After years of speculation about its India launch, the giant Japanese apparel retailer Uniqlo is finally here with its first store —a full-format 35,000 square feet of space spread across three floors in South Delhi’s Ambience Mall. While the Japanese drummers provided a perfect setting for the launch earlier this week, the key takeaway was the fact that the retail chain’s legendary founder and Japan’s richest man Tadashi Yanai personally flew down for the opening. It is not something that happens very often, and attests to Uniqlo’s big India ambition.
Two more stores are expected to open in Delhi and NCR very soon, followed by many more in other parts of the country. “Fast Retailing (Uniqlo’s parent company) has long wished to open stores in India, in view of the tremendous potential of a nation of 1.3 billion people,” Tadashi said at the Delhi opening, “in the years ahead, we aim to enhance lifestyles in India by creating more innovative apparel that draws on the nation’s distinct culture and traditions.”
The son of a small-time tailor, Tadashi began his journey with Uniqlo in 1984 with a single store in Hiroshima selling unisex casual clothes under the name of Unique Clothing Warehouse. Legend has it that a few years later when the company attempted to shorten the name to Unique Clothing and further to Uniclo, a Hong Kong based employee misread the `c’ and registered the name locally as Uniqlo. Tadashi liked what came out of the inadvertent error and changed the names of his stores in Japan to Uniqlo as well. Three decades later, with over 2200 outlets in 23 countries Uniqlo competes with the likes of Zara and H&M for the title of the world’s largest apparel retailer.
I refrain from using the word fashion when talking about a Uniqlo because the brand is much more than that. Sure it’s contemporary, it has some serious on-going collaborations with some of the top names in other industries (past and present) to keep things current but, at the same time, it is the go-to space for even the well-heeled when they need to stock up on essentials – from inner-wear to lounge-about basics, casual dresses to formal coats and jackets. And of course, how can one forget their ubiquitous ultra-light and packable down jackets and the iconic Uniqlo Tees (UTs)! The India store is one of the few in the world to stock not only the entire range but to also have a UT-Me counter, a space where one can design their own UT!
Tadashi spoke about how a burgeoning country with a large youth population was a great place to not just work but also learn from. He went on to introduce the notion of ‘LifeWear’ which is designed to “meet the needs of everyone’s daily lifestyles.” “It is in-keeping with that philosophy that we announced the kurta collection in the lead up to opening our new stores in India,” he proudly added.
Over the last few decades Uniqlo has managed to transcend boundaries and divides, managing to be popular in markets as culturally diverse as London, Paris, and New York at one end and Thailand, Japan, China at the other. I have been a fan (and customer) for a good part of nearly two decades. What has impressed me most is their dedication to consistency in quality and reasonable pricing. And I certainly enjoy the visibly minimal branding aesthetic. Uniqlo garments may get you noticed for looking good but they themselves remain inconspicuous enough to be worn every day and still not feel repetitive.