Amsterdam – One year ago, Japanese retailer Uniqlo found a new home in Barcelona, its first in Spain. In any other retail space in the city, stained glass and a Catalonian chandelier hanging proudly from the ceiling wouldn’t have posed any kind of aesthetic surprise. But as fixtures in a behemoth purveyor of minimalist, utility-conscious everyday wear, what kind of comment is the presence of Spanish grandeur in the dialogue surrounding the importation of global brands?
That hyper-locality is something they’ve continued exploring upon recently landing in the Dutch capital. One of the pillars in their strategy is smart product stocking: in northern Europe, products made with Heattech technology for cold-weather environments are their ticket in. But that also extends, much like in Barcelona, to easily decodable visual aspects: in the new Amsterdam store, origami figures in the colours of the national flag, shaped as windmills, unite Japanese and Dutch heritage. A big screen on the first floor is a mirror into daily life in Japan: it serves as a point of inspiration for consumers and represents Uniqlo’s goal of providing garments that withstand everyday needs.
Uniqlo on Kalverstraat is a three-storey giant, bedecked with over 250 mannequins swathed in multiple layers, reflective of the sartorial climate precautions the Dutch undergo – it’s no wonder a VanMoof bike in one of the central stands is treated like a sculpture. The Amsterdam-based electric bike company is showcased as a parallel between Dutch pragmatism and Uniqlo’s innovative mind-set – perhaps foreshadowing collaborations to come. For John C. Jay, the president of global creative at Fast Retailing – Uniqlo’s parent company – this is all part of a larger orchestration.
You can’t come into cities thinking you’re all that with some superficial learning you might get from research
How did you carry respect and empathy for local Dutch culture while working on the new Uniqlo in Amsterdam? You’ve credited the City Attack methodology you formulated as one of your proudest achievements while at Wieden + Kennedy, where you first worked with Uniqlo in 1999 on their fleece campaign.
JOHN C. JAY: It relates directly to what I do here, quite frankly. At my time in Wieden + Kennedy, the very first job I did for Nike was the creation of the City Attack, a philosophy that asks to go deep, respecting the local culture. This is exactly what [Fast Retailing CEO] Tadashi Yanai is doing and what I’m doing for Uniqlo. It’s why we’re picking historical buildings around Europe for our retail locations, and it’s why he has been hammering culture, culture, culture into the management. Opening stores is simply a way of being engaged locally.
Before our opening, I had teams of people who worked for me previously that I sent here to connect with locals. We teamed together with natives to work together, and published books internally to share that knowledge with future staff members. You can’t come into cities thinking you’re all that with some superficial learning you might get from research. You have to get in there, be with the people and earn the respect.