“Welcome to UNIQLO!” I’m greeted by friendly staff with these wordsevery time I step into a UNIQLO store. I have been getting my clothes from UNIQLOfor almost a decade now. UNIQLO is a Japanese fashion brand that sells apparelthat comes from their “Japanese values of simplicity, quality, and longevity” (UNIQLO.com,2018).
I’ll be discussing about how UNIQLO and its brand value has affected meand impacted my life, the concept of minimalism, globalisation of the brand andhow UNIQLO has successfully adapted their brand to different markets globally. UNIQLO first opened in Japan in 1949 has been expanding rapidly eversince. Majority of their International stores are in Asia, but they entered theEurope market in 2010 and the American market in 2011 (Fast Retailing, 2011). Interior of UNIQLOPhoto: Retail Asia, 2015 As someone who doesn’t dress like a conventional female does, it’s veryhard to find basic clothes that suit and fit me – clothes I find are either toobig or too tight – never just right. I struggled with finding the perfect fitfor the longest time because of my petite size. When I first stepped into a UNIQLOstore, I was 13. It was like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Now I’m 21 and I find myself wearing at least one item of clothing from UNIQLOevery single day – a tshirt, polo tee, jacket, or shorts. My petite friendsoften ask me where I get my clothes from and we would often go on and on aboutthe best places to find basic clothes for us. I’d always recommend UNIQLO. I slowly started embracing this movement of minimalism that the Japaneseare so obsessed with.
It started with basic t-shirts and shorts from UNIQLO,but I was introduced to another Japanese lifestyle brand, Muji. When we were kids, the person with the biggest pencil case was alwaysseen as the coolest. We all had pencil cases bigger than our heads.
When I was14, I ditched my giant pencil case and came to school with just 4 items fromMuji in my mini pencil case – a pen, pencil, ruler, and eraser. All my friendsthought that I was weird but I didn’t care. My bag was substantially lighterand it was so much easier to find the stationary that I needed. After a fewyears, minimalism seeped into my bedroom. I only had two bed sheets onrotation.
It then moved to my bedroom furniture. I embraced the minimalist wayof life and got rid of a huge bookshelf and a bunch of books from my primaryschool days. There was simply no use for it anymore. One day my friend told me that the reason why the Japanese have so fewthings at home is because of the frequency of earthquakes. I was so surprised –why have I never thought about this before? It made so much sense. I did aquick Google and found out it was true. According to Naoki Numahata, a writerliving in Japan, 30-50% of earthquake injuries happen because of fallingobjects.
“If you have fewer possessions, you have fewer things to injure youwhen an earthquake happens” (Shamsian, 2018). This relates to the concept of Ma (pronounced “maah”). It isnot a celebration of things, “but the space between them. It is about negativespace, voids, emptiness” (Breyer, 2017). Here in Asia we are constantly movingat an extremely fast pace. We fill our houses, kitchens, and dinner plates withthings, but in our embrace of abundance, everything loses value.
“With simpleactions like pausing during the day to reflect and breathe, or by having fewerthings, there is room to focus on the space without things, Ma, which makes thethings there all the more precious” (Breyer, 2017). UNIQLO-lisation andthe spread of the Japanese value of minimalism Globalisation is defined by BBC as “the process by which the world isbecoming increasingly interconnected as a result of massively increased tradeand cultural exchange” (2018). According to Seita, what is meaningful will nowtranscend national boundaries and will expand to cover the entire planet(1997).
UNIQLO has 841 stores all over the world including the United States,Singapore, London, and China (Leap in UNIQLO Brand Recognition in the U.S,2012). UNIQLO has managed to penetrate into both the Asian and Western market,thereby spreading the Japanese value of Maand minimalism to the said markets. Notable early adaptors of minimalismincluded Steve Jobs. Although minimalism is not a new concept, the lifestyle isnow “trending across the United States” (Weinswig, 2018). Business Insider alsoreported that “minimalism has been the biggest trend” for the last few yearsbecause of influences from Japan and lifestyle coaches like Marie Kondo, apopular Japanese author of the book TheLife Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Taylor, 2018).
Technology has played a part in the rapid rate of globalisation as well.”Almost everyone everywhere wants all the things they heard about, seen, or experiencedvia the new technologies” (Aliber and Click, 1999). People are able tocommunicate with each other and read articles, facilitating mutual interests. Inthe recent decade, minimalism has been a popular trend that has taken theinternet by storm. It not only applies to fashion, but interior design andpeople’s overall lifestyles as well.
YouTubers and bloggers have been talkingabout their forays into minimalism online. Screenshot of “minimalism UNIQLO” search onYouTubePhoto: Myself, 2018 While UNIQLO might be driven primarily by economic factors by openingmore stores worldwide, the process of globalisation of the brand will havesignificant impact on the countries affected. With more stores, brand recognitionwill be rising steadily. With the help of news channels and social media, UNIQLO’sbrand message and the Japanese value of “simple is better” will continue tospread, and people will be more aware of the Japanese culture and value ofminimalism and simplicity. Globalisation promotes common values across countries. People all overthe world are able to establish a bond, in this case, because of the value ofminimalism, contributing to a sense of community among them. UNIQLO-daptation When UNIQLO first entered into the European and American markets, theyhad some trouble appealing to the consumers (Fast Retailing, 2012). A studydone by UK Essays showed that consumers had a “slight preference for Europeanfashion lines based on the perception that European fashions are better made orbetter designed” (2013).
The Western market has a distinctively different styleas compared to Japan’s, so UNIQLO has to adapt the brand and even indigenisetheir products to fit the specific market that they want to target. “Brands don’t translate the same from region to region, or country tocountry” (United Language Group, 2017). This is why it is so important forUNIQLO to focus on adapting their brand and products, as well as to include alocal strategy. One of the ways UNIQLO has done this is by using Asian models for theirAsian markets and Caucasian models for their Western markets. UNIQLO Japan AdvertisementPhoto: PRI, 2014 UNIQLO New York AdvertisementPhoto: Brand Channel, 2011 Another way UNIQLO has adapted to the different markets is by creatingproducts that are region-specific. According to a report published by FastRetailing, UNIQLO said as they “expand globally, they must adapt UNIQLO clothesto suit local cultures and lifestyles” (2013). UNIQLO has identified the factthat each market is different and that the people in different regions havedifferent needs, thus they have to localise their products to fit each market.
This allows their target market to identify with their advertisementsand allows the brand to be better understood. UNIQLO’s brand message, “simpleis better”, will be imparted to their market in a more effective way and theiraudience will be more receptive to it as well. Conclusion UNIQLO is an example of Japanese fashion that has expanded globally. Thesuccessful globalisation of UNIQLO and localisation of the brand has played apart in the spread and popularity of the Japanese culture and value ofminimalism. I also came to realise that certain brands’ ethos can indeed makean impact on their consumers’ lives. Though it may not be immediate and apparent,these things change slowly over time as the brand’s popularity grows.