Back in 1998, UNIQLO opened its first store in Harajuku and quickly became a household name. As Japan plunged into recession, the clothing brand's durable pieces and timeless designs that come with an affordable price tag became attractive to an increasingly frugal population. Soon, people were preferring UNIQLO items over expensive streetwear brands. But in 2012, the first store — for reasons unknown — shuttered its doors.
Now, eight years later, the label is gearing for a big comeback in the capital's fashion district in what CEO Maki Akaida describes to the Nikkei Asian Review as "symbolic". Much like the first time they set up shop in Harajuku, odds aren't the most favourable for retail expansion during this time. On top of another recession, a big battle against a pandemic is ongoing. While many labels are pivoting to online hubs to reach customers, UNIQLO is swimming against the tide and is ready to welcome customers into its almost 2,000 square-metre shopping space.
Inside, a shopping experience like no other awaits. Marketed as a marriage between online and physical stores, the UNIQLO Harajuku store is equipped with about 240 touchscreen panels — a move that raised the eyebrows of some due to COVID-19's potential of being passed via contaminated surfaces, but the label assured that precautions such as temperature checks and availability of alcohol and screen pointers are in place — which will showcase outfit photos of other UNIQLO fans uploaded via the brand's styling app called StyleHint. Once a patron spots an outfit they like, the tablet will direct them to the aisle where they can find the exact piece or a similar one. Shoppers can also put together outfits using the tablet so there won't be a need to physically try on clothes to see how they will look like as an ensemble. An option to purchase the item on UNIQLO's online site via a QR code will also be available.
A big chunk of the area will be dedicated to UNIQLO's signature UT shirts and will feature their latest collaboration including graphic print collections and manga collaborations. Another exciting installation to watch out for is a 3-meter statue of pop star Billie Eilish created by contemporary artist Takashi Murakami in celebration of their collaboration with UNIQLO.
To hype up the opening, UNIQLO has tapped up-and-coming local talents Elaiza Ikeda and Kiyohara Sho. In the promotional videos, the two are seen wearing several UT shirts while exploring the kind-of-empty-streets of Tokyo and musing about their favourite tee designs and Harajuku's place as an international fashion and culture hub.
But even with all these advertisements and buzz around the opening, the question still remains: Will people will visit the store? Tomorrow, at the official opening, we'll find out. If you wish to visit this high-tech shopping facility once travelling restrictions are eased, it's in the With Harajuku complex near the Harajuku Station in Shibuya Ward.