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Retail

Uniqlo returns to Tokyo's fashion capital Harajuku

Shoppers swipe right for clothing options on interactive displays

Customers can use these touchscreens at Uniqlo's Harajuku store to browse photos of outfits submitted by app users. (Photo by Rina Horisawa)

TOKYO -- Japanese casual clothing chain Uniqlo will open a new outlet Friday in Tokyo's Harajuku neighborhood, marking a homecoming eight years in the making to the city's vibrant hub for youth fashion.

In a run-up to the event, the company on Wednesday staged a preview of the store, open to the media. "The Harajuku store is a really symbolic location for Uniqlo," said CEO Maki Akaida.

Owned by Fast Retailing, Uniqlo launched in 1984 with its first outlet in Hiroshima and has since concentrated on suburban street-level stores.

To boost its name recognition in central urban areas, Uniqlo opened the first Harajuku store in 1998, which helped drive the chain's fleece boom, but the Harajuku store was shuttered in 2012.

The new store is located in the "With Harajuku" mixed-used complex near Harajuku Station. Sales space covering nearly 2,000 square meters occupies one floor above ground and one floor below.

Uniqlo plans to use the Harajuku store as a testing ground for a retail concept that blends physical and virtual realities.

The company designed the sales floor to be compatible with StyleHint, the app developed jointly with sister brand GU. The app allows users to upload photos wearing their favorite outfits, which others can browse for clothing ideas. It then matches a chosen photo with similar apparel sold by Uniqlo or GU.

The store offers well over 200 touchscreen tablets that exhibit photos uploaded through StyleHint. If a customer sees what they like, the monitor can direct them to the correct clothing rack. Customers can also purchase the outfit through Uniqlo's online shopping portal using QR payment codes.

The location also contains a dedicated space for UT, Uniqlo's brand of t-shirts created in collaboration with artists and brands. Many of the t-shirts will feature Japanese cultural motifs as well as art from manga.

Harajuku is a draw for international tourists as a pop culture center. The UT corner will be the centerpiece of the Uniqlo store catering to that crowd.

Because of the coronavirus outbreak, Uniqlo temporarily shut down 311 of 813 outlets nationwide. The pandemic sharply reduced sales at physical stores, but sales surged on the online shopping site.

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