Cool Convenience

Tokyo Report | Japan’s Urban Research fashion retailer has teamed up with convenience store Family Mart for a capsule collection in a delectably charming space

It’s hard to imagine Family Mart beyond what it essentially is: a convenience store. Yet, in Japan, such stores can be shopping destinations in themselves. Many, including 7-Eleven and Lawson, provide such an experience in selected stores that tourists consider them must-stops or places to visit when other regular shops close. Some of them carry ‘fashion items’, such as those from Muji, but Family Mart, the second largest convenience store chain in Japan behind 7-Eleven, takes it one step further. They’ve teamed up with the fashion and general goods retailer Urban Research to create both merchandise and retail space that give konbini added cool.

Opened in February this year, the store is called by a rather modern-yet-matriarchal name of Urban·Famima!! (yes, double exclamation marks. Famima!! was, in fact, the name of the now-defunct Family Mart stores in the US). It is not only a nod to Family Mart’s own konbini heritage, but also Urban Research’s fashion retail flair. One of Urban·Famima!!’s first stores is located in the opened-this-year Toranomon Hills Business Tower, between Akasaka and Ginza, close to Hibiya Park. Toranomon Hills is a retail-and-office complex that is part of the ‘Hills’ development by Mori Building Company, creator of equally posh projects such as Omotaesando Hills and Roppongi Hills. Japanese retailers, it has to be said, are ever so inclined to dream up new concepts to fit the building or neighbourhood their stores are situated in. Urban·Famima!! is one such realisation.

According to Toranomon Hills’ media release, Urban·Famima!! is “based on the concept of ‘urban life convenience store’. This is a next-generation convenience store that proposes a new lifestyle that combines fashion and convenience stores.” In essence, it’s two different retail businesses coming together as one, which is not different from BICQLO, the nine-level behemoth in Shinjuku that houses both the electronics giant Bic Camera and Japan’s fast fashion leader Uniqlo. Urban·Famima!! is, of course, smaller, and with the food, makes the pairing perhaps even more compelling. And as the space is relatively small, but still large for a convenience store, the merchandise is even more judiciously selected and the space appealingly laid out. The typical konbini aesthetic does not really come to play.

The idea of a clothier (or celebrity designer) creating a retail outlet that pays homage to Japan’s more-sophisticated-than-elsewhere convenience store is not entirely new. One of the earliest to do so was everyone’s favourite design maven Hiroshi Fujiwara who created, in Ginza, The Conveni, which was recently shuttered. The Conveni, with its literal fit-out, was more kitschy, even derivative, while Urban·Famima!! is more boutique-like and a lot more compellingly merchandised. The store describes their offerings as “lifestyle miscellaneous goods”, but the miscellany is far more controlled than a typical Family Mart store. The clothes have the city-smart aesthetics that Urban Research is known for. Not exactly the stuff of Harajuku or nearby Aoyama, but fashion that would keep you longer in a convenience store than you normally would spend time in. Will there ever be a day our Cheers goes this cool?

Photos: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD