How Uniqlo mastered the brand collaboration. Our latest case study unpacks how the global brand has mastered the art of brand collaborations and provides key takeaways when considering a collaboration with a brand.
Uniqlo has established itself as a powerful global brand, and has derived its rapid growth from a variety of factors within its product offering and brand positioning, but most notably it's brand collaborations. These collaborations, which include partnerships with the likes of Christophe Lemaire, Jil Sander, JW Anderson and Marni, are the driving force behind the retailer's success.
Since its emergence in 1984, Uniqlo has established itself as a global brand synonymous with high-quality and affordable clothing. With over 2,000 stores worldwide, the Japanese retailer has derived its success from a variety of factors within its product offering and brand positioning, but most notably its brand collaborations. These collaborations, which include partnerships with the likes of Christophe Lemaire, Jil Sander, JW Anderson and Marni, are the driving force behind the retailer's success.
Brand collaborations are nothing new, the approach is seen amongst the most premium labels, from Gucci x Adidas right down to the Lewis Road Creamery x Whittakers collaboration that left supermarket shelves bare back in 2014. These collaborations can leverage the success of a pre-existing brand when a brand is new to the market, or between brands who have already established themselves in their prospective markets. Collaborations have continued to grow as a successful marketing tool, saturating the market with partnerships to the point where an unlikely partnership between Crocs and Balenciaga didn't seem so unlikely in the end. Despite this marketing tool being so prevalent, Uniqlo has refined the brand collab formula, with collaborations being the foundation of the brand for over a decade, growing Uniqlo’s audiences tremendously and improving their overall brand experience.
A primary benefit of brand collaboration is that they not only create buzz and drive sales but allow brands to broaden their reach and acquire new audiences. Uniqlo has selected these partnerships strategically, choosing to collaborate with more contemporary brands, such as Jil Sander and Marni, to attract an audience that is more fashion-conscious. These audiences would not buy from lower-cost retailers very often, valuing factors such as craftsmanship and a strong commitment to design, but aligning with a brand that upholds the values breaks down this barrier. By collaborating with global designers, Uniqlo is able to gain access to markets where it has weaker brand awareness, like the US and Europe. This has had unwavering success with Jil Sanders's collaboration with Uniqlo lasting for over 5 seasons, and the brand has been working with Christophe Lemaire of the French label Lemaire since 2018, producing a range of everyday basics for the Uniqlo U line. Uniqlo has also announced its acquisition of a minority stake in the Paris-based label, deepening its relationship with Lemaire and leveraging off the brands' growth amongst a contemporary audience.
Uniqlo has positioned itself as the pillar of accessible quality, which in turn welcomes higher-end brands to work with them. Uniqlo doesn't just rely on the brand they are working with for exposure in new markets, but rather to elevate their high-quality product offering and in-store experience. Uniqlo has long been known for the consistency and quality of its product offering, innovating patented fabrics such as HeatTech and Lifewear, championing innovation and quality of their product first and value second. The Uniqlo store experience is continuously refined and monitored, embodying the Japanese concept of kaizen, which translates to – “the continuous search for perfection”. Everything down to the merchandising and services offered in-store is meticulously controlled, elevating them above brands such as H&M, who compete across a similar price point. It is these factors that earn them the right to work with luxury brands and attract a wide range of consumers, some of which shop primarily at higher-end labels and concept stores.
Key takeaways when considering a collaboration with a brand:
Ensure when partnering with another brand that they hold strong values which are strongly aligned with or aspirational for your brand. The wrong partnership can have the ability to damage your brand if not aligned with core pillars such as quality of production, brand voice, or key brand values.
Look at brand collaborations as an opportunity to acquire a new audience or broaden your audience. Seek out partnerships that may feel like an unlikely combination but allow your brand to be exposed to new people that may never have heard of your brand before.
Brand collaborations, while a successful tool for driving brand awareness and sales, shouldn't be heavily relied on as a core marketing tool. Ensure your brand is growing in a way that it can sustain itself without reliance on partnerships.
Brand partnerships can be a good opportunity to test limited-release products or exclusive lines. Leading to strong sales and brand engagement.