I was like a kid in the candy store when walking into the majestic 12-floor Uniqlo flagship store in Ginza, Tokyo, that also happens to be Japan’s top-selling Uniqlo store. I am a huge fan of the brand, and I spent hours exploring the massive 4,959 sq m store where you can find everything from a trenchcoat to a pair of socks.
“HeatTech is one of our best sellers here in Ginza. Many people from all over the world would come here to buy HeatTech,” said Uniqlo’s Ginza store manager Toriumi.
And he was right, Ginza was teeming with tourists and locals alike, carrying baskets filled with Uniqlo products. I even spotted a few tourists trying to fit all their shopping into their suitcases!
“Here in the Ginza store, we have the biggest line of HeatTech, so customers who come to the store can pick and choose the products they want,” he said.
Even back at home in Malaysia, HeatTech is one of the best sellers despite our year-round warm weather. However, Uniqlo initially had concerns with selling their iconic winter innerwear in tropical countries like Malaysia.
“But fortunately our concern was just a concern,” said Uniqlo’s vice president of product Yoshihiro Kunii. “We have very good support from our customers because Malaysian customers would sometimes feel cold in offices, or they may have lots of trips overseas, so that’s the kind of environment where our customers can use our products.”
“Very good products will be sellable in the end. Our customers will always find the environment to utilise good products,” he said.
Twelve years down the line, the HeatTech range has expanded from basic innerwear to leggings, pants, socks, gloves, sweaters, and scarves to warm customers from head-to-toe.
Speaking to friends and family in Malaysia, many of them said that have bought Uniqlo’s HeatTech for travelling overseas.
A friend said that it was affordable and the quality was good, adding that she enjoys their classic and comfortable designs. Another said that it is one of the more affordable clothing shops that sells good winter wear.
Uniqlo’s aim is to come up with quality clothing that continues to be part of your wardrobe in years to come. The brand’s motto is “Lifewear” which embodies Japanese values of simplicity, quality and longevity. And it focuses on everyday clothing and wardrobe staples such as slim-fit jeans, leggings, t-shirts, oxford shirt, and hoodies.
“We sell quality clothes, not fashion,” said Uniqlo’s global corporate public relations representative Oliver Omrod. “We are not chasing trends,” he adds.
The beauty of this motto is that if you find something you really love from Uniqlo, chances are it will still be there after a year but perhaps with some slight improvements.
“We are constantly working to improve our products. Every year, we will release a better version of our product to our customers,” said Omrod. “We are always listening to our customers and what they want,” he said.
I was told that Uniqlo would go through over 80,000 calls and written feedback a year to listen to what their customers are saying about their products.
From its humble beginnings at founder Tadashi Yanai’s father tailor shop in rural Japan, Uniqlo has now become a global brand.
With 812 international stores in 15 countries and 798 local Japanese stores, the international stores have outnumbered those in Japan.
With new shops opening around the world every other week, Uniqlo is fast expanding and becoming one of the big players in the fashion industry.
A unique partnership between Uniqlo and Toray Industries
Uniqlo partly owes their success to a strategic one-of-a-kind partnership with textile manufacturing company Toray Industries, where together they design and produce products that contributes to people’s lives.
“We are very much focusing on how the people’s life and their everyday activity. We want to utilising our technology and good materials to better enhance their lives,” said Kunii.
“We want our products to contribute to the people’s lives, and to do that we have to achieve the highest quality at an affordable price that is accessible to all people,” he added.
Ever since Toray and Uniqlo’s partnership began in 2005, they have not only worked on HeatTech but also Uniqlo’s Ultra Light Down jackets.
“A partnership between a manufacturer and a retailer has not been heard of before. We compliment each other and work together as a virtual company,” said Toray’s director of global operation Hajime Ishii.
“Things are steadily moving forward and we are very focused on HeatTech and still working on the technology to dye the four fibres in HeatTech effectively,” he said.
“Both Uniqlo and Toray are continuing to grow and we will continue to produce Lifewear that is superior,” said Ishii.
A hybrid fabric
Armed with a pair of white shoes and a blue Toray cap, I was brought to Toray’s factory in Kyoto to see what goes into making their iconic HeatTech.
I was first taken to where the thread of HeatTech’s hybrid fabric is created. This hybrid fabric combines four types of fibre to create the material for HeatTech: Rayon staple fibre, acrylic fibre, polyurethane fibre and polyester filament.
Each one of the four fibres has a specific function that contributes to the product. Rayon helps to absorb moisture and generates heat, acrylic to retain warmth, polyurethane to add softness, and polyester to enable quick drying and shape retaining.
“We want to develop the best of the best. We have been in the market for more than ten years, and every year we are always looking for ways to improve our HeatTech,” said Toray’s global operation strategic development manager Tetsuo Horino.
“Every year HeatTech has upgraded itself and now our HeatTech line is warmer, thinner, and has a smoother texture,” he said.
At Toray’s environment simulation lab called Technorama, they test the heat retention and heat distribution of HeatTech. Technorama is able to simulate freezing temperatures, sweltering heat, wind, rain or snow to see how HeatTech gear functions in the extreme weather.
We saw a man wearing HeatTech innerwear walking on a treadmill with the room set to ten degrees celsius and 65% humidity. The man’s body temperature is monitored to show how the HeatTech shirt keeps his body warm and dry, fulfilling one of the many functions of HeatTech.
Other than testing the heat retention, Toray also carries out tests to monitor HeatTech’s dyeing process, stretch ability, water absorption, smoothness, and non-deformity. Toray aims for perfection, and they’re always finding new ways to improve their products.
Who knew that much work goes into a basic HeatTech innerwear? It was definitely an enriching experience learning the process in producing HeatTech. I can proudly say that I now have a new found appreciation for my HeatTech products.