing Bodies”, which refers to LifeWear that can adapt flexibly and conform snuggly to women’s bodies, which continue to change in subtle ways. It aims to encourage women to enjoy clothing without being constrained by size. IR: Can you tell me about how the category is performing at Uniqlo and what your plans are for it in the future? YY: In line with our LifeWear concept, our modest collection meets the needs of women who value comfortable and relaxed wear. It also takes inspiration from an international approach in appreciation of diverse culture and style. While we are not able to share sales figures, the collection has been well-received by customers. Following its successful launch in 2015, it became available in the Philippines, the United States and the United Kingdom in Spring/Summer 2016. We also began offering the collection in Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia in Fall/Winter 2016, and further expanded it to Canada and Russia from Spring/Summer 2017. IR: What would you say are some of the biggest misconceptions of customers who want to wear modest fashion? YY: When customers notice there’s a hijab in the lineup, they sometimes wonder if the Hana Tajima collection is [exclusively] for Muslim women. While the collection includes hijabs, it does not necessarily target Muslim women. We designed it for modern women who seek fashionable yet comfortable wear. We are mindful of cultural sensitivities and the need to be inclusive. IR: What are some of the plans for Uniqlo in the coming year? YY: While Covid-19 has brought about a difficult period for all businesses in Singapore and around the world, we look to continue bringing clothing that is simple, but made better to suit the evolving needs of the wider community, while making Uniqlo accessible to everyone. Beyond our 26 physical stores and one online store we have in Singapore currently, we are seeking to expand and/or refurbish existing stores to provide a better experience for our customers, just like our Uniqlo Town at Orchard Road. We continue to identify ways to engage our customers digitally. We are exploring ways to make both the physical and virtual shopping experience as seamless as possible. One possibility we are exploring is a price tag scanner function, so customers can view details and information of a product by scanning its tag. We are also looking at introducing a new payment function, where customers can pay for an item in-store to secure stock of an item online.