Late last year, Uniqlo unveiled its foray into the sportswear market. Branded simply as Uniqlo Sports, the Japanese company aims to unite the worlds of fashion and sport. During Uniqlo’s first ever Lifewear Day, we got a chance to speak to Shu Hung, the brand’s Global Creative Director, and one of the brains behind Uniqlo Sports. Prior to this appointment Shu Hung had spent 7 years at Nike, so we were excited to find out what she was bringing to Uniqlo’s latest venture.
I know it’s still early days and you’re still very much learning about the brand and the markets now but once all that’s done, what do you want to bring and how do you want to push Uniqlo sportswear forward?
You’ve got these great sport ambassadors like Novak and Adam Scott but as you might notice we’re lacking female ambassadors and that’s a huge opportunity. So looking at how we can highlight people in that way would be great.
Now with the specific Uniqlo Sports brand, would you say Uniqlo is competing with bigger brands like Adidas, Nike and Reebok?
Yeah I think we’re competing with everyone. We compete with anyone for the share of wallet but in terms of those brands I think everybody offers something really compelling. What Uniqlo offers is access to great product that you can use to keep fit, so in my mind we’re all competitors but we’re also working together towards (hopefully) similar goals.
What are some obstacles that arise when merging high tech performance wear with creating in-trend styles and how do you overcome them?
I think you always go back to what would somebody want to wear. So if you think about a product or material that’s really stretchy, you may not want to wear that because it’s really revealing unless you’re in a fitness contest. We made a product called the dry stretch pants, which was for the golfer Adam Scott, because he needed something that was really flexible but would keep him warm or cold, depending on the environment. So I think that was one example where we took the wants of a person and combined it with the best possible fabric and design. It’s always got to be a balance of these two things, I think you couldn’t go one way or another.
When you have so many different types of sports, so many different markets, and so many different people, how do you bring all of that together to create a streamlined range of products?
You just nailed it though, it’s all about streamlining. Deciding that maybe you don’t really need this overcomplicated item because it’s not going to resonate in every market. Instead, maybe we could go with something more simplified that could apply to a wider market. That’s another filter that we use for our design.
Is there a big difference when it comes to consumers in Europe and Asia? For example, Uniqlo has tried to be trend-free but Europe is big on trends.
Of course, the consumer habits tend to differ. One of the observations I’ve made in Tokyo is that it’s really not appropriate to walk around in workout gear! *laughs* Whereas that’s not necessarily the case in London or in New York, and certainly not Los Angeles. That’s all up to the consumer though. I think what we’re trying to focus on is “What are the fundamental things that everybody wants out of these products?” They want them to be really comfortable, to last a long time, and to be available in a range of colours and sizes. So rather than focusing on the differences, we look at the similarities and then start designing.
What aspects of athletic wear do you think have yet to be addressed by other bands that Uniqlo hopes to put research into?
I think there are lots of things we’ve done in some of the other life wear categories that people also look at for sport, like for example the way we’ve made really smart packable products. The idea of a hybrid item that you could wear, potentially, through the day and then to a gym is also something that I’m interested in.
Does the Tokyo Olympics have anything to do with the brand’s sudden focus in sports or is it just mere coincidence?
Yes the timing is great! *laughs* But we have been working on a sport product of some form for over 5 years so it’s been a long term investment. I believe from a technological perspective, things that are developed in sport are really important as a testing zone for the rest of life wear, so it was inevitable that we would venture into it. The Tokyo Olympics is exciting and is a nice gift, in a way. It’s something to build towards and by time 2020 rolls around, who knows where the sport business will be but it’s an exciting motivator.
Often with sportswear, consumers are very brand-loyal so if you could communicate one thing about Uniqlo sport to get them to switch over, what would it be?
I would say the main thing is that it’s going to be very easy to wear it. There aren’t any super visible logos so it’s really all about how you want to approach it. There are no rules to what activities you should be doing in this product necessarily, so it’s up to you if you want to do 100 sit-ups or just walk down the block.