TOKYO — On Friday, men’s wear retailer Union celebrated its first new store since its Los Angeles location opened in 1991. Streetwear fans packed into the space and even spilled out into the street, where a food truck was parked to serve the crowd. Inside, DJs played and guests sipped on Coronas.
“The kind of family that this store came from that I grew out of is Stüssy, Supreme, Undefeated and Union, and there’s always been a really strong connection to Japan from early, early on,” said Union’s owner, Chris Gibbs. The Tokyo location is a franchise partnership with Jack Inc., which will also serve as the brand’s distributor in Japan. In addition, the company has been Stüssy’s local partner for over 35 years.
Gibbs believes that Union can bring something new and different to Tokyo’s already strong retail scene.
“What we do and what we’ve done for 30 years is mix all these different brands, which is not something that has traditionally happened here in Japan,” he said. “I think there’s kind of two parts to what we do, which is mixing of the brands which is not something that I think Japan really did or understood for a long time. But the kind of attention to details, the sensibilities of really appreciating a niche brand and niche designers, obviously Japan is well versed in that. So that’s something that was always there, but the other part was missing, and I think what’s happened in men’s fashion over the last five years is that has become very acceptable, and it’s now coming back to Japan. So I think that was the final catalyst to us being able to do that, is I think the Japanese market can hopefully understand better what we’re doing, whereas historically maybe they wouldn’t have gotten that. So the timing was right.”
Union is also known for its strong relationships with Japanese brands, having introduced labels such as Visvim and Neighborhood to the American market. Gibbs said having a location in Tokyo will help to facilitate this more in the future.
“There are going to be a few brands, particularly Japanese brands, that [the Tokyo store] will have that [Los Angeles] won’t,” Gibbs said, mentioning Digawel as one. “Japanese brands are very en vogue, it’s something that a lot of stores carry. But we’ve been around for 30 years because we take our time and we do it right. And I know how hard it is to launch a Japanese brand overseas. There are pieces that have to work, so we’re going to use this [store] as an incubator. Because what has worked in the past is when the designer or the brand really understands what we need to do and supports us.”
While it has been 27 years since Union opened a new outpost, Gibbs doesn’t want to wait as long for the next one, and already has some locations he is considering.
“You want to grow, and I definitely do. Despite the fact that we’ve pretty much been two stores for 30 years, that’s not necessarily by design,” he said, adding that the New York store closed in 2008, leaving only the Los Angeles location until now. “We’ve had talks about maybe doing something in Amsterdam, but we’ll see. One step at a time. I had to cut the talks off because I wanted this to happen properly. I’m really methodical, I want it to be right, I want to dedicate the proper time. It’s not a cookie-cutter thing. We had the perfect partners here to help us with this, and if we didn’t it wouldn’t go right.”
Meanwhile back in the U.S., Gibbs has partnered with the Dickies brand to create Dickies x Union Los Angeles, a collection that is inspired by the brand’s Dickies Campus Tigers collection from the 1960s. The collection will be sold exclusively at Union’s Los Angeles location beginning in mid-May.
In addition, he has worked with the brand to reinvent its Construct workwear collection for spring. While the core collection is centered around classic silhouettes in pants and tops in subdued colors such navy, tan and black, the Gibbs-designed collection will include pastel pink cords, yellow outerwear and peach-hued sweatshirts. The fits have also been updated to be more fitted. The line will retail for $80 to $320 and will be available at Barneys New York as well as the Union stores beginning next month.
Gibbs said as a Canadian, Dickies had been his “personal uniform” growing up. “I really appreciate the history of workwear but giving it a couple of contemporary twists doesn’t detract from it, but adds to it,” he said.
Michael Penn, senior vice president of marketing for Dickies, said Union “appeals to the ‘in the know’ brand aficionados – a place they look for trends and where the most authentic brands can be found. We wanted to put something special with a real meaning into Union as a find for these consumers.” And by working with Gibbs, it offers a “melding of today with a nod to the brand’s heritage and past.”