The Japanese fashion retail phenomenon Uniqlo opened its first store in India, in Delhi, last weekend. In keeping with its global model, the store is a humongous space at 35,000 sq ft, spread over three levels. According to reports published in various newspapers, Uniqlo did sales of Rs 1.2 cr on day one, excellent, considering we’re (allegedly) in the midst of an economic slowdown. So many industries are seeing a massive dip in spending. However, it is worth noting that Uniqlo billed much less than its competitor H&M did on their first day of operation back in 2015, which stands at a record Rs 1.75 crore.
Fashion is heavily influenced by value systems and perspectives and Uniqlo is a beneficiary of our current moment. When humanity is forced to think about mass extinction, there is a subtle pressure to take our own shopping choices seriously as well. It is, perhaps, too much to expect people to entirely resist the convenience pret-a-porter or ready-to-wear offers. However, that time is gone when it was totally cool to buy something, wear it once and chuck it, an accepted practice heavily propagated by the likes of Zara and H&M. While there will always be people who value cheap, disposable style over everything else, there is also a growing number of impatient shoppers who are concerned about landfills and irritated by poor quality. Contrary to popular perception that fashion is a medium to stand out, Uniqlo’s designs hint at a contempt for edginess. Despite its name, the merging of the words unique and clothing, Uniqlo is much more about quiet minimalism, than what’s in. And it turns out, there are plenty of people who don’t mind if they’re dressed like everyone else.
For shoppers offended by bling or the overwhelming variety of shiny animal prints perpetually on offer at all the high fashion brands, Uniqlo is like a soothing balm in comparison — all soft fleeces and shirts in monochromatic colours. The styling is a defiant rejection of extravagance, and also a rejection of trends. Sure, you’ll find something better fitted and more fashionable at Zara, since they have perfected the art of copying stuff off the latest catwalks at a dizzying pace, but our world has changed. Flashback to the hit film Confessions of a Shopaholic released in the early 2000’s, where the red-headed protagonist was filmed sitting among a heap of dresses from her overflowing wardrobe, ruing that she had nothing to wear. The great seismic shift in 2019 is, it’s no longer a fashion faux pas to repeat an outfit. Overconsumption is a symbol of vulgar avarice; we are fast reaching the point where fashion features of Mariah Carey or Elton John’s extensive shoe collection is viewed with sneering derision.
The most brilliant scam wrought by the fashion industry is something so many women continue to buy into: that clothes, especially expensive clothes, must not be repeated and if they must, only, very judiciously so. The men have been liberated by this ridiculous and all pervasive fashion rule because of icons like Steve Jobs and Jerry Seinfeld, who stubbornly wore the same clothes every day — an endless rotation of blue jeans and sneakers. Societal norms hold women to a higher sartorial standard and because of our conditioning, we imagine everyone looking at our clothes and judging us for wearing the same old thing. This drastic overestimation of other people’s attention spans is widely common. In reality, people are too caught up with their own lives to, A:notice, B:care. Along comes a brand that opts into a determined kind of sameness, that is slowly taking away this aversion to repetition. Uniqlo’s highest selling, most famous product, the ultra thin thermal Heattech, is 15 years old, perfect for those few horrendous January days in Delhi. The cleanly designed inner reflects the new fashion ethos, that conspicuousness isn’t all its cut out to be.