NEAT KNITS: Don’t take your sweater for granted.
This felt like the underlying message relayed by Fast Retailing Co. Ltd. executives speaking before a crowded room of journalists gathered for a Uniqlo exhibit about knitwear in Paris. People squeezed into the entrance of the show, a wide room covered with dangling wheels of colored wool, the hues arranged like a giant, three-dimensional rainbow.
Held at the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris, the show runs from Wednesday through Saturday. It’s a sort of ephemeral pop-up experience from the Japanese label, which touts the exhibit as its first, as it joins the growing ranks of brands aiming to pull in new consumers by telling people how their stuff is made.
“The Art and Science of LifeWear” features a knitting machine in action, building a sweater dress before the public. It then takes visitors through a life of a sweater through photos, showing inspection stages and the factory hanger system, finishing with the final residue removal, done by hand. Another room is covered with rows of outfits, some outfitted with knit hats, scarves and gloves.
Closing the exhibit is a pop-up shop, complete with a cash register, featuring collaborations with Andrea Crews—airport themed, with sweaters stamped “Paris” and “Tokyo” — and another with Koeur, with sweaters carrying embroidered flower bouquets. And if that isn’t enough to get people thinking about shopping for a sweater, a questionnaire at the exit asked outright: “Did this exhibition make you want to buy Uniqlo knitwear?”
“Rather than going after superficial fads and eccentric fashion, we aspire to deliver essential value that everyone is convinced by,” Uniqlo founding president and Fast Retailing president Tadashi Yanai told the journalists, speaking through an interpreter.
The executive, who is something of a rock star in the retail world, went on to explain how his company brought technical clothing that had only been available to mountain-climbers or high-end consumers to a broader range of consumers.
“Uniqlo unlocked the boundary and made such clothing available to all people with reliable quality at an affordable price…across the world,” he added, noting that heat technology changed the concept of innerwear, converting moisture from the human body to thermal technology.
“Heat tech was launched in 2003; we have sold more than one billion pieces,” he said.
Yanai was joined by Shima Mitsuhiro from the knitting machine company Shima Seiki, which works with Uniqlo.
Established in 1962, when knit gloves for factories were the products made by automated machinery, the company developed a horizontal knitting machine that serves as a sort of three-dimensional printer.
“The horizontal knitting machine starts with one string of yarn to create the product. It does not require any different patterns, therefore there is no waste at all,” said Shima.
“Simple yet functional, high-quality and durable clothes, that’s what we aspire to offer.…Uniqlo is the opposite of fast fashion, we would never ever offer disposable clothing for the sake of business,” Yanai said.
“Sustainability is everything. This is the most important value for mankind and that’s what we like to keep implementing through our clothing business and we are very, very serious about changing clothes, changing conventional wisdom and changing the world,” he added.