By Devon Johnson
Popular Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo is preparing to open its first location in Canada at CF Toronto Eaton Centre. The 27,400 square foot space will be open to the public on Friday, September 30, 2016. Uniqlo is located on the third floor inside the Dundas Atrium, nestled between Nordstrom and H&M.
Ranging from down jackets to dress pants, Uniqlo's fashions are known for being simple, affordable, and high quality. The company was founded in Japan in 1974, and operates over 800 stores globally.
We met with Uniqlo Chief Operating Officer, Yashuhiro Hayashi, for a sneak preview inside Canada's first Uniqlo location. Construction has been ongoing for over four months, and is coming to a close. Boxes of merchandise continue to be unpacked, mannequins are still being styled, and two escalators are finishing installation.
Inside the main entrance is a large circular window display decorated with Japanese origami art, shaped as Canadian maple leafs. Behind the window display lies a table of flannel shirts. “We made sure we had enough red flannel,” Mr. Hayashi laughs. The presence of Canada is felt throughout the entire first floor. Photos from Uniqlo Canada's latest campaign 'Uncommon Thread' are placed around the store, which features Toronto-based models of different ethnicities and ages at different locations in Toronto.
What are Canadians to expect from Uniqlo? Mr. Hayashi says that Uniqlo is for everyone. “A teenager can come, a senior citizen can come. You can come to Uniqlo with your entire family and [each person] can easily find at least one piece they want”. Although many retailers keep men's and women's fashions separated by floor, Uniqlo decided to place both men's and women's fashion on the first floor to stress to those unfamiliar with the brand that Uniqlo is for all ages and genders.
The mix of merchandise is nearly identical to that in Uniqlo flagships around the globe. “What you see in London, Tokyo, and New York is the same product selection you will see here in Toronto”. Mr. Hayashi said, stressing the importance of a similar in-store experience for Uniqlo locations in all countries.
Prices in the Toronto store align with Uniqlo locations in the United States. “This is a shop that doesn’t go above $250”, Mr. Hayashi said, pointing to a men's down jacket. One will find 'HeatTech' undershirts for $20, and will also find cashmere sweaters in over 12 colours for $99 each. Mr. Hayashi says many items including the cashmere sweaters are the exact same prices found in the United States. Canadians will benefit with exchange rate, Mr. Hayashi says. This makes many of the items in Toronto less expensive than in its American stores.
We headed up to the second floor via elevator, where we discovered more casual wear for men and women. Kids clothing and undergarments are also found on this level.
We found clothing items from Uniqlo's latest label ‘Uniqlo U’. This special collection was spearheaded by Christophe Lemaire, the former artistic director from Hermes, who is now Uniqlo's global artistic director. To celebrate the opening of Toronto's Uniqlo location, this collection will be exclusive in North America for one week. “We’re selling Uniqlo U in Toronto ahead of San Francisco and New York”. These items are specially designed with even more precision, and are one of the more sophisticated lines in the store.
One unique component to this location is a section on the first floor that will offer a rotating array of local Toronto company offerings, which will be only available in Canada at the CF Toronto Eaton Centre Uniqlo location.
The section includes a wall showcasing Toronto brands, including the Drake General Store, Blacksmith Cycle, and Souvenir Studios. Within these collections are local business-branded items as well as Uniqlo clothing pieces themselves, with each local business picking out specific pieces that align with both their own and Uniqlo's brand.
Many analysts will be watching Uniqlo closely. We asked about future locations, and Mr. Hayashi says that Uniqlo's Canadian store expansion will be carefully considered. "Toronto is an international city, but at the same time our studies show that our brand awareness is quite low." Mr. Hayashi said, going on to say that before expanding Uniqlo across Canada, the retailer will be tracking success and listening to customer feedback from its CF Toronto Eaton Centre and Yorkdale Shopping Centre locations (the Yorkdale unit opens next month, on October 20).
[Editor's note: Jeff Berkowitz of Aurora Realty Consultants represents Uniqlo as Canadian broker]
“It will depend on the customers reaction. We want to make sure we’re solid here,” Mr. Hayashi stressed. “If were not getting it right, it’s not good to expand too fast. We’re going to take it slow, and serve customers right. When we're ready, we’ll expand to other major cities or open more stores in Toronto ”, he said.
When asked how Uniqlo plans to win over Canadian shoppers, Mr. Hayashi explained that Uniqlo focuses on a solid product offering. Uniqlo specializes in creating casual wear that is versatile, high quality, and high function. Uniqlo continues to create a strong brand experience, and continues to improve existing product offerings.
“We're not aiming to be the brand you wear for a date or gala,” Mr. Hayashi says. "We want to serve the customer with our [versatile] styles, rather than dictate the look. We provide those tools, the final look is provided by the individual”.
Uniqlo's first Canadian store will open at CF Toronto Eaton Centre on Friday, September 30, 2016 in the Dundas Atrium, neighbouring the newly opened Nordstrom and the newly renovated flagship H&M.
Uniqlo's second Canadian store will open at Yorkdale Shopping Centre on October 20 in the new $331 million 300,000 square foot wing that will be anchored by Nordstrom. Uniqlo will occupy a two level, 25,500 square foot space at Yorkdale and will be a neighbour with fellow Japanese retailer, Muji.