Uniqlo’s Faneuil Pop-Up Provides a Taste Before the Takeover

Look ma — I’m monochrome!
Look ma — I’m monochrome!

Uniqlo opened their first doors on Massachusetts soil yesterday with the launch of a Faneuil Hall pop-up space in the former home of Todd English’s Kingfish Hall. The temporary storefront preempts the Japanese retailer’s swift brick and mortar development in the area, aiming to open six permanent Boston area locations by Spring 2015.

While the South Market location was set to open for 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, I found myself in a sticky situation when kimono-clad staff informed me that the final building sign-offs would delay doors for several hours. The original open date was bumped from late June to late July last month due to building issues. The location did finally open in late afternoon, but I had abandoned my pursuits after spending the morning staring down the hype squad, who most definitely were under the impression that I was Uniqlo’s most enthusiastic fan.

Today I returned for a prompt 10 a.m. open, where a gaggle of friendly staff members were ready to provide assistance.

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“You dressed for the occasion!” one staff member exclaims. I stare at her. It takes a moment to register before I realize my red and white striped T-shirt and black skirt correspond to the company’s logo. Uniqlo is owned by Fast Retailing Co., a Japanese mega company who also owns stakes in Theory, J Brand, and Helmut Lang, which also announced a stand-alone location at the Street in Chestnut Hill earlier this month.

Full disclosure, I’m a fan of Uniqlo and spent much time browsing their Soho location during my years in New York. I consider myself to be familiar on a personal level with their offerings and their ability to sustain through wear and tear. The comparison to “the Japanese version of Gap” is pretty accurate. Prices are good and reasonable, quality and cuts are better than you might expect, but the big draw is the excess of options — something the pop-up does not quite accurately represent to shoppers on the sheer magnitude of what’s to come.

But still, the Faneuil pop-up offers a fair selection for men and women. Crisp white broadcloth shirts for women are priced at $29.90, ready to be plucked from the rack for any downtown-er suffering from a summertime meltdown. A solid slim-cut two-button blazer in black can be grabbed from the rack next door for just shy of $70. Silky crew-neck T-shirts in a rainbow of shades are displayed with a sign that reads, “Supima Cotton makes up for less than 1% of cotton produced throughout the world and is known for its smooth texture.” Advertised like rare jewels—for $12.90 a piece! Zip-front hoodies in every color imaginable are stacked practically the length of the store for $29.90 each. Clearly Uniqlo has read our profile in GQ.

Men have a half-wall length selection of AIRism T-shirts at $12.90 a pop — perfect for anyone looking to stock up in sleek, heat-wave appropriate layering pieces. But women are only offered a camisole with a built-in bra (which, let’s be real here, won’t cut it for most of us) for $19.90 in the unique fabric, a shape restrictive and less cost-conscious option. Raw denim for men comes in a handful of washes and at a great price ($49.90!), but only one cut is offered and may not be enough to turn selvedge-newbies into fans. A range of Ultra Stretch denim for women is prominently displayed on the table to the immediate left of the entrance, and while an eager sales associate hypes their comfort and shape retention, there seems to be a window left open for women who just don’t want to wear jeggings. Let’s call a spade a spade, OK?

The store’s seemingly cool UTime! app, which allows shoppers to create custom T-shirts while shopping in the store, is set up for play, but won’t be fully functional until later next month. The display feels like a missed and disappointing opportunity for such a tourist-heavy location.

The space itself is quite smaller than most metropolitan, multi-level Uniqlo locations I’ve visited in the past. At 3,155 square feet it can only host a fraction of the retailer’s stock and puts a heavy focus on the casual wardrobe basics needed for a city-dwelling professional. A spokesperson for Uniqlo said the merchandise will rotate every three weeks in the pop-up space and notes that no specific closing date has been announced, though the retailer’s permanent home in Quincy Market will open next spring. The missing staples and options that make Uniqlo a one-stop shop will hopefully come into play when the first brick and mortar locations in Chestnut Hill and Natick open in late August. Until then, the pop-up is just a taste.

Uniqlo’s Faneuil Hall pop-up is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., in the South Market building.