Coming off a flight from Paris and a series of media interviews after Uniqlo’s first American preview of a forthcoming collection, Yuki Katsuta, Uniqlo’s SVP of product design and global research, showed no signs of jet lag. He bounced in his seat, jovial and lively. He fielded questions about sustainability, trends in menswear and what’s cool in Los Angeles. He acted like he’d had 12 hours of deep sleep. Katsuta-san needs the energy, as he is the lifeblood of this young brand with big hopes. In his tenure, he has effectively stirred things up in the fast fashion space, especially with Uniqlo’s huge expansion into the American market. I peppered him with a few questions about what’s next for the brand, and he had a surprisingly conservative outlook, outlining a plan that is best summed up like so: iterate, refine and repeat.
Q: How do you create good, relevant clothes at this scale?
A: To be honest with you, there is no goal. No satisfaction. We just need to keep evolving every season. One reason we are doing collaborations is because we knew that we had a very difficult challenge as a fashion company. We needed to have a lot of different ideas, a lot of different points of view, to make something in a new way… Ideally, we would like to create clothes that can last, not only for this season but for three years, five years, ten years. Our quality is great. Quality is no problem. But quality of design is also very important for us. If we can make the quality of the design more long lasting and easy to mix with Uniqlo clothes or other brands clothes — that is what we are trying to make.
Q: Where does your inspiration start?
A: Recently, we started to research and understand each region — major cities. Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, Paris. A lot of things are happening in those major cities. Before we start to talk about fashion — forget about fashion — we research and think about, “What’s their life right now? How’s it changing? What are they enjoying?” That’s how we start, not thinking about fashion first. So, in Brooklyn, the young people, what is their favorite activity on the weekends? How do they commute? We start with researching that lifestyle. Then, we start thinking, “So, based on that life, how can we improve our existing essential items, or do we need to introduce a new basic item?”
Q: What do you think people need now?
A: People are expecting something that’s “Easy to something.” Easy to move. Easy to wear. Easy to something. I don’t want to say comfortable. Comfortable is a more general word. It’s more, “Easy to something.” People like to make their life easy, and their clothes should make their life easy for something. Easy for maintenance. Easy for action. Easy for such specific reasons.
Q: How is Uniqlo focusing on sustainability?
A: I always say, “our price is very affordable, but our process is luxury.” It takes like 12 months to make one product. We spend so much time — so much human power — into one item… So anyone thinking about sustainability within fashion, they have to ask, “If their clothes are being thrown away after one season, is that real sustainability?” I don’t think so. If our clothes can stay with people the next five or ten years, I think is also going to help sustainability.
Q: Is the new collection a new direction for Uniqlo, or an evolution of the brand?
A: This is a continuation. I don’t think we ever complete our message; we just keep repeating, repeating, repeating until people get it.