Uniqlo global brand ambassador Marin Minamiya is taking the brand to new heights — as in 29,029 feet at Mount Everest and beyond.
At the age of 20, she recently finished climbing the Seven Summits, the seven highest mountains in seven continents, and completed the Explorer’s Grand Slam by reaching the North and South Poles. That all-out effort made her the youngest Japanese national to do so and the team celebrated at base camp by having some Norwegian aquavit that had crossed the equator twice and been carried to the North Pole. Along the way, she and her team faced bone-chilling temperatures, beyond-imaginable 100 mile an hour winds while carrying about 77 pounds or towing a sled that could be as heavy as 165 pounds.
What started as trying to realize a teenage dream of tackling Mount Everest turned into the Seven Summits and the Explorer’s Grand Slam. As for what made her believe she could accomplish what she has, Minamiya said, “I don’t think it was what made me. I had to. If I didn’t believe I could do it myself then nobody else would have. Because no one else really did. In that kind of situation, I want to be able to move forward.”
Reached in Finland Wednesday, Minamiya said she wore variations of Uniqlo’s Heattech, fleece, Blocktech, a customized huge down jacket and a Gore-Tex hard shell. “At first, it was kind of surprising because Uniqlo is just a normal daily apparel brand,” Minamiya said. “I can even use the ultralight down jacket on mountains up to 6,000 or 6,500 meters. Imagine getting the same kind of jacket at Patagonia or Mountain Hardware. It would be so much more expensive. For a student like me, it’s just perfect.”
At the North Pole, the coldest temperature was minus 35 degrees. Minamiya said, “I’ve also felt the same temperature at the South Pole. How you feel the temperature is completely different because at the North Pole the humidity is at 95 percent. Minus 35 degrees feels so much colder there. At the South Pole, with the wind it can get down to minus 68 degrees but it’s really dry. So the air between your skin and what you wear like the Heat Tech will still be warm. The North Pole feels 10, maybe 15 times, colder.”
There, “hill-like chunks of ice” help to shield the wind, whereas in Antarctica at the South Pole, it’s just 360 degrees of complete flatness, she said. “It’s open so when there’s wind you’re the only obstacle the wind is hitting so it will be super cold. The wind just feels like knives cutting your face. The wind is the biggest problem. But at the North Pole it’s just the wetness.”
Her only fear might be getting eye surgery, which is scheduled for June. “It’s to fix my nearsightedness. People say that I could be legally blind. I can’t see anything without my contact lenses or glasses,” she said.
Next up, Minamiya plans to sail around the world, and having never sailed before, she will go to Capetown in July to start five months of training to learn how. Once she and Uniqlo executives decide on the sailing route and all the logistics, they plan to launch the project next year. Undeterred by her inexperience, she said, “That is the story — starting a project from absolutely nothing to navigating around the world. I know it sounds crazy, but we hope to let people around the world know that nothing is impossible. Possibility is truly infinite.”
Minamiya said, “Why did I plan to do all this? I wanted to find myself through this journey. I was very, very lost and I didn’t know where I belonged and who I was. I just didn’t know of my own identity.”
Starting in January 2015, she climbed Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, Mount Kosciuszko, Vinson Massif, Mt. Elbrus, Mount Everest and Denali before ticking the North and South Poles off her list.
Growing up, she spoke English at school, Chinese after school and Japanese at home which left her feeling isolated. Her parents’ strained marriage heightened that. Studying in Hong Kong at a British high school, all the coursework and homework was done on computers. “At lunchtime, we would FaceTime. This made me more confused because I was in school but not actually seeing kids face-to-face,” she said. “I’d go home and my parents wouldn’t be home. I was completely lost. I thought, ‘I have to find myself and be able to stand on my own feet.’
“Living in China, I had an anti-Japanese education since I was young that made me question my own nationality. I didn’t feel like I was Japanese or that I was welcomed in China as a Chinese person either. That made me really uncomfortable since I was seven or eight. My parents’ relationship wasn’t great so I didn’t feel at home when I was home.”
Through a school program, some friends went on a climb near Hong Kong and her goals escalated from that experience. At the age of 13 on a trip to Nepal for a climb and a visit to an orphanage she caught a glimpse of Mount Everest and vowed to herself that she would return. After her parents divorced, her plans to attend Columbia University were nixed and she wound up studying in Japan. Feeling unmoored, she was reminded of how she promised herself to climb Everest and decided to climb the Seven Summits. While training in Nagano in 2015, she fell 250 meters off a cliff and “miraculously alive with no fractures or broken bones, I dug a hole in the snow, slept there and the next day was rescued by a helicopter,” she said.
That accident motivated her to train more in different countries. When it occurred to her that she had climbed half of the Seven Summits, she thought, “‘Oh, I might as well finish it.’ When I was in Antarctica climbing the highest peak Mount Vinson, I thought, ‘OK, well, I might not ever come back here so I might as well ski to the South Pole.’ So it was the Seven Summits, South Pole and the North Pole two weeks ago,” she explained.
As for whether she ever gets tired, Minamiya said, “Me? Hmm, I thought I would be tired but I can’t just stay in one place and rest. I have to go do something. I feel sick and tired and drained when I am just sitting at home. My friends sometimes say I’m a freight train. I’m always in sixth gear. I think they’re right.”