What does UNIQLO’s clothing need right now? A year ahead of the announcement of his new collection, we joined Aizawa of White Mountaineering on a hike, in search of answers to these questions.
“My first step was wearing a base layer from UNIQLO out snowboarding. The idea is that unless I could experience it firsthand, I couldn’t judge. So I dressed in underwear, socks, and a T-shirt from UNIQLO, and in the end, it was a stress-free experience. I believe it’s crucial for our clothes to add as little stress as possible to our lives. I wanted this to be the route I took in making outerwear with UNIQLO. When making clothes, I think the most important thing is everyday performance. When you put them on, there should be absolutely zero stress. Zero stress not only means simple and flexible, or being stretchy, but that the clothing keeps its shape and retains heat. It shouldn’t feel like you’re wearing clothes, so much as being contained by them. In that sense, I want you to be able to forget the clothing is even there. It shouldn’t just look sharp. If you were chopping wood, you shouldn’t even notice how easy it was to swing. The same goes for riding a bike. In thinking up our patterns and designs, a constant question is how to make the sleeves and shoulders stress-free.”
One product of this process is a hybrid down jacket that has water stop zip pockets on both sides of the chest. Though rare for a UNIQLO jacket to have pockets at the chest, our aim for the design was to take the middle path, not simply maximizing warmth and wearability, or getting too outdoorsy, but incorporating elements from military styles as well. This jacket can be paired with classic items for a modern look. All black, it can adapt to different styles. The goal is LifeWear that withstands the test of time. This collection also includes other items like fleece, not only for men but for women and kids as well. And with good reason.
- Ultra Light Down Oversized Jacket (UNIQLO and White Mountaineering)Planned for Fall 2021
“I believe it’s crucial to draw up a clear outline for every product. Not just its merits and demerits, but what you want the people who make the product, and the people who buy it, to have in mind as they engage. For this collection, our foremost concern was ‘cycles.’ This goes beyond the idea of the product cycle, to include different generations, cultural traditions, and ways of making clothes,” says Aizawa.
But where did this idea of cycles come from?
“After years of working as a designer, including time overseas, I’ve met all kinds of people and encountered different points of view. Now that I’m teaching at a university, I’ve come to approach clothing across generational lines. Wanting our worldview to include not only men but women and kids as well, I’ve stressed the theme of ‘family.’ I have three kids myself, and I’d like this clothing to be a neutralizing presence between me and the younger generation they belong to.”
Aizawa stresses that what makes a cycle fruitful is a connection
“After I made uniforms for Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, which plays in the J1 football league, my twin sons became fans and wore the clothes to express their support. That made me want to join them and wear the uniform myself. There’s something really fun about being able to dress the same as your kids. That’s why I strove to design the collection so that the clothes for kids and adults share a common language. You might want to wear something like what your mom is wearing. Or maybe wear a color that contrasts with your dad’s. My hope is for clothing to spur these conversations and strengthen the family bond, even just a little. This is a constant challenge as a parent, but I was able to achieve it with the help of UNIQLO.”
For Aizawa, these intergenerational connections are a link to both the future and the past. “I have my dad to thank for my interest in the outdoors. He was born in the year the war ended, lost his father early on, and struggled to eke out a living. In the 1960s he worked at a camera store near the American military base in Fussa, Tokyo while studying draftsmanship on the side. A designer in his own right. We may have been poor, but he made sure that I had lots of clothes in the styles that were popular in America and took me to all kinds of different places. We went fishing and camping and drove home listening to the country music he loved. I have more memories of going places with my dad than with my friends. I got lots of his hand-me-downs. My dad also played drums in a band and taught me about the beauty of music. I’m the man I am today because of all my father taught me.”
By influencing our development, these cycles forge connections that can carry over from one generation to the next. “Since I lost my father early on as well, I’m all the more motivated to be this kind of a dad for my kids, connecting with and understanding them in ways that span the generations. I think that this idea of clothing and cycles will be crucial for the generation that my kids belong to. From a sustainability perspective, White Mountaineering endeavors to make clothes that can be worn as long as possible, but UNIQLO has its own system for recycling whatever clothes you buy there, once they’ve run their course. In parallel with the idea of hand-me-downs, this is another cycle of sustainability, but it only starts when someone takes the first step. The systems for reusing and recycling are still under development, but someday, when all of the clothing I got from UNIQLO has run its course, including the collection that we’ve made together, I’ll bring it over to the store with the whole family and we’ll toss it into the recycling box. For these clothes, the future is bright.”
At the library of the Hachioji campus of Tama Art University, Aizawa’s alma mater. Designed by Toyo Ito, one of the foremost architects in Japan and a visiting professor at the university’s Department of Architecture and Environmental Design. Presently, Aizawa is also a visiting professor in the Department of Product and Textile Design.
- Hybrid Down Oversized Parka (UNIQLO and White Mountaineering)
- Planned for Fall 2021. Details of the collection (men, women and kids) will be sequentially released via a special website.
Born in 1977. Graduating from Tama Art University with a degree in textile design, in 2006 he started White Mountaineering, which since 2016 has released collections at Paris Fashion Week. Aizawa has designed for a variety of overseas brands. In 2019, he became the creative director for Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. He is also a visiting professor at Tama Art University.