A Conversation On Knitwear Innovation With UNIQLOs Yuki Katsuta
UNIQLO's Yuki Katsuta gives us hope for a better fashion future – lead by innovations like 3D printed knitwear.
We attended the Art and Science of LifeWear: New Standards in Knitwear exhibition hosted by UNIQLO at Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris the other week, and it made us feel excited about the future of fashion from a technological perspective. It wasn’t our first time hearing about how the business of making clothes will be revolutionized by innovation (one of our favorite new ideas is ‘ultra-fast fashion’ – clothes that are worn for a day and then left to naturally biodegrade in the compost), however, UNIQLO’s contribution to the pot of new ideas – 3D printed knits – is actually already in stores.
Using advanced Japanese equipment called Wholegarment, UNIQLO’s 3D knit sweaters and dresses are produced three-dimensionally in one single piece. The machine’s intelligence allows for new ways of manipulating fabric, and the garments drape beautifully according to the figure of the wearer. What’s more: using the 3D knitting technology is said to lessen the garment’s carbon footprint, and as it’s made from one single thread, no excess material is produced.
Yuki Katsuta is the Global Head of Research and Design at UNIQLO. Before joining the company 13 years ago, he had forged a distinguished career within the fashion industry working for legendary establishments like Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys and Ralph Lauren in New York and Tokyo.
Mr Katsuta seems excited as he greets the press at the Paris exhibition, showcasing the art, color, craftsmanship and Japanese technology that goes into UNIQLO knitwear. He sees the exhibition, which is the brand’s first large-scale exhibit open to the public, as a new way of communicating with the customer.
And the theme – knitwear – has a special place in Mr Katsuta’s heart: “A knit has almost unlimited possibilities”, he explains when we sit down later the same day. “It’s the only item that doesn’t require a pattern, so it can be made almost like a sculpture. There is so much freedom with design and proportion – especially with the new 3D knit technology; it expands the possibilities.”
“Plus”, he adds, “yarn is one of the best materials to express color in my opinion. It’s… almost art. When I want to check color palettes, I always ask my team to dye yarn; especially cashmere as it’s the best one to color. It’s also functional – light, warm and with a natural stretch – and one of the best materials to protect you from rain. It’s naturally waterproof, so I wear it instead of a raincoat.”
Given your extensive career in fashion – what was it that made you join UNIQLO?
– Around the time I started working at UNIQLO, 13 years ago, I recognized two phenomenons. The first is more general: I saw that the way people were investing money had changed. People used to spend money on nice clothes, cars and watches to get that ‘materialistic satisfaction’. I used to be like that too, and owned a lot of nice Italian clothing. However, at a certain point, people started to change. In my case, I put my money towards education, organic food and health. Moving from materialistic to mental satisfaction was a big change.
– The second phenomenon has to do with fashion in particular. At that time, H&M and Zara was starting to grow. I worked at Bergdorf Goodman, and through my customers I saw that people were realizing the possibility of mixing luxury with budget. These customers, who were switching their motivation to ‘mental satisfaction’ and wore mixed brands, were quick to change and very sensitive. They changed their way of investing money as it no longer made sense to pay that much for fashion.
– When I started at UNIQLO, the quality was already competitive, but the taste was not great. I thought: If we level up the taste, this brand is going to become a monster. That’s why I switched my job from the best luxury department store to this company. Half of my friends wondered if I had been fired – why else would I give up a fast seat at the Paris fashion shows? Haha.
What has inspired you the most during these 13 years?
– My challenge is to combine the best taste with the best quality and provide it at the best price. The dynamic of this challenge – figuring out how to make this happen – is my inspiration. As a team, we have so much experience and so many new ways of thinking today, I can’t even compare the brand to what it was 13 years ago. This is something I am very proud of.
Which innovations are you most excited about?
– There are many exciting innovations to talk about, but an epoch-making one is one of our signature concepts: Heattech. It took 6-7 years to develop, so innovation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s about repeating and approving, and getting better and better. Then one day, what you have been working on becomes an innovative item.
‘The Art and Science of LifeWear: New Standards in Knitwear’ was exhibited in Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris on September 26 – 29, 2018.
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