For many of us, the days of pilgrimages to Uniqlo locations in New York or London are now over. That’s right, the Canadian retail landscape evolves (and improves) again with the arrival of Japanese behemoth, Uniqlo. As proponents of the “Lifewear philosophy,” Uniqlo has prioritized making basics that are simple, beautiful and ultimately, not so basic. The store opens officially today but hosted a private party at Toronto’s CF Eaton Centre at Yonge and Dundas, that included an official sake ceremony presided over by Founder Tadashi Yanai.
Earlier in the day we spoke with Uniqlo’s John C. Jay, president of global creative at the Shangri La Hotel to talk global goals, Uniqlo’s Canada-specific campaign #uncommonthread, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
FASHION: How has Uniqlo branched out of being this Asian staple to an international one-size-fits-all?
John C. Jay: The one thing about being a global brand is the Asian DNA can never be forgotten. It is our calling card to the world. It is what makes us unique. It is the DNA of the Lifewear philosophy and how we approach casual wear. In terms of being global, it doesn’t mean we’re not Japanese. We’re creating casual apparel, which is a Western invention, but if the Japanese culture, especially contemporary culture, has a strength, it’s the ability to re-think something. Probably long before digital technology and the Internet, it was the forefather of re-examining what originality means, because the Japanese have this incredible way of taking something and re-inventing it, or at least improving it.
Can you elaborate a bit on Lifewear?
I’ll describe it very personally from how I see my job. It is to bring the highest level of quality to the greatest number of people. A term that we use with love is, ‘simple made better.’ Most people will think simplicity is the end point. For us, simplicity is the entry point. The idea that you can constantly improve simplicity is a very Japanese idea.
Simplicity is not permanent. Simplicity can be improved upon. That means your favourite navy blue Shetland sweater can be improved upon, and that’s our job, is to improve it, season to season.
This is Uniqlo’s first Canadian store, is there is anything uniquely Canadian here?
The idea of #uncommon thread, based on common thread is very much based on our understanding and appreciation of Canada, it is multi-racial and your great young leader (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) has put that at the forefront. This ability to live and work together is a very strong part of our opening campaign. It’ll take some time for us to truly understand the country, but we clearly came in trying to be a good neighbor and to be local. We understand that, with all of our ambitions to be a great global brand, that can only happen if we become a great local brand. When you wake up in the morning, you’re not worried about global relevance. You’re concerned about, “Where can I get something warm for my family or something interesting for my dinner tonight?” and so forth.
Every time I go to New York, I say you can just parachute me into the SoHo Uniqlo store. Not anymore?
You should drop in again, because it was just renovated. A pet project is the opening of the Japanese Magazine Store inside the [Soho New York] store, because when all of us travel to Japan, if there’s any place in the world that proves to everyone that print is far from being dead, that print is alive, it’s Tokyo. The Tokyo Book Fair, the bookstores, the magazine stores, it’s just extraordinary how editorial continues to live on paper there.
That’s very nice for someone like me, because I still work in print.