TOKYO — Uniqlo on Thursday revealed its official uniforms that will be worn by the Swedish Olympic and Paralympic teams during the upcoming Winter Games in February. The Beijing Games will mark the second Olympics in which Uniqlo is the official clothing sponsor for Team Sweden, after the Tokyo Games this past summer.
In an exclusive interview with WWD, Masahiko Furuta, Uniqlo’s chief designer and project lead for the company’s Olympic and sports design, discussed how the company’s LifeWear concept informed the design of the uniforms. The offering is more streamlined than that of Tokyo 2020, which the designer said was a deliberate choice made by Uniqlo.
“The collection is based on our design philosophy of ‘simple made better’ and ‘less is more design,’ the same as Tokyo 2020 and our sports ambassadors’ apparel,” Furuta said. “We should minimize the collection item count because we have to deliver every single item, so we need to simplify things. So that’s the sustainability point of view.”
In order to keep the uniforms simple while also being able to handle a range of temperatures both outdoors and inside different venues, Furuta and his team tested the apparel in three different temperatures that are typical to a Beijing winter: 50 degrees Fahrenheit, 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 14 degrees Fahrenheit. What they came up with was what the designer calls a “smart layering system” consisting of four distinct layers that can be worn on their own or together.
The base layer designed for the athletes is a new warm, dry fabric developed by Uniqlo. Furuta said the athletes tested the three versions of the brand’s well known Heattech line, but found them to be too warm for active pursuits. Instead, the new fabric, Ultra Stretch Dry, offers insulating and wicking properties without the risk of overheating. It also has a high stretch capability, so it moves with the body easily.
The second layer is Uniqlo’s stretch fleece. Based off the company’s in-line products, the pieces designed for Team Sweden differ in that they are textured to provide ventilation while also fitting the contours of the body. The fleece used in the uniforms is also made from recycled polyester.
The athletes’ third layer utilizes Uniqlo’s Ultra Light Down but with a unique construction. Rather than being quilted or bonded, the two fabrics that encase the down are actually woven together in a cross pattern. Furuta said that in addition to looking more sophisticated and using less yarn, this method of construction keeps hot air inside better than traditional methods.
Finally, the outer layer that will be worn by athletes at events such as outdoor medal ceremonies is based on Uniqlo’s Hybrid Down jackets. However, the Olympic and Paralympic versions are “more high-end and more high-performance,” according to Furuta. Again, their construction is more sophisticated, with puffy tubes of down insulation combining with strategically placed vents so that athletes can regulate their body temperature to suit the environment. For Paralympians, the bottom hem of the jackets has been raised and rounded slightly in the back, in order to allow freedom of movement even for wheelchair athletes.
“For Paralympians, the most important thing was that they have the exact same uniforms as Olympians; they didn’t want to look any different,” Furuta said. “So we created the same pieces but adapted their shape in order to fit the needs of each individual athlete.”
In addition to Team Sweden’s official clothing for medal ceremonies, media appearances and other non-competition events, Uniqlo was also contracted to provide uniforms for four individual sports. It has designed competition wear for the freestyle skiing, freestyle snowboarding, moguls and curling events.
Last year, Furuta visited Switzerland together with members of the Swedish Olympic Committee and some athletes in order to test samples of the collection in actual winter conditions. The design team also made use of Uniqlo’s purpose-built laboratory in order to ensure maximum quality and performance.
“In the lab, we can set the exact temperature and humidity levels that are typical of a Beijing winter, and that enables us to choose the exact correct fabric thickness and other qualities,” Furuta said.
In addition to quality and innovation, another theme for this winter’s Swedish Olympic and Paralympic uniforms is sustainability. About 70 percent of the collection uses recycled materials, including nylon, polyester and down. In addition, the dark navy color used on the outer layer of hybrid down is achieved by using natural indigo dye.
Like the Tokyo 2020 collection, some of the pieces worn by the athletes will also be adapted into a consumer line, which will hit Uniqlo stores later this year. While they won’t be exactly the same as those used in the Games, they will employ the same fabrics and innovations.
“It’s like an internal collaboration,” Furuta said. “We designed the Olympic and Paralympic uniforms based on existing in-line items, but then also the innovations that we made will in turn inform future improvements on in-line pieces.”