Fashion versus Clothes
May 15, 2010 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Two articles about successful clothes retailers - Uniqlo and Abercrombie & Fitch - that are both full of interesting tidbits ("Uniqlo is a company that prescribes, records, and analyzes every activity undertaken by every employee, from folding technique to the way advisers return charge cards to customers. Japanese style, with two hands and full eye contact"). In addition, the two articles have a lot to say about branding and what companies place importance on - with A&F coming across as a typical fashion retailer, aggressively selling and marketing a very specific look, and Uniqlo seeming to be doing something quite different and contrary to received wisdom.

Both Unqilo and A&F have a founder/CEO who exerts strong control over the company; Uniqlo is headed by Tadashi Yanai, the richest man in Japan, whereas Mike Jeffries, the 61-year-old CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, says "dude" a lot and has "aggressively transformed himself from a classically handsome man into a cartoonish physical specimen: dyed hair, perfectly white teeth, golden tan, bulging biceps, wrinkle-free face, and big, Angelina Jolie lips."

A&F is a typical fashion retailer; it sells a very specific look, and builds up the emotional pull of that look via heavy, distinctive branding that appropriates a series of familiar ideas, images and style cues from the past. Uniqlo is unusual; instead of building stores that are like sets for the movie of the brand, they focus on the way the clothes should be folded and the customer's credit card is handed back to them. “What’s different about Uniqlo is that they have chosen fabric, rather than fashion, as the area where they want to excel," says one analyst. This is quite unusual for a mass market chain that competes successfully against chains such as H&M which pride themselves on the speed of design turnover.
posted by Sifter (44 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Don't forget the Uniqlock. (previously on MeFi)
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:58 AM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Uni-Qlo owns my soul.

Although a bit less than they used to. When they had leisure trousers and camisoles, I was in absolute heaven - comfortable, lasted for a long time, and just generally awesome. But the last time I went to one of their London stores, they didn't have much of their leisure wear in stock. Or their underwear, which is also utterly fantastic. And since they're really just dressing skinny hipsters, there's not much else I can wear, so there's less I can buy.

But their UT t-shirts are awesome.
posted by Katemonkey at 10:09 AM on May 15, 2010

Fashion is overrated. It's what's behind the clothes that counts.
Personally, I'm a fan of American Apparel.
posted by tybeet at 10:10 AM on May 15, 2010

My philosophy puts a heavy emphasis on the quality of fabric and construction. I'll come up with my own style, thank you, and if I like one of A&F's ideas, then I can find a similar garment made by a manufacturer who puts more effort into their clothing's longevity. It is a rare company that comes up with a garment that has styling unique enough that it can't be found elsewhere.

That's why I appreciate Uniqlo's focus on fabric and consider them an excellent source for casual basics. Highlights include:

-Raw jeans made of heavy (16oz?) Kaihara denim for $70 and non-raw ones for $30-$50. Kaihara is one of the 3 biggest Japanese denim manufacturers and is probably the one that made the denim for your APC New Standards or your $300 Flat Heads.

-100% cotton or cotton-linen blend shirts, 100% wool sweaters for $30-$50

Though some of their jackets and coats are polyester-cotton blends or other synthetics.

Their service touches go way beyond looking you in the eyes, too. The Uniqlo store will alter any pants you buy from them for free. With so many people walking around with their pant legs pooling around their feet or slipping under their heels, this is an essential service.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 10:55 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mike Jeffries...has "aggressively transformed himself from a classically handsome man into a cartoonish physical specimen... The Man Behind Abercrombie & Fitch. Previous FPP: WASPY is cool!
posted by ericb at 11:22 AM on May 15, 2010

I've only ever shopped at Uniqlo in Japan, so I wasn't aware they did the two-handed presentation thing elsewhere, but I have to say, I really like that particular piece of etiquette, and would do it more myself if people didn't look at me like a freak.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:30 AM on May 15, 2010

Working for Uniqlo sounds like a nightmare.
posted by kenko at 11:36 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Uniqlo store will alter any pants you buy from them for free. With so many people walking around with their pant legs pooling around their feet or slipping under their heels, this is an essential service.

Combine this with the fact that they carry smaller men's sizes (difficult to find "petite" men's clothes), and Uniqlo is our #1 fashion destination. I go up to the men's floor on a weekend, and I'm the tallest, heaviest person there. It's utopia.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:39 AM on May 15, 2010

Uniqlo has better quality items than the Gap, and is cheaper. I love Uniqlo. I love Uniqlo. I love Uniqlo.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:41 AM on May 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

The Uniqlo “+J” line, designed by Jil Sander, is worth a look. It combines the fabric and affordability of the standard Uniqlo range, but with more sophisticated fit and finishing.
posted by george_morgan at 11:50 AM on May 15, 2010

I’ll also add that Uniqlo is to Gap as Muji is to Ikea.
posted by george_morgan at 11:51 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Thing from Fantastic Four has a blonde wig and is running Abercrombie & Fitch. Who knew.
posted by fire&wings at 11:52 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of my absolute favorite Spanish sayings sums it up:

Mono en seda, mono queda.

"A monkey in silk, remains a monkey".
posted by dbiedny at 12:07 PM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

lol aberzombies
posted by Eideteker at 12:10 PM on May 15, 2010

I go up to the men's floor on a weekend, and I'm the tallest, heaviest person there. It's utopia.

I'm 5'4", but also in Kansas, where our nationwide options are pretty much Old Navy and Urban Outfitters. Unless I go to the vintage store, I'm extremely hard-pressed to find pants with a 28" inseam. Come on, Uniqlo, there are short dudes in the midwest!
posted by maus at 12:26 PM on May 15, 2010

I wonder how much longer it will take for uniqlo to finally open up in germany. loved them when I was living in london. just a good, solid place to get the staples.
posted by krautland at 12:29 PM on May 15, 2010

The interesting thing for me is that AF is offering the trappings of a particular lifestyle, while Uniqlo seems to be offering you high quality and stellar customer service. I guess I find it hard to believe that the N. American market is as baldly aspirational and shallow as my statement makes it seem. On the other hand, I am not Japanese, and have not spent enough time in Japan to judge whether Uniqlo might fill a similar niche in Japanese culture.

I find it more interesting that AF, back in its tweed & goosedown days, seems to have been more like Uniqlo than the AbbieFitch of today.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:34 PM on May 15, 2010

Working for Uniqlo sounds like a nightmare.

Probably not. Japanese workplaces are usually very highly structured. Uniqlo isn't anything out of the ordinary.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:37 PM on May 15, 2010

MetaFilter: Japanese style, with two hands and full eye contact.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:18 PM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're looking to make a lot of money in stock, find the clothing store I wouldn't be caught dead in. Invest heavily.

Oh, and give me back my credit card and stop staring at me - what is this? Some kind of cult?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:25 PM on May 15, 2010

The interesting thing for me is that AF is offering the trappings of a particular lifestyle, while Uniqlo seems to be offering you high quality and stellar customer service.

It's not just Uniqlo, it's every single shop in Japan. McDonald's, convenience stores, you name it. As fast as humanly possible and incredibly cheerful, formal, and polite every damn time. One of these days I'll catch someone off their game, but it hasn't happened yet. (Ok, maybe a few times, but it's really rare).

And Nthing I heart Uniqlo. It's good quality and cheap casual wear; the only downside is that it's so popular you'll see your shirt or pants or whatever on everyone else walking around.
posted by zardoz at 3:04 PM on May 15, 2010

I love Muji, but I love Uniqlo too... and hanging out at core77 meant I could watch them prep and open their NYC flagship store. interestingly wearing fuschia heat tech turtleneck right now

go uniqlo!
posted by infini at 3:52 PM on May 15, 2010

I'm another short dude that loves Uniqlo. It's awesome being able to buy clothing that actually fits me.
posted by defenestration at 3:56 PM on May 15, 2010

I am a full fledged member of the UNIQLO cult. I love my Keith Haring, Squaredog, Radiating baby, Black pyramid t-shirt from UNIQLO almost as much as life itself.
posted by Xurando at 4:08 PM on May 15, 2010

Finding good teeshirts has become nigh-impossible: Even expensive designery teeshirts from expensive designery department stores have fabric so thin that the light colors are sheer, and they can only be differentiated from the cheap tees at Old Navy by the cut and stitching. Gap teeshirts, which had been my standard for years, devolved into nasty, filmy crap a couple years ago.

If Uniqlo still stocks teeshirts with reasonable fabric weight, I am stocking up next time I'm near one.
posted by ardgedee at 4:59 PM on May 15, 2010

I'm nthing the love for uniqlo. There's rarely a day that goes by when someone doesn't notice some piece of clothing I have from that great store. Uniqlo is what heaven is for small, fashionable fellows.
posted by Stynxno at 6:25 PM on May 15, 2010

AA just opened an outlet here in Waterloo. I've dismissed them out of hand for moving into too-pricey space on King st and having overly trendy marketing, but if they actually make clothes in the US and treat people well, it's worth looking into. We probably buy most of our stuff from Lands End, though, because it's well made, durable, thoughtfully designed and reasonably priced. (ardgedee, most of my Ts are from LE and are great; keep your eye on sale prices on "off season" colours.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:35 PM on May 15, 2010

Oh please. I'll be impressed when the retailer has staff who, after they've told you how great you look in that $300 pair of jeans and $1000 jacket - and let's face it, pretty much anyone looks good in a thousand dollar jacket - properly follow through and have sex with you in the changing rooms. Then I'll be like "Ah, forgot my wallet!"

I went into a G-Star store on Friday because they had a sale on. Naturally they didn't have much in my size even though I take 38 Diesels and that's not that grotesquely fat, but I said to them "Yeah, I'll take a look at whatever you've got at around that price", the price being the sale price I saw in the window, which was $100 for a pair of jeans. So pretty much immediately the guy brings me a $290 pair of fucking commando pants and anyway I don't think I'm groovy enough to wear G-Star. Then I had a look at some Zegna jeans at another place and who the fuck is buying these things for $599?
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:52 PM on May 15, 2010

Also I wish somebody would wise up and open a J. Crew here in Queensland because I hear nothing but good things about them and they have some really nice-looking and reasonably priced stuff.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:57 PM on May 15, 2010

JCrew's a little too expensive, in my opinion. Wait for a sale. That said, their collection for this season is a serious improvement over their past stuff.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 9:06 PM on May 15, 2010

Yesterday I was wearing my new favorite shirt: a long sleeve from Uniqlo that feels like the pure essence of "softness. Today I am wearing summer pants from Uniqlo that feel "sleek". Their fabrics, at their priceS, are unique. Though made in China, I am happy to shop there whenever I am in NYC. And I live in California.
posted by noway at 9:52 PM on May 15, 2010

Uniqlo did not pay me to say this but its the only pair of jeans I own which when I turned to the whiteboard made someone ask me where did I get those jeans from
posted by infini at 9:56 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm another short dude that loves Uniqlo.
Yeah, I'm going to have to look into ordering some of their clothes online- pretty much every article of clothing I have that fits me perfectly is older than I am.
posted by maus at 10:08 PM on May 15, 2010

I'm a skinny, average height dude that lives in the midwest, where all clothes seem to be made for fat people. Or, at the very least, a medium is the smallest thing you can find. Thank god I travel to NYC often enough to buy a large chunk of my wardrobe at Uniqlo. The quality of the clothing is ridiculous considering how little it costs, and it fits!
posted by TrialByMedia at 6:57 AM on May 16, 2010

Thanks for posting that link, ofthestrait. I have friends who swear by Uniqlo and if they don't know about phone ordering, I suspect it will make them very happy. Sadly, I'm probably too busty and hippy to take advantage of it myself.
posted by immlass at 7:18 AM on May 16, 2010

It has been months since I wore anything that didn't come from Uniqlo, except for shoes. I'm not even exaggerating. For people like me who want to limit their fashion-channelled self-expression to the sartorial equivalent of white noise, for as little money as possible, Uniqlo is God.
posted by No-sword at 7:22 AM on May 16, 2010

Sadly, I'm probably too busty and hippy to take advantage of it myself.
I'm busty but otherwise have a small frame, and I've had good luck with Uniqlo t-shirts and polos. They fit me in the shoulders, and the high-quality fabric stretches pretty well. I have a hard time finding tops that are cut for people with narrow shoulders.

I can't help with hippy, because I don't have hips. I'm like two grapefruits nailed to a two-by-four.
posted by craichead at 9:24 AM on May 16, 2010

I second what craichead says

I used to be like that, even now its more of a minor middle age *cough* spread (scraped off) than anything else, no wait, its winter padding, that's what it is... *glares at potbelly*

i don't like where this thread is going ;p
posted by infini at 11:03 AM on May 16, 2010

"Uniqlo Love" sounds like a song by CSN&Y
posted by infini at 11:04 AM on May 16, 2010

For those of us in Japan, Uniqlo is a godsend. It certainly helps that they are literally everywhere in Japan, though until recently outlets in central Tokyo have been few in number.

Like no-sword, I too am usually wearing 90%+ Uniqlo. They do sell shoes, too, though their sister company (and Fast Retailing subsidiary) Footpark, but I prefer to spend a bit more money to on things that are constantly squeezed between my foot and the pavement.

Oh, and if for some reason you think Uniqlo is too expensive, Fast Retailing has another option: g.u.
posted by armage at 6:08 PM on May 16, 2010 The Man Behind Abercrombie & Fitch. Previous FPP: WASPY is cool!

Yeah, this post is half double. But the Uniqlo article was interesting. It sounds so exhausting to work there, both as a salesperson and higher up in management. I don't think I could do it. I remembered reading the Salon article on AF when it was first posted here. The CEO seemed like a jackass, but he also seemed in tune with what suburban/ex-urban teenagers want. They don't really have the best or most long-term of aspirations. It's a completely different market than Uniqlo's.

I wish the Gap was better. Uniqlo is what the Gap should be. I know people outside of NYC are fatter, but there should be a way to make Uniqlo style and quality clothes for larger people.
posted by bluefly at 10:44 AM on May 17, 2010

Finally got to visit a Uniqlo a couple days ago.

Ended up buying about three times as many shirts as I expected to, and I had expected to buy more shirts than I needed. This is cool; I'm going to retire some undershirts I'd been hanging onto for too long, and store some shirts until what I've got now wear out.

Their goods are cheaper than The Gap's - at worst, they're price-matched - but the quality and design are considerably better.

As an example of good design, their undershirts are long enough to securely tuck into trousers. This should be an obvious feature. However, all my other undershirts, a variety of department store brands and designer brands bought over the past few years, have been made out of progressively thinner, cheaper cloth and gotten progressively shorter in the trunk. The final straw was a set of shirts which otherwise fit perfectly but are translucent and so short they can't stay tucked if I sit down and stand again. The manufacturer saved money on cloth while still shipping the product, but they lost any further business from me.

A+++ would endure the utter frenzy at their store again to not have to put up with bullshit in my daily wear.
posted by ardgedee at 12:45 PM on May 25, 2010

How to order from Uniqlo - from, where despite the context, it is not jap-anese. doh.

I also love love love this store and it's one of the things I miss about leaving Japan. But holy hell, $70 for a pair of jeans? They're totally ripping you guys off in the states: the jeans should be about $30 and the awesome long sleeve Ts run around $7. If you ever needed to justify a shopping trip to Japan, do Uniqlo and get some glasses ($100 for frames and prescription lenses) and call it even...
posted by whatzit at 1:37 PM on May 26, 2010

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