LONDON — Brexit and the escalating tension between Russia and Ukraine have not seemed to dent retailers’ confidence in London’s West End.
On Thursday, Fast Retailing Co. is set to open its “most significant store to date” for the Uniqlo and Theory brands at 101-113 Regent Street, on the corner of Vigo Street, in what was the Superdry flagship. It spans three floors, with Uniqlo on the lower ground, ground and first floors, and Theory on the ground floor.
The new space covers 20,500 square feet and marks the first time that Uniqlo and Theory will occupy the same store in the U.K. and Europe. The new location is across the street from Uniqlo’s former Regent Street store, and the brand also has a flagship on Oxford Street, a 10-minute walk away.
Tadashi Yanai, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Fast Retailing, said, “Regent Street and the United Kingdom hold a special significance” for his company, which started as a casual menswear store in Hiroshima City in 1984.
“Regent Street was one of the first Uniqlo stores we opened outside our home market, Japan, back in 2001. During these past 20 years, we have raised our profile as a global apparel retailer, and in the U.K. market alone, we now boast several stores,” he added.
Taku Morikawa, CEO of Uniqlo Europe, told WWD during the store tour that the opening of the joint store serves as a perfect moment to commemorate the brand’s two-decade successful expansion in the U.K. and to celebrate the limitless creativity the city has to offer. Uniqlo first entered the U.K. in the early Aughts with aggressive plans to expand nationwide — opening stores not only in central London but also in its suburbs as well as in other cities. But the brand struggled against more-entrenched U.K. retailers and Uniqlo had to pull back on its initial strategy, closing 16 stores, mainly outside central London, before regrouping and beginning to focus primarily on city-center units.
Morikawa said of the new flagship: “The store was designed to reflect the spirit of London and aims to make our LifeWear offering more accessible and sustainable for our loyal customers who have supported us in the U.K. for these past 20 years.
“We strongly believe that at Uniqlo, physical stores are really crucial and necessary for people’s life. Especially with such a big flagship store, we can showcase our full lineup. And then we collaborate with many local partners. And it’s through that partnership we try to encourage the market and improve people’s lives, and show our commitment to society and our company philosophy,” he added.
Jace Tyrrell, CEO at New West End Company, which represents some 600 retail, restaurant, hotel and property owners in central London’s core shopping areas anchored by Bond, Oxford and Regent Streets, said the opening of the Uniqlo-Theory joint store is “a vote of confidence” for the West End, and “a great example of retailers responding directly to changing consumer needs and presenting a new flagship concept.”
To celebrate the anniversary, Uniqlo partnered with art institution Tate on an open call for Tate Collective, members aged between 16 to 25, to creatively respond to the theme “The Spirit of London.”
Three winners — Rosie Haynes, Flatboy and Yolande Mutale — each created a series of digital art pieces that showed what they love about London, and these works are featured on the stairway walls inside the Uniqlo store on Regent Street.
The store space balances restoration and innovation. On the lower ground floor, a Grade I Listed dome space, which hosted a barbershop in the 1920s, the original Art Deco features remain intact and are now home to a display of the Uniqlo masterpiece collection.
The Uniqlo store will also be equipped with recycling bins for the Re-Uniqlo circular program and for donations to the U.N. Refugee Agency under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as the company’s very first repair studio in partnership with the East London repair shop Studio Masachuka.
As a demonstration of its commitment to sustainability, the Repair Studio will provide repair services based on the Japanese sashiko stitching technique, which encourages customers to mend, embellish and upcycle clothes instead of tossing them away.
Masahiko Morikawa, founder of Studio Masachuka, who has been working on garment repair in London for 11 years, told WWD that the branch inside the Uniqlo store will be served by three skilled workers. A 10-cm-by-10-cm stitching is around 10 pounds, while a small bee embroidery, which covers the hole on a garment, costs three to five pounds. All the repair materials and tools, including needles and scissors, are sourced from centuries-old specialized makers in Japan.
The Regent Street store also holds the record for having the most amount of fitting rooms, 38 in total, in the world, according to the brand. To smooth the shopping experience, the store is equipped with automatic check-outs and a click-and-collect service.
While the store doesn’t have an event space like the Oxford Street one on the top floor, the new unit feels much more spacious. There are sitting areas by the giant windows overlooking Regent Street and Sackville Street, and spacious oval shape staircases connecting each floor.
For the opening, the store has florals displays provided by South East London florist JamJar Flowers, alongside a pop-up from East London coffee roaster Perky Blenders, which will be offering free coffee to all customers for the opening week.
For the Theory store, architecture studio Sybarite, which was behind the award-winning Beijing SKP-S shopping mall, designed a sculpted and curvaceous modern space created from natural materials, including cork and organic clay.
Simon Mitchell, cofounder of Sybarite, said the interior of the Theory store aims to reflect the brand’s core values of “timelessness, balance and openness.”
“Regent Street is an inviting and cohesive backdrop navigated in an organic circular motion through sustainable, muted and textured tone and materiality,” he added.
The store will carry the brand’s men’s and women’s collections, offering both its bestselling styles in signature fabrics as well the latest seasonal designs.
There are 15 Uniqlo stores in the U.K., 13 of which are in Greater London with the other two in Oxford and Manchester, respectively. The Regent Street store will be Theory’s third unit in London.
Newly expanded head offices for the companies’ European and U.K. operations will be housed across the three floors above the store. They will include the first in-house press showroom for Uniqlo.
International business is becoming increasingly important for Fast Retailing. Yanai said at a press briefing last week that the retailer will significantly step up store openings, aiming for 400 to 500 new stores a year globally in the near future.
For the six months ended Feb. 28, among Fast Retailing’s business segments, Uniqlo International showed a strong performance, posting significant increases in both revenue and profit.
Sales for the segment rose by 13.7 percent on the year, totaling 593.2 billion yen, while operating profit shot up by 49.7 percent to 100.3 billion yen. The results were driven by robust growth at Uniqlo operations in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, North America, and Europe, which all reported large increases in both sales and profit.
“Operating profit generated by North America and Europe constituted approximately 20 percent of the total for the Uniqlo International segment,” Fast Retailing said in a statement. “This represents the second-largest earnings pillar in this segment after the Greater China region, which accounts for around 55 percent.”
Asked about Uniqlo’s European expansion plans, Morikawa revealed that the purpose of the expansion is not to increase sales, at least not for now.
“Maybe smaller stores are necessary to penetrate into the local market. But this is not the stage for now, maybe in the future. The priority now is to show our company and to be respected by the consumers with flagship stores showing everything and offering a good shopping experience. As a leading region, the European market has a strong influence on the global market.
“Also, European consumers go around Europe. So once we have a new store in London, that news quickly travels to other markets. That’s why key flagship stores in key cities is a crucial strategy for us,” he added.
In fact, the Regent Street flagship is not the first Uniqlo store in Europe to collaborate with the local creative community on bringing a unique shopping experience. Stores in Barcelona and Paris have implemented similar strategies, but none have embraced local creativity as broadly as the Regent Street one, the brand revealed.