How Uniqlo hopes to win over Vancouver shoppers

The Japanese apparel giant's first West Coast store opens at Metrotown this fall

Credit: Courtesy of Uniqlo

Uniqlo opens this fall at Metropolis at Metrotown

The Japanese apparel giant’s first West Coast store opens at Metrotown this fall

Generally, Vancouver has two gears when it comes to clothing: lounge wear and workout wear, both with an emphasis on technical fabrics and comfort. So, when Japanese retail juggernaut Uniqlo announced it would land on our shores this fall*, it felt almost overdue. Since 1984, the Japanese company has evolved from a tiny unisex casualwear store in Hiroshima to global cult-fave phenom, thanks to garments using tech-forward, game-changing fabrics (no-stink, no-sweat, light-reflecting—even 3D-printed cashmere is in the works), all at democratic prices. But in a city used to paying triple digits for performance jeggings, will Uniqlo be met with stampedes of customers, or will it be the Target of 2017?

“We believe that Uniqlo’s simple yet innovative high-quality clothing that’s universal in design and comfort can fit perfectly into the active and diverse lifestyle of  Vancouverites,” says the company’s Canadian COO, Yasuhiro Hayashi. This optimism underpins Uniqlo’s West Coast beachhead at Burnaby’s Metrotown, which will offer its core range for men, women and kids—including HeatTech, garments that trap body heat for warmth, which have sold a billion pieces.

Uniqlo succeeds in local markets because it comes off as a conscientious and well-priced clothing brand, not a giant with annual revenue of US$17 billion that just overtook the Gap as the world’s number three specialty apparel retailer after H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB and Zara (Industria de Diseño Textil S.A.).

But the company (unlike Vancouver’s other new Asian retail import, Miniso Industries Co. Ltd.) has never positioned itself as disposable fast fashion. “Their production process can take up to one year for a piece of clothing to be fully produced,” says John C. Jay, president of global creative at Fast Retailing Ltd., Uniqlo’s parent. Uniqlo doesn’t work like other mass retailers: its jeans are crafted by Japanese premium denim manufacturer Kaihara, which has been indigo-dying textiles since the 1960s. And for any new factory it considers, “sewing whisperers” are flown in to listen to the sewing machines to ensure best quality.

Another deciding factor will be Uniqlo’s ability to forge a local connection. In New York, it hosts T-shirt-making workshops for children from homeless shelters, and in a bold global stroke, Britain’s Hana Tajima designs hijabs for the company in light­­­weight fabrics. Domestic collaborations are part of the brand’s essence: “Japan doesn’t really have many rock stars or film stars because it’s a country geared toward community,” Hayashi explains.

And unlike Target Canada’s, Uniqlo’s supply chain won’t depend on a U.S. network (its Canadian head office is in Toronto so it can directly liaise with suppliers), reducing the chance of empty shelves. In a socially progressive city, this mindful global chain’s ethos could end up being all things to all people—just like its clothes.

*This story has been updated to acknowledge that although Uniqlo originally announced it would launch in late September, the opening date may now be later this fall.


• Uniqlo is a brand of Fast Retailing Co. Ltd., a global Japanese retail holding company that designs, manufactures and sells clothing under seven main brands: Comptoir des Cotonniers, GU, Helmut Lang, J Brand, Princesse tam.tam, Theory and Uniqlo

• Uniqlo has roughly 1,800 stores in 18 markets worldwide, including Japan, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the U.K. and the U.S.