Rather than dictating a set style, Uniqlo provides flexible fashion options with which Torontonians can express their individuality.
Interview with UNIQLO CANADA Inc. Chief Operating Officer:Yasuhiro Hayashi
Members of Toronto’s Japanese community have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of Uniqlo, arguably Japan’s most iconic clothing brand, ever since the news was announced in January of 2015. When Uniqlo’s two Toronto stores open this fall— one a 26,000-square-foot location at Yorkdale Mall, and the other a 28,000-square-foot store at the Eaton Centre—they will mark the brand’s first foray into the Canadian market.
However, with Uniqlo’s ubiquity in Japan, and the massive popularity of its flagship store in New York City, it’s likely that a number of Torontonians have already heard the name, even if they’ve never set foot in one of the stores.
At a recent Uniqlo press launch event, Bento Box had the opportunity to sit down with Chief Operating Officer for Uniqlo Canada, Mr. Yasuhiro Hayashi.
Bento Box: Mr. Hayashi, with your many years of experience in bringing Uniqlo to new foreign markets, what have you learned that you think will help you lead Uniqlo’s expansion into the Canadian market?
Mr. Hayashi: Working in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, I learned a lot by doing. Those experiences have helped me to anticipate what must be prepared to make a good launch, and I’m really looking forward to applying what I learned to Uniqlo’s launch in Canada.
Since our first two stores will both be opening in Toronto, I have focused my research on understanding the people of Toronto. What I’ve learned is that Toronto is a very multicultural city, representing many different ethnicities and nationalities. If you look closely, you can see that different people in Toronto each have their own unique style, and they like to show that style. I hope that Uniqlo will be a good fit in Toronto because we try to give our customers a toolbox to create their own unique style, rather than dictating a look. I hope that this concept of a fashion toolbox will be accepted by the people of Toronto, and Canadians in general.
We listen to the customer, and we know that there are a lot of Canadian customers who already know about Uniqlo. Therefore, we don’t want our Canadian customers to be disappointed if they can’t find the products at Canadian Uniqlo that they expect from their experiences at Uniqlo in Japan or New York City. When the two Toronto Uniqlo stores open this fall, we will bring in the whole collection of global merchandise for Canadian customers. From there we will fine-tune the collection based on the feedback we get on what the Canadian customers want.
BB: Along with the products that existing Uniqlo customers love, one of the appeals of Uniqlo has always been its ability to provide high-quality and smart fashion at reasonable prices. With all the logistical challenges of opening these stores in Toronto, do you expect that Uniqlo Canada’s prices will be comparable to the reasonable prices we’ve seen in Japan and the United States?
We are still finalizing the prices, so I can’t confirm how closely the prices will line up, but, as I said, we don’t want to disappoint Canadian customers. We recognize that price is one of the important aspects of Uniqlo, and we want to make sure our Canadian prices are reasonable and affordable.
Definitely HEATTECH. With our two Toronto stores opening in the fall, our HEATTECH line of thermal undergarments will arrive just in time for the long, cold Canadian winter. We have tops and bottoms, for both men and women, in a num- ber of different grades: from normal HEATTECH to Extra Warm and Ultra Warm. We will be bringing all of these lines to our Toronto stores. HEATTECH is something that you really have to try on to believe, so I’m excited to give Canadians the opportunity to experience this product, and all that Uniqlo has to offer. I hope they see how easily it can fit into their wardrobe.
BB: Ever since the announcement of Uniqlo’s Toronto locations, Uniqlo fans in the rest of Canada—and Vancouver in particular—have been wondering when they can look forward to a Uniqlo store in their local mall. Can you give us any hints about plans to open Uniqlo stores anywhere else in Canada?
Yes! Eventually we want to open Uniqlo stores in Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary and all other major Canadian cities. However, our studies have found that Uniqlo is not yet that well known in Toronto, let alone in the rest of Canada. So first we need to focus on developing Uniqlo’s brand recognition here in Toronto.
My ultimate goal is for Canadians to embrace Uniqlo as part of their daily lives and to say, “I’m glad that Uniqlo is here!” It doesn’t have to be something special. It is our goal to be accepted into the lives of Canadians.
BB: If you were speaking to a Canadian customer who has never heard of Uniqlo before, how would explain it to them? What sums up Uniqlo for you?
I would tell them that Uniqlo is about basic, essential, quality clothes for all. This is what makes us unique. From a teenager, to a working executive, to a senior citizen, Uniqlo is made for all. We believe that any clothes that we provide can be worn by people of any age, ethnicity or culture. We want to serve all of those customers and their personal ideas about style, rather than dictating their fashion. This is how we differentiate ourselves: we believe that customers are already unique, so we provide them with a fashion toolbox with which they can show that unique character.
Since joining Uniqlo in 2000, Mr. Hayashi has led the brand’s expansions into Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore—expansions that have gone so well that Uniqlo will soon open its first global flagship store in Singapore. Mr. Hayashi will oversee Uniqlo’s Canadian launch in his role as Chief Operating Officer for Uniqlo Canada.