Uniqlo's U.S. Positioning Plan: 'Japanese With N.Y. Inflection'

Retailer Taps ex-Wieden Creative Todd Waterbury to Lead Creative Direction and Provide Strategic Counsel as It Grows in North America

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Uniqlo has ambitious plans to build its brand in North America, and it's tapping Todd Waterbury, former co-executive creative director of Wieden & Kennedy, New York, to do it.

Mr. Waterbury left Wieden a year ago to start a "creative consultancy" and has since picked up three clients, including Uniqlo. The as-yet-unnamed consultancy is serving the Japanese apparel brand in a broad capacity; Mr. Waterbury has taken on the title of creative director for North America.

"The idea of an agency to me is the idea of defining an outcome. Often when you define an outcome, you limit the potential of what you can do for your clients," Mr. Waterbury said. "The idea of it taking the form of a consultancy is to understand the needs of the brand or client and bring in or collaborate with the best people for the particular project or need."

In his role for Uniqlo, Mr. Waterbury is responsible for creative direction and production but also contributing strategic counsel in areas like media. His focus at the moment is the fall launch of Uniqlo's second and third stores in New York City: one on 34th Street, and another on Fifth Avenue, which will be the world's largest location and a global flagship. The retailer's SoHo location opened in 2006 with much fanfare and a dream team of creative talents, including Japanese designer Kashiwa Sato and founder of interior-designer firm Wonderwall, Masamichi Katayama. German designer Markus Kiersztan also worked on the project, as did designer and engineer Yugo Nakamura. Mr. Waterbury said that some of the same talent will be working on the two new stores, though he declined to offer specifics.

Branding outside Uniqlo stores under construction.
Branding outside Uniqlo stores under construction.

Fast Retailing, the parent company of Uniqlo, has said it plans to continue to open stores in major U.S. cities, in order to meet its target of $59.5 billion in sales and $11.9 billion in profits by 2020. Uniqlo has 1,013 stores around the world, with global flagships in New York, London, Paris, Shanghai and Shinsaibashi, Japan.

What will Uniqlo's creative approach be in the U.S.? Similar to what's seen elsewhere, said Mr. Waterbury -- but with a twist.

"It will be Japanese, with a New York inflection," he said. "What continues to inspire me, both being in Japan and working with Uniqlo, is to understand and witness the civility the Japanese culture has. Being a Japanese organization is very much about the importance of being respectful and useful and generous. I'm really paying attention to how those qualities manifest themselves in a way that we begin to introduce ourselves to New York and the world outside of Japan."

The campaign creative for the launch and the overall expansion in the U.S. will carry the tagline "Made for all." Uniqlo announced the tagline last August, saying that it "encapsulates both Uniqlo's core ideals and hopes for the future."

The first phase of the campaign is visible now on the wallscapes covering the construction areas for each store. They feature the "Made for all" tagline, along with variations on that theme, including "Finer for all," "Greener for all," and "Warmer for all," to name a few. The next phase of the campaign is set to launch later this summer, and Mr. Waterbury is keeping mum.

He called the messaging "direct and simple," but in a way that doesn't dictate to consumers. "The brand doesn't set out to tell people how to think or dress or what to do," he said.

A number of former Wieden employees, as well as a variety of people Mr. Waterbury has met over the years, are working for the consultancy and on the Uniqlo brand. He's not yet determined whether he'll bring on any full-time employees, given his vision for a fluid group that brings in talent based on project needs. For now, he's simply keen to select a name for the consultancy. It's been somewhat of a challenge to land on the right name, he said, "in the age of owning a URL that actually has English words that make sense, or at least make sense to me. I've settled on a couple [options] and am in the process of finalizing it."

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