Exclusive: Uniqlo Taps Rebekka Bay as Head of N.Y. Innovation Center

Bay has held creative director roles at Gap and Cos.

NEW YORK — Uniqlo has turned to Rebekka Bay — a veteran of competitors Gap and Cos — to fill the role of creative director of its new New York R&D Center.

The appointment is effective May 1. Bay will be based at Fast Retailing’s Global Innovation Center in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan.

The retailer provided few details of Bay’s new role, but it said she “will build and manage a team of dedicated designers and oversee the company’s product design and development, working as part of the company’s global R&D organization.” She will report to Yuki Katsuta, Uniqlo’s global head of R&D and senior vice president of Fast Retailing.

The first collections for the retailer that are expected to see her input are for fall-winter 2018, a Uniqlo spokesman said.

Bay’s most recent role, which she left in February, was as creative director at online apparel retailer Everlane. Prior to that, she served as executive vice president and creative director at the Gap brand from September 2012 to January 2015 and also was creative director at H&M’s brand Cos in London from February 2006 to March 2011.

The existing Uniqlo R&D Center is one of five global innovation centers for the brand in addition to Tokyo, Shanghai, Los Angeles and Paris. It has until now been focusing on gathering trends and consumer insights from New York City, a spokesman said, adding that its move into the Fast Retailing Innovation Center – which also houses the design offices for Helmut Lang and Theory – will enable the Uniqlo staff to help support product styling and marketing. The spokesman drew a distinction between this and the Fast Retailing Creative Lab, overseen by John Jay, which handles overall creatives for the Uniqlo brand as well as product styling and marketing.

The Uniqlo New York center, working with the retailer’s center in Tokyo, focuses specifically on creating “what we call ‘new basic’ items, as well as updating our essentials items based on the latest trends and consumer insights gathered in New York,” he added.

She arrives at Uniqlo as the Japanese company continues in its goal to become the world’s largest apparel retailer, with the U.S. market key to that effort. Last month, Uniqlo unveiled its LifeWear collection in Manhattan, the first time the presentation had ever been held outside Tokyo. It was part of the retailer’s full-court press to show how important the U.S. market is to its growth. Uniqlo has had mixed results in America since it launched here in 2006, suffering from a lack of consumer awareness, insufficient marketing and advertising and stumbles related to product presentation and merchandising. The U.S. operation continued to operate at a loss last year, although a declining one.

Tadashi Yanai, Uniqlo’s founder, chairman, president and chief executive officer, has been blunt about the retailer’s underperformance in America. He has admitted the company opened stores in too many suburban malls where consumers did not know Uniqlo. The strategy now is to focus on major cities in the U.S., primarily on the East and West Coasts, and expand in those markets.

Bay also arrives as Uniqlo continues its collaboration with well-known designers worldwide. At the LifeWear presentation, it was revealed that British designer Jonathan Anderson will be doing a capsule collection for Uniqlo, joining the likes of Ines de la Fressange and Christophe Lemaire, who designs the new Uniqlo U line.

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