“Welcome to UNIQLO!” I’m greeted by friendly staff with these words
every time I step into a UNIQLO store. I have been getting my clothes from UNIQLO
for almost a decade now. UNIQLO is a Japanese fashion brand that sells apparel
that comes from their “Japanese values of simplicity, quality, and longevity” (UNIQLO.com,
I’ll be discussing about how UNIQLO and its brand value has affected me
and impacted my life, the concept of minimalism, globalisation of the brand and
how UNIQLO has successfully adapted their brand to different markets globally.
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UNIQLO first opened in Japan in 1949 has been expanding rapidly ever
since. Majority of their International stores are in Asia, but they entered the
Europe market in 2010 and the American market in 2011 (Fast Retailing, 2011).
Interior of UNIQLO
Photo: Retail Asia, 2015
As someone who doesn’t dress like a conventional female does, it’s very
hard to find basic clothes that suit and fit me – clothes I find are either too
big or too tight – never just right. I struggled with finding the perfect fit
for the longest time because of my petite size. When I first stepped into a UNIQLO
store, I was 13. It was like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Now I’m 21 and I find myself wearing at least one item of clothing from UNIQLO
every single day – a tshirt, polo tee, jacket, or shorts. My petite friends
often ask me where I get my clothes from and we would often go on and on about
the best places to find basic clothes for us. I’d always recommend UNIQLO.
I slowly started embracing this movement of minimalism that the Japanese
are so obsessed with. It started with basic t-shirts and shorts from UNIQLO,
but I was introduced to another Japanese lifestyle brand, Muji.
When we were kids, the person with the biggest pencil case was always
seen as the coolest. We all had pencil cases bigger than our heads. When I was
14, I ditched my giant pencil case and came to school with just 4 items from
Muji in my mini pencil case – a pen, pencil, ruler, and eraser. All my friends
thought that I was weird but I didn’t care. My bag was substantially lighter
and it was so much easier to find the stationary that I needed. After a few
years, minimalism seeped into my bedroom. I only had two bed sheets on
rotation. It then moved to my bedroom furniture. I embraced the minimalist way
of life and got rid of a huge bookshelf and a bunch of books from my primary
school days. There was simply no use for it anymore.
One day my friend told me that the reason why the Japanese have so few
things at home is because of the frequency of earthquakes. I was so surprised –
why have I never thought about this before? It made so much sense. I did a
quick Google and found out it was true. According to Naoki Numahata, a writer
living in Japan, 30-50% of earthquake injuries happen because of falling
objects. “If you have fewer possessions, you have fewer things to injure you
when an earthquake happens” (Shamsian, 2018).
This relates to the concept of Ma (pronounced “maah”). It is
not a celebration of things, “but the space between them. It is about negative
space, voids, emptiness” (Breyer, 2017). Here in Asia we are constantly moving
at an extremely fast pace. We fill our houses, kitchens, and dinner plates with
things, but in our embrace of abundance, everything loses value. “With simple
actions like pausing during the day to reflect and breathe, or by having fewer
things, there is room to focus on the space without things, Ma, which makes the
things there all the more precious” (Breyer, 2017).
the spread of the Japanese value of minimalism
Globalisation is defined by BBC as “the process by which the world is
becoming increasingly interconnected as a result of massively increased trade
and cultural exchange” (2018). According to Seita, what is meaningful will now
transcend national boundaries and will expand to cover the entire planet
UNIQLO has 841 stores all over the world including the United States,
Singapore, London, and China (Leap in UNIQLO Brand Recognition in the U.S,
UNIQLO has managed to penetrate into both the Asian and Western market,
thereby spreading the Japanese value of Ma
and minimalism to the said markets. Notable early adaptors of minimalism
included Steve Jobs. Although minimalism is not a new concept, the lifestyle is
now “trending across the United States” (Weinswig, 2018). Business Insider also
reported that “minimalism has been the biggest trend” for the last few years
because of influences from Japan and lifestyle coaches like Marie Kondo, a
popular Japanese author of the book The
Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Taylor, 2018).
Technology has played a part in the rapid rate of globalisation as well.
“Almost everyone everywhere wants all the things they heard about, seen, or experienced
via the new technologies” (Aliber and Click, 1999). People are able to
communicate with each other and read articles, facilitating mutual interests. In
the recent decade, minimalism has been a popular trend that has taken the
internet by storm. It not only applies to fashion, but interior design and
people’s overall lifestyles as well. YouTubers and bloggers have been talking
about their forays into minimalism online.
Screenshot of “minimalism UNIQLO” search on
Photo: Myself, 2018
While UNIQLO might be driven primarily by economic factors by opening
more stores worldwide, the process of globalisation of the brand will have
significant impact on the countries affected. With more stores, brand recognition
will be rising steadily. With the help of news channels and social media, UNIQLO’s
brand message and the Japanese value of “simple is better” will continue to
spread, and people will be more aware of the Japanese culture and value of
minimalism and simplicity.
Globalisation promotes common values across countries. People all over
the world are able to establish a bond, in this case, because of the value of
minimalism, contributing to a sense of community among them.
When UNIQLO first entered into the European and American markets, they
had some trouble appealing to the consumers (Fast Retailing, 2012). A study
done by UK Essays showed that consumers had a “slight preference for European
fashion lines based on the perception that European fashions are better made or
better designed” (2013). The Western market has a distinctively different style
as compared to Japan’s, so UNIQLO has to adapt the brand and even indigenise
their products to fit the specific market that they want to target.
“Brands don’t translate the same from region to region, or country to
country” (United Language Group, 2017). This is why it is so important for
UNIQLO to focus on adapting their brand and products, as well as to include a
One of the ways UNIQLO has done this is by using Asian models for their
Asian markets and Caucasian models for their Western markets.
UNIQLO Japan Advertisement
Photo: PRI, 2014
UNIQLO New York Advertisement
Photo: Brand Channel, 2011
Another way UNIQLO has adapted to the different markets is by creating
products that are region-specific. According to a report published by Fast
Retailing, UNIQLO said as they “expand globally, they must adapt UNIQLO clothes
to suit local cultures and lifestyles” (2013). UNIQLO has identified the fact
that each market is different and that the people in different regions have
different needs, thus they have to localise their products to fit each market.
This allows their target market to identify with their advertisements
and allows the brand to be better understood. UNIQLO’s brand message, “simple
is better”, will be imparted to their market in a more effective way and their
audience will be more receptive to it as well.
UNIQLO is an example of Japanese fashion that has expanded globally. The
successful globalisation of UNIQLO and localisation of the brand has played a
part in the spread and popularity of the Japanese culture and value of
minimalism. I also came to realise that certain brands’ ethos can indeed make
an impact on their consumers’ lives. Though it may not be immediate and apparent,
these things change slowly over time as the brand’s popularity grows.