TOKYO — Uniqlo’s sister brand is branching out from Asia and entering the U.S. market, with a pop-up store planned for this fall. GU, the lower-priced, trend-driven brand owned by parent company Fast Retailing, has chosen New York’s SoHo as the site of its first retail presence in the West.
“We want to accelerate the globalization of GU,” Osamu Yunoki, GU’s chief executive officer, said in an exclusive interview with WWD. “Until now, we have had strength in Asia and we were thinking of expanding from there step by step, but in order to become truly global, we realized it would be faster to open a store at the fashion center of the world in New York’s SoHo, and to use what we learn from that to continue our expansion.”
While the exact date of the pop-up’s opening is yet to be announced, Yunoki said it will be open for about a year, until summer of 2023. The store will encompass 2,900 square feet of sales floor and will stock a selection of the brand’s clothing and accessories for both men and women. The executive said the product offering will change as the brand tests out what types of styles are most popular among Western customers.
The decision to open a pop-up rather than a permanent retail presence in New York was made in order to make this kind of trialing of product selection easier, as well as for efficiency’s sake. Permanent brick-and-mortar stores take more time to launch due to contract negotiations and other administrative hurdles, Yunoki said.
As for what types of products customers can expect to find at the SoHo pop-up, Yunoki said it will be a mix of things that are considered typical of GU by its customers in Asia: well-made, trendy pieces that can easily be added to any shopper’s existing wardrobe. However, he said certain pieces that are considered “too Japanese” will likely be swapped out for other, more universally appealing styles.
“We want to convey [to Western customers] the unique characteristics of GU. These include beautiful design, high quality and affordable pricing. We are constantly pursuing the perfect balance of these three things,” Yunoki said. “And then we will also select products that we think will enable a wide variety of people to have fun with fashion.”
Sizing at the pop-up will be the same as it is in Japan, but the brand will work to communicate this to customers in order to avoid confusion. Sizes will range from XS to XL, and the selection will include many genderless and ageless styles, Yunoki said.
“We want to hear any opinions that our U.S. customers have, and use this to improve GU overall. That’s what we’re thinking of most with this pop-up,” Yunoki said.
Pronounced as the letters “g” and “u,” the GU brand was launched in 2006 and counts around 450 stores, most of which are located in Japan. The brand also has retail locations in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The opening of the SoHo pop-up marks the brand’s first foray outside of Asia and signals further international expansion. The brand name is inspired by the Japanese word “jiyu,” which means “freedom.”
While Yunoki plans to continue GU’s global expansion in other cities across the U.S. and eventually in Southeast Asia and Europe as well — with the end goal of having stores in all the same markets as Uniqlo — he said the brand has no concrete plans for additional store openings.
“For now, we want to concentrate on SoHo,” he said.