Darren Boon checks out Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo first local store in the brand new Tampines 1 Mall. 

By Darren Boon

I left the scorching rays and stifling heat of mid-day behind, I could feel the cool gush of air as I stepped into the new Tampines 1 mall on Tuesday.

Ditching my favourite haunts of Kinokuniya and Borders in Orchard behind, I was curious and eager to check out the latest mall on the block.  I live in the north-east area of Singapore and I rarely head down far-east in Singapore, but the lure of something new and novel was simply too hard to resist.  More so was lure of the brand Uniqlo – Japan’s leading fashion retail chain in terms of sales and profits. Uniqlo had left an impression on me for its trendy t-shirts when I visited the chain’s Tokyo outlets last year.          

What greeted me at Uniqlo’s first outlet in Singapore and South East Asia was an organised snaking queue of around a hundred people waiting to get into the store.  Amongst the queue were adults such as housewives, as well as teenagers and students in uniform. 

I was surprised.  I have seen queues outside designer labels stores.  A certain L brand in Takashimaya comes to mind. But this is Uniqlo!  It’s not a designer label.  Why would anyone want to queue to get in on a Tuesday afternoon?  And then I remembered.  As part of the store’s opening sale, Uniqlo UT brand t-shirts are going at $19.90, down from $24.90!  Denim that cost $69.90 is discounted at $49.90!    

I knew I wasn’t going to purchase anything but nevertheless I decided to join in the queue to get up close and personal with Uniqlo’s Spring/Summer 2009 offerings.  It was about a ten to fifteen minutes wait before I finally stepped into the store.

While Uniqlo offers basic and casual wear such as the dry polo tees to cater to those who prefer a simple, understated approach in their dressing, the real stars or the show are the UT Project t-shirts.  The impressive range of printed t-shirts comes in eclectic colours and designs.  For Japanese computer games geeks, Uniqlo designers have launched a series of game-related tees – printed t-shirts that bear designs of the game characters counting amongst them Pac Man and Bomberman.  More designs are to unveiled in the following weeks.  Now you can be a geek and a fashionista at the same time! 

That’s not all.  UT has many different themes for its t-shirts each season.  Fans of Japanese animation too can wear some of their favourite Tatsunoko productions popular anime characters on them.  In addition, one of UT Project’s for Spring/Summer 09 involved the collaboration with six of the most influential and leading culture magazines for trends, news, and creativity such as Tokion to launch what is known as the World Creative Magazines Now series of tees.         

While I’m unsure if the entire range of UT tees is available in Singapore, I personally like the red tee with the word Tokion emblazoned on it.  My other favourites include the purple Bomberman tee, the Pac Man tee and the yellow ape escape tee.   

For the adventurous and fashionable, another selling point of the Spring/Summer 2009 would be Uniqlo’s coloured denim offerings. These slim fit straight tapered jeans come in various colours such as chilli red, cool purple, vibrant orange, khaki, muted green and pastel pink.  The latter two are my favourite colours.  I’ve always like the slim straight cuts as they tend to go well with my Converse sneakers.  The funky colours add on a bright touch to the exuberance of the spring and summer season and lend guys some added vibrancy and spunk.         

Although most of Uniqlo’s denim range is manufactured in China, made-in-Japan denim fans like me need not fret!  Uniqlo offers made-in-Japan jeans for men at $99.90 much more affordable than many other made-in-Japan labels.  The only minus point for me is that I don’t like button-fly jeans.  If you can get past that, I would recommend the selvedge denim for a classy chic look. 

Jeans lovers can attest that selvedge denim it the crème de la crème of jeans for its superior quality and more durable fabric.  It is also reported that selvedge denim does not fray on the edges.

I feel that most of Uniqlo’s denim offerings are ideal for the Asian man’s height.  The jeans length is suitable for those between 168cm and 172cm in height without much need for alteration.  However one of the staff informed me that Uniqlo does provide alteration services for the customer.                     

The Tampines 1 store’s décor can be described as functional and minimalist but spacious enough.  What I hope is that Uniqlo would be able to replicate the shopping experience of its UT concept store in Harajuku, Tokyo here in Singapore.  Shoppers first browse through the various t-shirts displayed on the racks then locate the product code number and finally selecting the t-shirts which are neatly packaged in clear plastic cylinders and placed on open shelves that look like vending machines.  It was a refreshing experience for me. And indeed, the packaging was indeed a nice additional touch to product selling.

Although I didn’t buy anything from the Tampines 1 outlet on Tuesday, I spied many other shoppers leaving the store with bagfuls of purchases.  A number of teenagers were busy snapping up the UT tees.  Two or three of them even had a basket full of clothes.  All this while, I observed that the queue outside the store did not subside as was the queue inside the store for the fitting rooms.   

It’s too early to tell if Uniqlo can repeat its success in Japan here in Singapore.  But Uniqlo scores high on providing affordable-priced trendy clothes that are cheaper if not comparable to its market competition.   The stylish creations of the UT designers and the incorporation of computer, manga, and anime characters in the t-shirts will make any of these fanboys’ fascinations come true!  

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