Uniqlo, Edinburgh: inside the Japanese clothing brand's vast new Scottish flagship store

There are two floors of fashion, in the former BHS building

“That’s OUR tram!” says Alessandro Dudech, the UK COO of Japanese brand, Uniqlo.

We’re sitting in the new shop’s first floor Japanese cafe, Katsute 100, drinking iced matcha lattes and taking in the view of Princes Street Gardens and the National Galleries of Scotland, as the vehicle glides past, with its white and red branded livery.

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When I visit, the vinyl wrap has just been taken off the store windows, and there’s a flurry of activity inside. There are already overly-keen customers rattling at the door, though it’s not open yet.

Irn-Bru collection Pic: John NeedIrn-Bru collection Pic: John Need
Irn-Bru collection Pic: John Need

It’s safe to say that this flagship store - the first in Scotland and the 19th in the UK - has made a grand arrival.

They don’t do things by halves, and they’ve moved their womens, mens, children and baby wear, into the 1,450 square foot ground and first floor of the huge retail building at 64 Princes Street, on the same block as Jenners.

The space was formerly occupied by department store, BHS, and has been empty for nine years.

It was during lockdown that Uniqlo, who are famous for their LifeWear - aka simple, affordable and high quality clothing that’s designed to make everyone’s life better - noticed escalating online interest from Scottish customers, and the store opening has been in the pipeline since.

Uniqlo library area Pic: John NeedUniqlo library area Pic: John Need
Uniqlo library area Pic: John Need

Apparently, customers even got a petition together, for an Edinburgh outlet. The team listened, but it took a while to find the right property.

“For us, it’s a privilege to sit here, on an iconic street in the city centre and be part of this revitalisation,” says Dudech. “We see this as an opportunity and it’s also part of what we do. When we open a store, we don’t open it anywhere, we look for buildings that have a relevance from a heritage perspective or even an architectural perspective. This is a B-listed building from 1956, it’s an icon. We take a building like this and sprinkle it with our designs and character”.

Indeed. They have new openings in grand properties in Paris, and Rome, and the Scottish store – similar in size to their London Covent Garden outlet - is quite unlike anything I’ve seen before from a chain. Rather than an identikit version of other locations, they’ve added very Edinburgh-centric touches.

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The huge natural stone staircase, with mirrored panels above, is hung with photographs of their eight brand ambassadors, which include Darcie Maher, owner of Lannan Bakery; marketing and digital coordinator of Leith Theatre, Aisha Fatunmbi-Randall, and singer songwriter Nina Nesbitt.

Uniqlo cafe Pic: John NeedUniqlo cafe Pic: John Need
Uniqlo cafe Pic: John Need

“Everytime we open a store, we want to make sure it’s locally anchored and community centred, so we select like-minded partners that can really sympathise with our philosophy,” says Dudech. “They get what we’re all about, they get the LifeWear message, otherwise they wouldn’t work with us”.

Throughout the store, there are thistle-heavy landscape-inspired flower installations from local florist, Pyrus. These are placed in the window and on pieces of furniture that have been made by the Chippendale School of Furniture in Haddington, and there’s a library and seating area, with books curated by Stockbridge’s Golden Hare books.

They’ve also partnered with Social Bite, with clothing donated to the homeless charity’s village, and members of Uniqlo staff regularly volunteering in their cafes.

Other notable features include Re.Uniqlo Studio embroidery and repairs area, which opened as part of their sustainability efforts. For the first month of opening, they’ll embroider Irn-Bru cans or bottles on your old or new Uniqlo items. These might include their viral sensation round cross body bag, which is available in a myriad of shades, from pillarbox red to lilac, and there’s a crocheted one for this summer.

Unqlo exterior Pic: John NeedUnqlo exterior Pic: John Need
Unqlo exterior Pic: John Need

“It started off with a TikTok trend, but now we see it worn across the age spectrum,” says Dudech

Another best-seller is their built-in bra tops. “They epitomise our LifeWear ethos,” says Dudech. “They’ve been around for a while, but last year we had a bit of success with our tank version, so customers have asked for variations on it and we’ve created them”.

Uniqlo, which was founded in 1984 by CEO Tadashi Yanai, also does free alterations on trousers over £19.90, and repairs and customisation, for a small cost, upstairs.

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You’ll also find their anime, Tate artwork and manga T-shirts, and collaborations from JW Anderson and Comptoir des Cotonniers, among others.

All of their stock has been tweaked to suit the Edinburgh weather, so there’s plenty of cashmere and knits, and they anticipate that their Blocktech rainwear will do well. Their intel also revealed that the Scottish customer likes natural fabrics, so they’ve gone big on their linen collections, with over 50 colours, at the front of the store.

At the back, there are changing rooms, and what their regular customers describe as the ‘magic tills’. These are self-serve. You drop the basket into the sunken area, and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology reads what’s in the basket. Futuristic.

Uniqlo Edinburgh interior Pic: John NeedUniqlo Edinburgh interior Pic: John Need
Uniqlo Edinburgh interior Pic: John Need

It’s strange to think that the concept of the high-street shop seemed dead, post Covid. However, with Uniqlo investing in a brick and mortar shop of this prominence, it seems that physical shopping is back, though improved.

“Personally, I think so,” says Dudech. “We need to provide reasons for customers to make their way to the high street. Digital commerce provides infinite convenience and ease, but when you come to a store, you want to be able to do something, to feel something and that can include having a coffee, or interaction with knowledgeable staff, getting a garment altered or embroidered. To me, it’s making sure that we elevate the experience”.

Uniqlo, 64 Princes Street, Edinburgh, opens on April 25 at 9am, www.uniqlo.co.uk

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