October 21, 2011
Listen here. Aired on NPR's Morning Edition.
Uniqlo has been big in Japan for 20 years. Now it wants to conquer the US. Last week it opened a vast, three-storey, 89,000-square-foot flagship store on 5th Avenue, just around the corner from the Museum of Modern Art. Today it's opening another huge outpost on 34th Street. I was at the 5th Avenue store at around 3p.m. on a weekday, and it was packed with everyone from twentysomethings to couples in their seventies, grabbing piles of cashmere sweaters or the high-tech thermal underwear Uniqlo is known for. There's so much I couldn't fit into this piece. Factoid: when I asked him why Uniqlo was different (and supposedly better quality) than any other inexpensive retailer whose clothes were made in China, US CEO Shin Odake told me that in the '90s the company started sending recently unemployed textile workers in their fifties and sixties to work with Uniqlo's Chinese factories to improve quality - they're called 'Takumi masters'. Odake says the company is doing the same thing today. In case you're wondering, I couldn't find anyone who had anything negative to say about the company's chances of making it in the US.