It is a bizarre feeling to step into the future. Or at least in those fleeting moments when you become conscious of your presence in something much more akin to Orwell’s or Huxley’s vision than to the urban memories of the world from childhood. I have my arms full, they are weighty with the wools and knits. ‘Is it acrylic?’ I check each tag suspiciously. I am hungry for good fabric to shield me from the cold.
Everyone else around me at Uniqlo is much the same. Stacks of hanged clothes are carried determinedly. It is warm inside and we are desperate to look good and feel well when we face the volatile weather again. To be distinguished and comfortable in our unassuming plain-faced Uniqlo clothes.
Eight mannequins rotate uniformly at the front of the store. They are faceless and otherwise featureless, somehow sinister in their slow circumnavigations. ‘We are all the same’ they seem to say, as if they had voices with which to speak. A strange mutation of the ‘we are one, but we are many’ philosophy, transformed through brand identity and commerce. Come in and be one of us. Buy the things and belong.
An hour later (at least I think it’s an hour), my mind is a blur. I have tried things on. I have contemplated the days and situations that would warrant certain appearances. I have pondered my reception by others. I have grieved for my wilting breasts and the signs of ageing. I have paradoxically considered whether plain natural fibre clothing adds to my look of fashion abstinence; I have somehow wondered these things long enough to feel completely depleted inside. I’m not sure what I am doing anymore. I choose one jumper of the eight or ten things I have tried. It is large and warm, and I feel safe and hidden within it.
At the check-out my friend and I put down our clothes. She disappears to take a phone call and I am left reading the wall behind her. It tells me that Uniqlo wants me to be who I am, that it knows I have a journey, that it wants me to wear the clothes that will go where I am going. These words are spaced out between ‘. . .’s, italicised in cursive, multicoloured. Like an intimate message of understanding. Deep. Essential. A incidental message from God. Like some divinely inspired uttering of an overzealous party-goer that is limbo-ing on the Other side of consciousness. It makes me feel like Uniqlo’s ‘personality’ is trying to align with the internal dialogue of every shopper: I just want to find something that feels like me. It is corporate brand identity brilliance and it is, somehow, terrifying.
Just like that, I am depressed. The wave comes over me as I tap my credit card on the machine and my purchase is approved. My heart sinks to the pit of my stomach and I am sad beyond words. I am not sure why exactly. Certainly, I won’t be cold. But I wish the wall had just said ‘Buy a good jumper. Be warm this winter’. At least that way I would have felt that the expression of my ‘human’ was still in my hands. That we weren’t all somehow morphing into a vision set forth for us by a bloodless legal entity.
There is an invasiveness to this attempt at deep emotional intimacy from profit-making enterprise. It merges our need for human connection and understanding into market-driven commodities at the behest of someone else’s profiteering. It makes me feel like the consumerism coined by Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward, has won us over in a Randian orgy of insecure, hedonistic narcissism coated in faux-spiritual affirmations; like we are all inevitably eating out of its hand so it can hold a mirror up to us and tell us how beautiful we are; that we are loved and safe and to keep eating.
Cynical? Perhaps. Skeptical? Naturally. Incorrect? We will never know.
No doubt there are sincere and authentically intentioned corporations and social enterprises doing good work and making positive change in the world. But these are few and far between, and rarely associated with the ‘heartfelt’ messages or faux-human rights associations that yell at us from advertising billboards as of late. At this time in our civilisation when we know that the world is dying, that more and more devastation is leading to a decline of species, that we have less than a decade before climate change is irreversible, that resource depletion and waste is degrading the planet, that modern-day slavery and human trafficking is rife, that neoliberal economics is punching us in the head with our own fist, and that – most painfully of all – we are all meant to believe that we freely consented to this; at a time like this, it is hard to believe that a brand ‘understands who I am’, when I know that ‘it’ is playing the same game as everyone else in this unfair world. Frankly, it is tiring to be constantly be bombarded with such pretence.
I guess I would rather that it didn’t try and bullshit me. That it didn’t try and ‘know’ me or anything else in an inherently uncertain world. That it didn’t pretend that ‘it’ was a person, a heart-beating human that was connecting with me as a friend.
I’m not going to lie. I will wear my Uniqlo jumper, and I will like it. I will unknowingly bask in the egoic glory of consumer goods that reflect some self-constructed narrative of who I am and how I relate to the world. After all, I am only human. And conveniently, Uniqlo got it right this time. The millions it pours into good design and manufacturing worked well. Somewhere within ‘it’s configuration of humans there are humans that maybe get what a human like me might wear, and they can probably write some good brand content to ‘connect’ with me. But it’s because their being paid for it. Not because somewhere out there Uniqlo is looking down on me with love as one of its babies.
Maybe all this seems obvious but I wonder sometimes what it must do to us to be surrounded with such subtle and aesthetically-pleasing bullshit everyday. I know I can’t fight it (I’m wearing the jumper right?), but for some reason I still want to point at it and say: hey. I see you. And you’re full of shit.