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The Uniqlo flagship store in Union Square; all photos via Uniqlo
Around this time last year, Japan-based Uniqlo opened the doors of its first U.S. West Coast store, choosing SF over LA for the honor. At the flagship store's opening, Yasunobu Kyogoku, Uniqlo's then-U.S. COO, explained, "We chose San Francisco because it's a hotbed of global technological innovation." After a year of studying the SF market and introducing new products (cashmere!), Uniqlo is opening four more Bay Area locations.
We spoke with the new(ish) U.S. COO Larry Meyer (formerly of Forever21) at last week's anniversary party to ask him what's behind the Uniqlo obsession — the kind that drives people to tackle long lines to buy the product. Meyer hesitates to overstate the brand's magnetism but pointed to its mantra ("Bringing Affordability and Quality for Everyday Life") and a few tactics that resulted in its mass market appeal.Uniqlo celebrates a year in Union Square; all photos via Uniqlo
A year after Uniqlo opened in Union Square, the store remains incredibly popular, and there's so much excitement about the four new stores — what's behind Uniqlo's SF popularity?
"Uniqlo is about making life easy and about a quality of life, which resonates well with the customer and the lifestyle here. Then there are also the high standards held for both product and production. And Uniqlo cares about the environment and about people."
Where does Uniqlo manufacture?
"Uniqlo manufactures in China and in Bangladesh with the highest standards set by the headquarters in Japan and with long-time partners. The consistency and the standards ensure that the factories work safely. And Uniqlo institutes programs to minimize harm to the environment from manufacturing."
And what are the social programs you spoke of earlier?
"Uniqlo partners with the UN Refugee Program. One example of the partnership is Uniqlo's donation of its fleece and its heat tech products for refugees from Syria."
How does Uniqlo approach global expansion?
"The brand started in Japan and expanded to China before coming to the US. The approach is to go area by area. This creates an awareness for Uniqlo and its products across a specific geographic location while allowing for intensive training and development in close proximity to many stores. This ensures that standards are maintained. It's also a way to control growth and adapt the scale depending on an area's demand."
What's next for Uniqlo in SF?
"To continue customer growth without ever losing focus on the product, price, and the highest customer service level. Uniqlo also strives to innovate, like the iPad checkout option in an effort to decrease lines."
· Uniqlo [Official Site]
· We Have Dates for the Four Upcoming Bay Area Uniqlo Openings [Racked SF]