Though it's as much a fast-fashion brand as its low-cost peers, UNIQLO has a sterling reputation as a respectable purveyor of affordable clothing. I wonder if things will change now that UNIQLO is launching its even cheaper GU clothing brand overseas.
Perhaps it's the various designer collaborations and "elevated" sub-labels that make UNIQLO comparably cooler to competitors like Zara and Forever 21, or maybe UNIQLO's sophisticated digital presence successfully lends it enough elegance to escape scrutiny.
Either way, UNIQLO's canny brand placement has made it a staple for shoppers seeking reliable daily drivers, rather than the disposably trend-centric stuff from rival retailers.
Though GU retains some of that UNIQLO acuity, it's a different beast altogether.
Established in 2006 as an even more inexpensive brand than UNIQLO, GU is far more trend-conscious than its more widely established sibling label.
While UNIQLO prefers to work with "timeless" basics — as timeless as fast-fashion can get, of course — GU is all about the new, though its output is tempered by the versatility inherent to other brands operated by parent company Fast Retailing, like UNIQLO and Theory.
Though GU is immensely popular with budget-minded Japanese youths, it hasn't expanded much internationally. GU did operate a few stores in Korea for a spell but they shuttered in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
GU's New York flagship store, meanwhile, is its first-ever stab at the Western market. Both its retail shop and web store will both offer American shoppers the same kind of affordable fare that GU sells in Japan: $40 hoodies, $30 cropped turtleneck sweaters, and $60 technical puffer jackets.
"New York City is a hub for fashion brands from all over the world, and we are confident in the trendiness and appeal of GU products," Osamu Yunoki, CEO of G.U. Co., Ltd, said in a statement.
"We are eager to showcase our superior customer service to all visitors, whether they are New York locals or those coming from abroad."
It's not like SoHo needs more fast-fashion brands but Fast Retailing knows what it's doing. This kind of cheap clothing is recession-proof — experts predict the market will grow from $91.23 billion in 2021 to $99.23 billion by the end of 2022.
All it really needs is another major designer co-sign in the vein of Kim Jones' 2018 collaboration for a shot of legitimacy and GU will be set up to mirror its Japanese success in America.