The History of
UNIQLO in the US

Captured in the moments before dawn,
a few hours before its opening,
UNIQLO SoHo in New York City was the first of our first global flagship stores.
Sixteen years later, we’re retracing our footsteps,
with an eye to the future.

  • Text by Kumi Matsushita
  • Store Design: Wonderwall®︎ Photo: Kozo Takayama

In November 2006, UNIQLO opened its first global flagship store in SoHo, New York City. Up until then, UNIQLO’s retail operations had consisted of 500-1,000 m2 spaces for our standard stores and 1,600 m2 for our bigger stores, but opening an unprecedented 3,300 m2 store overseas, and in a global destination like SoHo, was a leap of faith. To make it happen, we enlisted the help of creative director Kashiwa Sato of Samurai Inc., Masamichi Katayama of Wonderwall Inc., interface designer Yugo Nakamura, and director of photography Markus Kiersztan. This dream team was tasked with creating “the greatest showcase in the world.”

"Meditating on the essence of UNIQLO, Sato pinpointed the concept of “Practical Beauty.” In order to evoke Japan more vividly, the logo was updated from wine red to crimson. The text was also revamped to include both letters and katakana. To spread the word about the opening, we wrapped the store in posters and ran ads in the subway system and on cabs. We also launched an ad campaign featuring actresses, Japanese chefs, and other people who symbolized New York.
Meanwhile, we ran a separate campaign focused on our products, to make their image more familiar, while sparking conversation and excitement. This series of campaigns continues to this day, as part of our long-term strategy for sustaining global flagship stores."

2006

UNIQLO opens its first global flagship store in New York City’s SoHo. The revamped logo drew attention, as did the visual merchandising centered on the concept of “Practical Beauty.”

Overlooking Broadway, the three-story location included an entire wall of cashmere sweaters in an array of colors, while the UT wall was lined with T-shirts featuring Japanese manga and art. A party on the night before was visited by a constellation of celebrities and designers, and on opening day, the mayor of New York City gave a speech and cut a ribbon while press from all over the world looked on.

In the words of John Jay, president of global creative, “Opening in SoHo was a crucial turning point.” At the time, Jay was based out of the Portland headquarters of international creative agency Wieden+Kennedy, but in the late 1990s he set up a Japan office in Tokyo. He made weekly trips to Fast Retailing headquarters in Yamaguchi, where he conferred with our president, Tadashi Yanai, helping to realize his dreams of global expansion, including stores in the US, and created commercials for UNIQLO fleece. Those dreams came true only a few years later. “The creative team was on point, and the design was stunningly refined. The displays were pristine, and the messaging provided by the DJ booth and UT was valuable, but the building itself was absolutely gorgeous, brick walls exposed as a sign of respect to history and the locals. Everyone was talking about it, even in the US.”

But a bright light casts dark shadows. We’ve had plenty of setbacks, like our first store overseas in the UK, and the store we opened in New Jersey, a test-marketing project that flopped. Even our SoHo store, while consistently garnering attention, was an operational nightmare. To set things right, we tapped the employee who had taken over in London. In New York, they found a management encumbered by demands from corporate it was hard-pressed to adopt, due to differences in custom, but by soliciting opinions, they spread awareness of the UNIQLO approach to corporate culture. We focused on etiquette and what it means to aim for “Practical Beauty,” our guiding concept. When our staff saw how happy they could make our guests, there was a sparkle in their eyes.

In October 2011, we opened another global flagship store, this time on 5th Avenue. Even larger than SoHo, this store had over 4,600 m2 of retail space.

2011

The newest, greatest showcase in the world opens on New York’s legendary 5th Avenue, in a massive 4,600 m2 global flagship location.

The core message to employees from the Japanese store manager was this: “All of you are leads.” We had learned a thing or two from overhauling SoHo and renovating our flagships stores in Japan. Using a regimented management style, we created a “global one team” system, in which staff work self-sufficiently, treating each day as if it were the first day of the store, so that customers experience the best conditions possible.

The next year, in 2012, we opened our first store on the West Coast in San Francisco, home of iconic American brands like The Gap and Levi’s. With a cry of “Made for All,” we set up shop in Union Square, a neighborhood visited by throngs of tourists, so that people from all over the world could enjoy clothes from UNIQLO.

2012

Our first store on the West Coast, in San Francisco’s Union Square, attracts a thousand customers. Cable cars ride by the lines.

John Jay came over to UNIQLO in 2014. “In its pursuit of quality, UNIQLO had an uncompromising philosophy and creative spirit. My job was to make this fantastic Japanese company a truly global enterprise and to show the world just how innovative it could be.”

An emblematic example of this was “The Art and Science of LifeWear,” precursor to LifeWear Day. The event was first held in New York in 2017, with an aim to visualize the behind-the-scenes world of product development—craftsmanship, fashion design, and the technology that underpins functionality and comfort—so as to cultivate a deeper understanding of the brand and products and get people excited. The event soon became a tradition, touring Paris, London and Shanghai.

2016

Along 5th Avenue, close to our friends at the MoMA, an artist-run store wrapping event stirs up enthusiasm. Among our partners was the artist Kaws.

View of The Museum of Modern Art.
Photo: Alycia Kravitz.

2017

UNIQLO stages “The Art and Science of LifeWear” in New York, displaying the behind-the-scenes development and technology that underpins the quality and functionality of its products.

UNIQLO has also forged connections with a large number of creatives. This is clear from projects like The Spirit of SoHo, a magazine we published in 2021 to commemorate the renovation of the SoHo store. Rather than merely celebrate the store’s fifteenth anniversary, we thought it would be fitting to explore why SoHo has such rich history and culture, so much creativity and community, and what makes it such an influence on the world. We wanted to reinforce our connections with the people here, who welcomed us so warmly.

UNIQLO, which created LifeWear so that people all over the world could readily find clothes that help them be themselves, is not expanding overseas simply to pursue profits. Wherever we go, the goal is to become a part of the community, with the mission of improving life for everyone.

As one example, we teamed up with our 5th Avenue neighbor MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art) to host “Free Friday Nights,” making art available to all. UT also evolved through this collaboration. Since launching in 2003 as the “UNIQLO T-Shirt Project,” we’ve operated under the belief that we may as well go big and collaborate with the top-names in pop art, whether it’s Keith Haring, Basquiat or Andy Warhol. This has meant flying to places like New York and meeting directly with each artist’s foundation to bring the T-shirts to life, proving UNIQLO’s passionate enthusiasm for art. Our collaborations with MoMA have been popular in Asia and Europe as well, a shining example of how US-based initiatives can lead to worldwide brand recognition and cultivate a global fanbase.

2021

The Spirit of SoHo is published, in commemoration of the fifteenth anniversary of UNIQLO SoHo. Art dealer and curator Nicola Vassell, known for her diverse and inclusive approach, is featured on the cover. Also includes content from photographer Ryan McGinley, legendary graffiti artist Futura and his daughter Tabatha, and other figures with a deep connection to SoHo.
uniqlo.com/us/en/page/spirit-of-soho.html

Photo: Dylan Sido

Today at UNIQLO, we’re making sustainability one of the pillars of our business. Heading sustainability for the US is an American staff member with the company since 1997, before UNIQLO made it big. “Back then we were a small company,” he told us, “but President Yanai’s ambition was enormous. It’s amazing to see how much the company and the brand has grown.” Our mission for the future is to make LifeWear synonymous with sustainability. To get there, we’re focusing on the themes of harmony between people, planet, and society and sustainable development. As a supporter of New York City’s District 75, a school for students with significant challenges, we invite children into the store for fun shopping events. We’ve also provided HEATTECH blankets and warm clothing to refugees from Afghanistan, as part of our continuing efforts to plant roots in the community.

To date, UNIQLO has opened 2,200 stores in over twenty-five countries and regions. Among these only forty stores are in the US, where sales fall short of China and Japan. Even so, a poll conducted by US-based career site Comparably of the “Best Brands” according to Gen Z (ages 18 to 24) ranks UNIQLO at #14. UNIQLO views its ever-evolving presence in the US market as a matter of great import that cannot be readily explained with numbers. This is evident from the way we’ve learned from our successes in the US, like the SoHo opening campaign, and adapted them to great results in Japan and other countries, catalyzing rapid growth.

John Jay tells it like it is. “Lots of people still don’t know UNIQLO. More than anywhere in the US, New York draws the entire world’s attention. It’s a liberal city that accepts new people and things. I want to strengthen our messaging intelligently, creatively, and diligently, to reach even more people. In the US, the sky’s the limit.”

Daisuke Tsukagoshi, CEO of UNIQLO USA, says that the key to success is “gaining the trust and support of the community. If a company like UNIQLO, headquartered in Japan, can experience European and American cultures firsthand and become confident enough to make the big decisions, there’s bound to be a breakthrough. But you need to cultivate the local talent, bringing together people from all over the world, so that they learn from each other and utilize their diversity. Repeating this formula all over the world provides employees with opportunities for experience and growth, enabling us to offer a better and more satisfying experience to customers. In a word, it’s all about a customer-focused approach, good products and good customer service.”

This means building up a system where Americans can find these products anywhere they go. Along the way, LifeWear must become synonymous with sustainability, so that UNIQLO can positively impact both society and daily life. This will ensure a bright future for the US and UNIQLO for the next fifteen, fifty, and one hundred years to come.

2006

UNIQLO opens its first global flagship store in New York City’s SoHo. The revamped logo drew attention, as did the visual merchandising centered on the concept of “Practical Beauty.”

2011

The newest, greatest showcase in the world opens on New York’s legendary 5th Avenue, in a massive 4,600 m2 global flagship location.

2012

Our first store on the West Coast, in San Francisco’s Union Square, attracts a thousand customers. Cable cars ride by the lines.

2016

Along 5th Avenue, close to our friends at the MoMA, an artist-run store wrapping event stirs up enthusiasm. Among our partners was the artist Kaws.

View of The Museum of Modern Art.
Photo: Alycia Kravitz.

2017

UNIQLO stages “The Art and Science of LifeWear” in New York, displaying the behind-the-scenes development and technology that underpins the quality and functionality of its products.

2021

The Spirit of SoHo is published, in commemoration of the fifteenth anniversary of UNIQLO SoHo. Art dealer and curator Nicola Vassell, known for her diverse and inclusive approach, is featured on the cover. Also includes content from photographer Ryan McGinley, legendary graffiti artist Futura and his daughter Tabatha, and other figures with a deep connection to SoHo.
uniqlo.com/us/en/page/spirit-of-soho.html

Photo: Dylan Sido

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