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Fri, Apr 16, 2010
Urban, the Straits Times
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Unique touch
by Ian Lee

Within a short span of time, Japanese casualwear label Uniqlo has infiltrated Singapore with the acumen of a master chef working his Ginsu knife.

Its first store here was a 8,700 sq ft outlet at Tampines 1 that opened a year back. A 10,000 sq ft store at Ion Orchard was launched last August, followed by a 17,000 sq ft store at 313@Somerset in December.

To date, the brand has served over 730,000 customers and exceeded its local sales target by 130 per cent.

“Uniqlo made a bold statement by opening their first store here in Tampines, proving that Orchard Road is not the only place for a new-to-market brand,” says Sulian Tan-Wijaya, the senior director of retail and lifestyle at global real-estate service provider Savills Singapore.

One thing its fans are attracted to is the brand’s rainbow collection of colours. Its line of sorbet-hued skinny jeans, for example, stand out from the typical dark-hued offerings from other Asian basics brands like Hang Ten and Giordano.

For men, the top three best-selling categories are UT T-shirts, polo tops and jeans, while women have gone gaga over the label’s cheap-and-chic jeans, extra-fine cotton T-shirts and camisoles.

“There is a perception that Japanese brands are expensive. Uniqlo has probably surprised many by offering trendy, good quality Japanese fashion at affordable prices,” says Tan-Wijaya.

Good service is also a top priority. “The store managers here go through a stringent selection process and are trained in Japan for two months,” says Yasuhiro Hayashi, Uniqlo’s division manager of marketing.

However, despite receiving generally glowing reviews, some grouses remain.
One pertains to the launch of German designer Jil Sander’s debut Uniqlo +J fall/winter collection last year.

“I bought a few of the +J items when 313@Somerset opened but they went on sale soon after, leaving me feeling a bit short-changed,” says Gwen Lee, 22, an undergraduate.

This, the brand says, is in part due to strict guidelines set by Sander. To retail +J, a Uniqlo store must dedicate at least 1,400 sq ft to the collection.

It was thus introduced in Singapore two months later than other markets, when the larger 313@Somerset store was ready. By then, the +J spring/summer 2010 collection was already in the pipeline, further prompting the early sale of the previous collection.

With some luck, such early markdowns will no longer be a problem. The label plans to open five more stores within the next two years in order to carry the full collection for consumers here.

The brand’s Singapore experience will come in handy when it enters new markets like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

“Singapore took to the winter collection very well despite the climate here. It is proof that customers are now more well-travelled and something we can apply to the other tropical markets we plan to enter,” says Hayashi.

This article was first published in Urban, The Straits Times.

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