May 16, 2021

‘Sustainable clothing should be accessible to as many people as possible’

3 min read

Yuki Katsuta, who joined Fast Retailing in 2005, today serves as group senior executive officer for the Fast Retailing group, as well as global head of research and development for its Uniqlo division.

Katsuta, whose previous experience includes stints at Bergdorf Goodman, Ralph Lauren and Isetan, has devised some clear targets for Uniqlo to achieve greater success. Among them there is the aim to innovate LifeWear, the insignia’s basic brand crafted with essential fits and fabrics, to bring more warmth, lightness and better comfort to the lives of customers.

Part of his targets also lay in promoting more sustainable and ethically correct consumer behaviors and lifestyles through LifeWear, as in part already achieved as reported in Fast Retailing’s most recent sustainability report (also see here).

Katsuta explained to The SPIN OFF what the group’s aims are to lower the brand’s impact and promote a more responsible mentality within the fashion market.

Can you describe how Uniqlo’s LifeWear concept will evolve in light of the increasing need to avoid wasting resources?
With the current circumstances around the pandemic and its impact on consumer behavior, LifeWear is the perfect solution, offering products that are versatile, functional, timeless and long lasting. Our assortment is being thought through from the customer’s perspective, aiming to make, distribute and sell only what is necessary. We increase the number of continuity items that we can sell throughout the year, as, for example, our ultra light down jackets and vests, sport essentials and knitwear. These product categories are designed not to match a specific season, and therefore do not need to be removed from shops, when seasons switch.

Recycled down jacket from the Re.Uniqlo recycling project

Recycled down jacket from the Re.Uniqlo recycling project

It is of deep significance to us to collaborate with leading designers and other external parties who share our ethos, so we can incorporate their approach to creativity and contemporary ideas. We also believe that in working with these people such as Christophe Lemaire, Jil Sander or Jonathan William Anderson, our employees can look at regular Uniqlo items with a more critical eye and enhance the quality of our offerings, designing and producing pieces that our customers can wear over the next two, five and even ten years.

What sustainable strategies is Uniqlo focusing on to encourage new consumption patterns and lifestyles?
We have been working on sustainability initiatives for many years and one of the challenges is to communicate these to our customers better. But it also means listening, staying connected and engaged and having the flexibility to make changes and improvements as required.
We seek not only to deliver clothing that enriches the daily lives of many different people, but also to become part of the infrastructure that supports society. We know that we cannot achieve this mission without good partners across our value chain. Therefore, over 15 years, we had been working together with the UNHCR–the UN Refugee Agency–and have donated over 41 million pieces of clothing to refugee and people in need. Our work with the UN Women intends to develop leadership capacities among women at our partner factories in Asia, where 80% of workers are female. On the product side, our Blue Cycle process reduces up to 99% of water used in the denim finishing process, and our down products are RDS (Responsible Down Standard) certified.

An image from Uniqlo's LifeWear Louvre Museum Collection for summer 2021

An image from Uniqlo’s LifeWear Louvre Museum Collection for summer 2021

What type of sustainable materials, product design and product types will Uniqlo increasingly focus on to reach this target?
The design principles behind LifeWear mean that our products serve a purpose. I believe, that sustainable clothing should not be offered at a premium price, instead it should be accessible to as many people as possible while considering the balance between price, quality, design and sustainability.

We will also continue our focus on eco-friendly products like Recycled Dry-Ex polo shirts, using recycled polyester from PET bottles. As part of our recycled down initiative, we collect down garments and turn them into new products, as, for instance, Uniqlo did in October 2020, when it launched the Recycle Down Jacket.

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