Gen Z women flock to Uniqlo as return-to-office mandates force them to merge work and evening wear

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Growing return-to-office mandates have forced workers to make fresh adjustments to their lives, dictating where they live, their hygiene routine, and increasingly, the clothes they’re choosing to buy.

Uniqlo is now taking advantage of those changing consumer behaviors to become the latest hot clothing brand for young shoppers. 

Alessandro Dudech, the U.K. boss of Uniqlo, told news agency PA that shoppers under 29 accounted for 35% of the group’s sales last year, a steep rise from that cohort’s 16% share in 2019. It was the first year that sales of female clothing overtook men’s.

The retailer probably has a mix of TikTok virality and a return to in-office work to thank for its newfound relevance—and booming sales—among a Gen Z audience. 

TikTok craze

Japan-based Uniqlo has enjoyed a sales surge in Europe thanks to its products being featured on TikTok.

The retailer saw European turnover surge 36% to €1.3 billion ($1.4 billion) last year, and it credited viral posts for some of its brands with the increase.

Influencers on TikTok have praised items like the “banana bag” for their versatility, garnering millions of views and effectively free advertising for Uniqlo. The trend didn’t go unnoticed by the company.

“There has also been a significant increase among the younger customer base who have embraced items like the mini-round shoulder bag, bra top and pleated trousers that went viral in the Summer,” Uniqlo wrote in its annual report.

Dudech told PA: “Clearly we are connecting more with younger customers. 

“But I think it is also because what Gen Z value in clothing is changing – they are becoming more and more discerning about the quality that goes into their clothing, and they are looking for versatile pieces.”

Dress smart

But Uniqlo might also have return-to-office mandates to thank for booming sales, with Dudech saying shoppers were looking for items they could wear “at the office or on a night out.”

The rush to buy clothes suitable both in the office and at the bar marks a continued sea change in shoppers’ buying habits, after being flipped on its head during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shoppers rushed to buy leisure wear like sweatpants amidst lockdowns, and for the past few years have been able to put up a solid barrier between their personal and work life.

But those trends are shiting back, in part as companies ask their staffers to return to the office, and as employers remove remote job listings.

Data from LinkedIn showed remote job listings in the U.K. had dipped 13% in the 12 months to February. Listings fell further in Ireland, Germany, and France. That was despite the number of applicants for remote jobs staying stable. 

Data from U.K. telecom company Ringover showed that across major U.S. companies, in-office days had jumped from an average of 1.1 days in 2021 to 3.4 days in 2023.

If Uniqlo’s U.K. chief is to be believed, the group now appears to have found success in workers returning to buying clothes that might be deemed acceptable in the office as well as at post-work drinks. 

Uniqlo’s is one of the latest trends to be identified by major retailers that share insights into how consumer behavior is being molded by where they work. 

Announcing its results last October, Unilever’s CFO credited much of the group’s 8% growth in its personal care segment with office-returning, hygiene-conscious shoppers rushing to buy deodorant. 

“People didn’t use deodorant as much when they were in lockdown or working from home, et cetera. I think we’re seeing some of the recovery of that coming through,” Unilever CFO Graeme Pitkethly said.

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