NEW YORK — When Roger Federer commits to something, he’s all in. And that was the case Wednesday when the tennis great and his new sponsor, Uniqlo, held a meet-and-greet for their sponsorship deal on the eve of the U.S. Open.
In July, Federer made the epic jump from Nike to Uniqlo in a 10-year deal worth a reported $300 million.
As its newest global brand ambassador, Federer will wear Uniqlo at all tennis tournaments throughout the world, a partnership that started at Wimbledon and will continue into the U.S. Open, which begins Monday in Flushing, N.Y. That included the navy suit and crisp white shirt he wore to the press conference at the Park Hyatt hotel.
“It’s all Uniqlo,” Federer told WWD. Although he’s been known to sport big-name designers such as Tom Ford, he said his Uniqlo suit was “different, but I like it. It’s simple but there’s a lot of thought that went into it. And not everyone can afford Tom Ford. This is accessible to more people.”
Ditto for his former sponsor, whose clothes and shoes sometimes were out of range for a lot of his fans. “That’s why this is very exciting to me,” he said. “Uniqlo doesn’t have stores everywhere yet, but we’ll get there and I hope to be at a lot of store openings.”
Although Federer had had his own collection with Nike under the RF moniker — the merchandise is still being sold on the sports brand’s web site — his deal with Uniqlo doesn’t yet include a Federer-branded collection. Instead, the Swiss tennis player is working with Uniqlo’s design team, led by artistic director Christophe Lemaire, to update the existing LifeWear collection. “We’re digging into his brain and heart,” said John Jay, Uniqlo’s president of global creative.
Jay said Federer is working with Uniqlo to inject his take on the brand’s wardrobe essentials and provide inspiration in terms of styling, color and performance. That was evident in the burgundy outfit he wore at Wimbledon last month, where he made it to the quarter finals. Not only was the color striking, Lemaire and Federer had worked together to design a distinct polo with a short stand-up collar. The shirt also featured Dry EX, a special fabric developed with Toray Industries that features a special arched structure that dries faster than ordinary dry function material. It also employs highly breathable mesh in areas that accumulate sweat, helping to avoid overheating.
Federer admitted that when he walked out on center court wearing the Uniqlo brand rather than Nike, he was nervous. “But I felt good in the clothes and I knew I could concentrate on tennis.” And while his fans were similarly surprised not to see the familiar swoosh on his chest, they’ve so far been supportive — although some have expressed unhappiness that the RF line will go away. “I hope that one day, RF will come back to me,” he said.
Federer described his style as “very classic,” both on and off the court, a sensibility similar to Uniqlo where “innovation and simplicity” are key. “Tennis has a great history,” he said, but the “aggressive” looks that are being worn by many players are not appropriate for the mainstream. So Federer is planning to do his part to “try and bring simplicity” back to the game.
In addition, he said there’s no reason that tennis players can’t mimic other sports and wear suits rather than polos and shorts to press conferences and other media events. “I don’t mind wearing outfits like this,” he said, pointing to his suit. “It’ll make press conferences a more stylish place.”
Federer had been sponsored by Nike for two decades, but when his contract expired in February he said decided to “have a look at what’s out there.” That led him to approach Uniqlo, which signed him to the long-term deal that will also present him with a “wonderful transition from tennis player life.”
He stressed that there are no plans for him to retire anytime soon, but at 37, he realizes he’s entering the back end of his career and is looking to the future off the court when he can “step into a new entrepreneurial stage.”
Philanthropy will be part of the plan, he said, as will spreading the word about the sport of tennis to Asia.
“The tour doesn’t go through Asia enough,” he said. “But through this deal, I will be there and maybe we’ll find some more tennis superstars there.”
Uniqlo also sponsors Kei Nishikori, a Japanese tennis player who idolized Federer when he was growing up. But don’t expect the two to play a doubles match. “I’m a good singles player,” Federer said with a laugh.
Uniqlo is marketing the sponsorship as “a perfect match,” and Jay called Federer “our new family member.”
Even so, when making the deal with Federer, the Japanese company admitted that it “is not a sports company. Uuniqlo describes itself as a life company that creates LifeWear, thoughtful everyday apparel with a practical sense of beauty, and constantly improved through craftsmanship and technology. With today’s announcement, LifeWear has a new champion.”
Federer said he hopes that by wearing Uniqlo, it will “bring me a lot of luck at the U.S. Open.” Although he hasn’t won the tournament in a decade, he believes he’s got a good shot at taking home the trophy this year. “I feel really good about my chances,” he said, adding that he believes the winner “will be decided from the top 20 guys in the game.”
When Federer takes to the court next week, customers will be able to order up the same outfits. Beginning on Thursday, the line will be available to reserve through uniqlo.com with delivery scheduled for mid-October. The polo shirt and shorts will each retail for $39.90.
In addition to Federer and Nishikori, Uniqlo also counts wheelchair tennis players Shingo Kunieda and Gordon Reid, and golfer Adam Scott as global brand ambassadors.