Why Uniqlo Is Done Chasing Trends and How It Will Conquer U.S. Consumerism

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A shopper walks into a UNIQLO clothing store.
A shopper walks into a UNIQLO clothing store. Credit: Sean Pavone/iStock

Do you have questions or concerns about your clothing? Uniqlo has more answers.

The Japanese apparel brand owned by Fast Retailing, which has spent the last decade expanding its presence in the U.S., is continuing its quest to associate its brand with sustainable quality appropriate for all life activities—and distance itself from fast-fashion competitors in the process. On Wednesday, the retailer hosted a New York-based preview presentation of its coming fall and winter lines, which will roll out this summer and include new designer collaborations.

The new product push follows Uniqlo's first global marketing campaign, which debuted last summer and included more than a half-dozen videos with a narrator posing philosophical questions like, "Why do we get dressed," "What can a sweater say about you," and "Do you put on a jacket to hide from the cold or to embrace it?" Droga5 worked on last year's brand work, a relationship that is ongoing. The 1,700-unit chain also works with Dentsu in Japan.

"The meaning of clothes itself is changing, the context is changing," said John C. Jay, the former Wieden & Kennedy veteran who joined two years ago as president of global creative.

With the rise of disposable fashion—the $6 tank tops and $30 jeans sold at brands like Zara, H&M and Forever 21—Uniqlo, whose prices are not that much different, has recently been trying to set itself apart as a more high-minded fashion alternative. To do that, the brand has introduced LifeWear, clothing for all aspects of life including sportswear, innerwear and ready-to-wear.

"Our clothing is the sum of all of these different elements combined together," explained Tadashi Yanai, chairman, president and chief executive of Fast Retailing, which opened its first store 33 years ago. For its most recent quarter ending in November, Uniqlo reported a 3.4% uptick in revenue to 238.8 billion yen, or roughly $2.2 billion.

Though Uniqlo has around 45 stores in the U.S., the brand is still relatively unknown outside of urban areas like New York and Los Angeles. The company is trying to strengthen its relationship with American consumers through the new recent branding campaign, as well as fresh work highlighting the new collection which will be unveiled later this summer. Uniqlo plans to tell the story behind each product as it positions itself here, said Yuki Katsuta, senior VP-global research and design. Last year, the company spent $6.1 million on measured media in the U.S., according to Kantar Media.

"Marketing is critically important in the U.S.," he said, noting that the strategy goes beyond increasing its store count and is more about communicating Uniqlo's brand identity. In future campaigns, consumers can expect to see more product-driven marketing that includes an emphasis on signature items. Uniqlo will also focus on defining "LifeWear."

"We believe clothes have to have reasons to exist, but the challenge is telling the customer," Mr. Katsuta added, noting that, in the past, shoppers purely chased trends and the lowest dollar, but younger consumers, particularly millennials, are moving away from such ideas.

The new collection is built around technological improvements, like Uniqlo's Heattech innerwear, Airism breathable fabrics and Ultra Light Down outerwear. The brand also announced its newest design collaboration—British designer Jonathan Anderson will create a capsule collection as part of the fall offerings.

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