If you wander into Uniqlo and search for something green, you have your pick of hoodies, joggers, polos, stretch pants, turtlenecks, shorts, chinos, fleece jackets, parkas, panel caps, argyle socks and t-shirts (both crew and v-neck). Such a mind-boggling selection of green apparel is, of course, a given in the area of fast fashion. But should you wander into Uniqlo’s global flagship store at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York this week, you’re likely to notice a new green offering that’s truly distinct.
Actually, it’s more like greenery.
Hundreds of living plants are featured on display tables, mingling with mannequins and piled atop pilasters. According to Uniqlo, the botanical décor—unveiled under a new “Find Your Healthy” theme timed to the brand’s spring/summer collections—evokes “the natural joy and hope plants bring to people, especially given the difficult circumstances of the last year.”
Put another way, the sentiment might go something like: We know you’re sick of being cooped up at home, so why not come out and shop?
...New York’s threadbare apparel scene
According to data from the Center for an Urban Future, more than 1,000 chain store locations closed their doors in New York City during 2020. Old Navy shrunk its presence from 23 stores to 17, while Men’s Wearhouse contracted from 11 stores to eight. And Forever 21, the onetime darling of the fast-fashion segment, tightened its belt to nine locations from 12.
While Uniqlo’s parent company Fast Retailing conceded “an operating loss” and “a large decline in revenue” in a January Q1 report, Uniqlo, as a whole, has actually weathered the storm quite well.
For the three months ending in November 2020, Fast Retailing’s sales were down only .6% to about $5.7 billion. (Fast Retailing owns a number of smaller apparel labels including Theory and J Brand, but Uniqlo is its main label.) The principal brand has been buoyed through the hard times by healthy ecommerce and a strong Covid-19 rebound throughout Asia.
This is a good thing, too, since Uniqlo’s 15-year lease on its 666 Fifth Avenue property was valued at $300 million—the biggest commercial lease in New York when inked in 2010.
Uniqlo’s financial details aside, it’s clear that any apparel retailer in the Big Apple could use some foot traffic right now. A January survey by consumer research firm First Insight revealed that 60% of consumers are avoiding in-store shopping because they’re worried about Covid-19. The fears stem not only from crowds or interactions with sales associates, but even the fitting room. Just over half of men and 73% of women said they didn’t feel safe trying on clothing. Moreover, the reservations hold even among people who plan to get vaccinated.
“Clearly, the vaccine is not the silver bullet that is going to bring retail back from the brink,” First Insight’s CEO Greg Petro said in a statement. “Our latest research shows that even with a vaccine, people will still be afraid to go in-store.”
Petro added that the opportunity is ripe for the sort of marketing messages—including experiences—that will connect with customers.