Fast Retailing, owners of the fast-fashion chain Uniqlo from Japan which is gaining speed in terms of preferences among youth culture not only in Japan and Europe, but also the United States, has created a new category of fashion that crosses over between sportswear and casualwear and technology which they describe as Lifewear.
Often on the leading-edge of innovative fabrics and fashion, Uniqlo’s Heattech apparel and first layer pieces, for example, have been popular now for a couple of years. As fashion director Nicola Formichetti described in a recent interview on Business of Fashion, Uniqlo is actually more like technology than fashion. Uniqlo’s Fall/Winter 2013 collection included Ultra Stretch Jeans, Ultra Light Down, and a collaboration with textiles collective 10-Gruppen from Sweden.
“Lifewear is the theme of our collection. But it’s meant to be continued every season. Like iPhone 4, iPhone 5. It’s the idea of continuation, but with updates: new elements, new fabrics,” explained Naoki Takizawa, Uniqlo’s design director.
What’s interesting about the Apple connection to describe their fashion is that Fast Retailing’s founder, Tadashi Yanai often describes Uniqlo as a technology-driven company rather than fashion-driven. For example, they tend to improve on quality of clothing and then adding elements of fashion.
According to Dr. Berndt Hauptkorn, the chief executive of Uniqlo Europe, “We don’t start designing with a vague trend in terms of color or fashion; we start with the requirements of real people and their real lives. We have a set of projects such as Heattech, Ultra Light Down or Cashmere, and we stretch the boundaries to constantly add innovation and excitement from season to season. Technology is key for our brand which is all about quality, innovation and the improvement of life. Fashion alone does not deliver on these goals.”
Lifewear could very well take the concept of technology and fashion to new levels by looking at an industry from the perspective of another industry. In addition, instead of comparing the brand with fashion labels such as H&M, they’re actually more akin to sportswear labels like Nike or Adidas both of whom utilize athletes and technical fabrics, fit, and form as inspiration for collections that then move out to the general consumer.
While Uniqlo is coming at fashion from the angle of sportswear X casualwear X technology, top athletic brands are moving in the opposite direction of moving their sportswear into more fashionable apparel that fits into one’s lifestyle—whether they are active or not.
Lifewear may be a new space in-between that also looks at more elements of technology in creating new designs from an approach based on fabrics, sustainability, and ingenuity, and by-passing the concept of the traditional fashion cycle or even fashion seasons.
Instead, as Uniqlo pointed out, when improvements are made, like an iPhone 4 to an iPhone5, it’s time to launch.
With their relatively low pricepoint, Uniqlo’s Lifewear may become the new lifestyle fashion category for a new, tech-savvy, active demographic.