Brand Review: Uniqlo

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I was greatly saddened to see the decline of Waterstone’s on Oxford Street. Though there was still a mighty flagship a few hundred meters away on Piccadilly, the loss of a bookshop on such a famous avenue of acquisition was unnerving; ‘No more books on Oxford Street’ I mused, wistfully. In actual fact, this maudlin assumption was incorrect. Waterstone’s had simply downsized and moved further west; their smaller Oxford Street berth is now opposite the gargantuan department store that is Selfridges & Co. Though still on the ‘right end’ of Oxford Street, it is drifting towards the unsavoury Primark district; an area lacking in any aesthetic or architectural merit. The premises they vacated are in one of the best locations on the street. Close to Bond Street Tube and Oxford Circus, John Lewis, Zara and Massimo Dutti not to mention flagship stores of River Island, HMV and the House of Fraser. Uniqlo, the new tenants of the space, are fortunate to have landed such a location.

For a Japanese company it is unsurprising that Uniqlo are ‘Big in Japan’; far bigger in fact than anywhere else they trade. However, it is slightly unexpected that their European adventure has so far been confined to fourteen stores in the United Kingdom and two in France. No wonder that come tourist season in London, wide-eyed Germans, Italians, Spaniards and Swedes are rushing around the stores, stocking up on items they cannot get back home. Understanding a little German, I overheard one gentleman recently comment “Für die Qualität, der Preis ist unglaublich!” He was right; for the quality in store, the price is quite incredible.

Uniqlo are a brand that, price wise, places themselves alongside H&M but, style wise, avoids their aesthetic almost entirely. Uniqlo is what some refer to as an ‘essentials store’; basic items, sold very cheaply, in a huge variety of colours. T-shirts, v-necks, underwear, socks, cardigans and chinos are the staple stock and they are incredibly popular. Whereas H&M stores are usually full of teenagers and twenty-somethings bobbing along to the chart-friendly getting-dressed-to-go-out pop music, Uniqlo is often teaming with silver foxes; sexagenarians looking for some t-shirts for their next Mediterranean cruise. It avoids pretension and instead opts for variety of tone and a reasonable quality of fabric and construction. Indeed, for the price, the quality is above expectations. H&M tells you how to dress and what to do, tying scarves around mannequins necks and shoving pocket squares into pockets, adding ‘design’ features to garments and closely following trends. Uniqlo just offers you a simple palette of classics with conventional fits.

This does however have its limitations. If you are one of those who hanker for slim-fitting clothing, in line with the current aesthetic, you are unlikely to be sated by Uniqlo’s offering. Similarly, if you are looking for something that stores like Zara offer – tailored and ‘polished’ items that look designer-lite – you won’t find them in Uniqlo. Purchasing an entire outfit of elegance is not possible in such a store; the jackets are too lacking in structure, the trousers insufficiently tailored but the real value in the place is the selection of simple items that can complement full ensembles. I spent ten minutes at the sock section, choosing my ‘4 for £6.99’ from the rainbow of colours on offer; I grabbed an Extra Small cotton cardigan in sky blue for a mere £9.99 (Uniqlo have finally started stocking clothing that fits me) and was nearly tempted by a knitted tie. My father came into the store with me on a recent trip, and was raving about the £4.99 t-shirts that are offered in such a vast array of colours – “When they’re this cheap, and that quality, you cannot go wrong.”


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Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

Comments

  1. Harry says:

    Your review is spot-on, in my view. One of the huge appeals of this store is the consistent quality (anyone for boxer shorts?) and another the range of colours (I got a sky blue V-neck merino jersey which I had looked for elsewhere). All this at affordable (but not Primark) price levels. PS: You appear to have accidentally reordered the words in your German quotation…

  2. Barima says:

    A fine review as usual; I do think this quote bears some observation: “Purchasing an entire outfit of elegance is not possible in such a store”
    -
    Whilst generally true, our friend Dennis at Made To Measure NY has done rather well with Uniqlo’s seersucker suit, as he’s demonstrated in a recent post
    -
    I also think that Uniqlo has proffered the more desirable garments of the last year’s affordable x designer collaborations – pieces such as a knitted waistcoat have definite staying power

  3. Adam L. says:

    I have to agree that this store is great for the basics. I’ve been meaning to go back to the NYC store for a while now to pick up more socks in bright summer colors, as they’re the best, simplest, and most inexpensive I’ve found; I just have to build up the courage to brave the crowds. But I’m a little confused that you say the slim aesthetic can’t be found at Uniqlo. Perhaps they’ve sized differently here in the US market. I have somewhat broad shoulders and about a 34-inch waist, and I was too skeptical when trying on their seersucker jacket to make the purchase. The shoulders fit perfectly, with the obvious drawback that I could barely close the jacket! I came away feeling that even after they re-sized for the discrepancy between Japanese and American builds, the store was still designed a bit more for the stick-thin hipster crowd.

    I walked away with a seersucker waistcoat and a socks-rainbow, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain!

  4. Jake says:

    It tends to concern me when somewhere can sell you a cardigan for £9.99. The prices may be ‘unbelievable’, but there’s a reason for this. Somewhere along the line, surely corners are being cut? Partly it’s in the quality, which is fair enough, the clothes are cheap enough to be essentially ‘disposable’ when they fall apart. More importantly, though, I believe that Uni Qlo clothes are produced in sweatshops in China.

    Of course, that may not be a concern, but I do think it’s worthwhile if people who care about clothes also lead the way in caring about the provenance of clothes.
    I like a bargain, and I don’t have a big clothing budget, but I still care deeply about quality and artisanship, and I personally feel that Uni Qlo is incompatible with this.

  5. Patrick says:

    As mentioned in a good book “Deluxe, how luxury lost its luster”, being made in Chinese sweatshops is not limited to lower-end brands. Most of the higher end brands (some under contracts that require anonymity) are also farming out portions of production or the entire production process to China and other cheap labor markets. The generalization that more expensive must mean higher quality or that cheaper must mean lower quality is flawed.

  6. Jake says:

    I don’t believe I mentioned higher-end brands. Your point appears to be that we shouldn’t worry about Uni Qlo’s working practices because more expensive brands do the same thing? If so, I think I can see a flaw in your own argument.

    I do my best to shop responsibly whenever possible, whether on expensive or cheap items. The fact remains, however, that ‘unbelievable’ prices usually point to corners being cut. In this case, the poor quality and dubious practices of Uni Qlo are well documented.

  7. Patrick says:

    No that wasn’t my point. Your previous post seemed to be more concerned with the idea of sweatshops because they were incompatible with “quality and artisanship” not a concern over humane labor practices. And the initial concern about quality was related to price (“when somewhere can sell you a cardigan for £9.99″).

    So I was addressing the concern about quality only, not conscientious buying habits. And it’s that price is not always a good indicator of quality, considering many expensive brands (even those purportedly ‘made’ in another country) are made in the same sweatshops as cheaper brands.

  8. Adam L. says:

    Patrick has a valid point both for the price- and ethics-conscious buyers. A truly ethical buyer would have a very hard time finding many basic items that aren’t produced in a sweatshop-like environment. This may be more true in America, where almost all fashion textile products are outsourced.
    Likewise, believing that quality is tied to price is, in many cases, severely flawed. Just look at the jeans industry, where a single manufacturer in South America may produce the same jeans for a cost of about $8, and source them out to various brand names to be marked up between $30 and $200. Regardless of the price in that scenario, the quality and ethics are identical across brands, and the customer only pays for status or superficial styling.

  9. Gary says:

    The best T.shirts I have ever bought were 3 quid from Asda.This is regards their plain ones.Primarks are 2 quid. Not too bad either

  10. David Royce says:

    Regarding Uniqlo’s slims styling, you may not have looked very carefully? Did you see the plethora of “skinny” jean styles? The slim fitting button downs shirts and all the rest?