The Uniqlo philosophy: “ Our products must be made for everyone ”
Yuki Katsuta, Head of Research and Design at Uniqlo, discusses the Japanese retailer’s design vision for the future
Uniqlo enthusiasts profess an affinity for many of the elements that make up the global retailer’s production. Some praise its hard-to-beat thermal clothing (Heattech), the softness of its affordable cashmere, the breathability of its AIRism basics, the colorful spectrum of its soft cotton t-shirts, or the ultra-light shape of its quilted layered jackets. Not to mention the high-end energy of its various design collaborations, which span partnerships with brands such as Jil Sander, Marimekko, Lemaire, JW Anderson, musicians and artists such as Billie Eilish and Takashi Murakami, and institutions such as Le Louvre.
A multitude of lines live under the design umbrella of the Japanese retailer, from Uniqlo U, an offering of raised basics, led by Parisian designer Christophe Lemaire, to UT, a colorful collection of graphic t-shirts for men, with prints nodding to a melting pot of references, like Marvel, Peanuts, Haruki Murakami, Keith Haring and Roy Lichtenstein. Impressively, Uniqlo’s head of research and design, Yuki Katsuta, oversees the brand’s diverse DNA, striving to keep the balance between the brand’s LifeWear utility lines and its more sartorically influenced collaborations.
Wallpaper * sat down for a rare interview with Katsuta-san to focus on Uniqlo’s design vision for the future. Here he highlights the importance of collaboration, sustainable fashion semiotics and his favorite British fashion designer today.
On the success of the relaunch of the + J Jil Sander collection, first launched in 2011 and returned for A / W 2020:
“I have to say thank you to all the customers. So many people who experimented + J ten years ago have come back to us for this new collection. We also had a younger generation that invested in the line. I am very proud that with his project, we can attract loyal and legacy customers, but also attract younger ones.
+ JA / W 2020
On the possibility of one design collaboration too …
“Collaborations create a feeling of newness, and with our collaborators, we never decide in advance whether we will work with them for one or more seasons. We don’t have a formula. We may start looking at a more concept-driven strategy in the future.
On the two-pronged approach to sustainable fashion.
“The first approach we used is based on technical sustainability, that is, how we can use recycled or ecological materials in order to protect the environment. In this case, we aim to do whatever we can. We have introduced materials such as recycled polyester and down, and we make denim using water-saving processes.
“The second approach focuses on producing pieces that people can wear not only this season, but also for the next three, five and ten years. This is the central idea of our LifeWear collection. We’ve been creating these types of timeless silhouettes for ten years.
LifeWear by Uniqlo
On how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected Uniqlo’s approach to fashion design.
“In general, a lot of fashion brands, including us, have started selling clothes that people can wear primarily at home. Our loungewear category has grown and grown over the past year. However, we have recognized that even though people have limited activities, they still want to enjoy fashion and celebrate their individuality. This concept encouraged us a lot and we felt responsible for providing new creative energy to clients.
On the importance of a physical retail experience.
“We have continued to open stores over the past 12 months, even in new parts of the world. I guess our hunger will continue to increase for true face-to-face communication and the store as a concept will become more and more relevant. Human contact is so important and face-to-face contact is the essence of communication. You can’t do this just by video or SMS.
On building a global brand that meets the needs of its diverse customer base.
“We have satellite offices in Shanghai, New York, Paris and Los Angeles, and separate creative collaborators around the world. We have 2000 stores in 25 countries which means I have 2200 branches around the world. I also talk to our customer service teams every day to get feedback on product purchases. I speak to the United States in the morning and to Europe in the afternoon.
On the importance of collaborating with JW Anderson.
“For me, Britain is a country with a history of uniforms, work clothes and sportswear. Our collaboration is based on the concept of original British clothing. When I first envisioned this, I wanted to work with today’s best British designer, Jonathan Anderson. I thought, if Jonathan refuses, I’ll have to skip the idea! §