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Fast Fashion Brand Uniqlo Insists It's Not a Fast Fashion Brand

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Uniqlo's LifeWear presentation, styled by Uniqlo's fashion director Nicola Formichetti
Uniqlo's LifeWear presentation, styled by Uniqlo's fashion director Nicola Formichetti

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Yesterday we stopped by Uniqlo's fall/winter 2013 presentation and got to see the subtle changes design director Naoki Takizawa (formerly of Issey Miyake and Helmut Lang) has been making in the line. You'll notice some small differences next season.

For one thing, there are more prints than there used to be (see above). "We introduced flannel printed with florals," Yuki Katsuta, head of research and design at Uniqlo, told WWD. "We mixed flannel for a patchwork [effect]. It makes the category very fresh."

For another, the company is taking even more pains to distance itself from fast fashion, focusing instead on what they're calling LifeWear. Here's how the press release put it: "In LifeWear, nothing is left to chance and none of these garments should be seen as disposable 'fast fashion': Uniqlo's clothing is made for life, in both senses of the word."

In some ways, that's an uncomfortable promise to be making. At Uniqlo's scale—they've publicly stated that they want to overtake Zara as the biggest apparel company in the world—and especially with their commitment to cheap prices, the company is practically the definition of fast fashion. But for the moment, at least, that's their story and they're sticking to it.

In the meantime, we chatted with Mr. Takizawa about the upcoming line. Here's what he had to say about grunge, "shadow colors," and democratic fashion.

Photo via Racked Instagram

The color palette is very muted, almost like '70s retro, or '90s grunge. Is that intentional?
"It's not intentionally directly referencing the '70s or the '80s, but the intent is to use styling to mix and match tones. We try to pick up the 'shadow colors'—what the colors look like in the shade, out of the sunshine—we feel that that reflects the mood of now."

Photo via Racked Instagram

Uniqlo has made a point to put an emphasis on technology over trends. Is that still the focus?
"It starts with function, and behind that is technology. But unless there's some kind of friendliness and color, we can't communicate with our buying audience. We're not negating fashion, but the priority starts with function. So we use color and design as a way to communicate function."

Is that very different for you, as you come from a background at Helmut Lang and Issey Miyake?
"For me—whether it's creating a new aesthetic for Mr. Miyake or creating a million jackets for Uniqlo—the approach and the design process is fundamentally the same."

Who are you designing these clothes for? Is it young, old, everybody?
"It really is for the 100 million people that we're aiming to address. So whether or not they know anything about fashion, it doesn't really matter. That's why, actually, the design process is all the more challenging. Because we're trying to be inclusive, not exclusive."

How does Uniqlo consider themselves different from The Gap, or another American company who would do the same thing?
"It starts with function, because it's coming from Japan, so of course it starts with function. Uniqlo's fundamental approach, which is exemplified by the Lifewear collection, is to take something that is inconvenient and make it more convenient, easier, and more approachable."

Mr. Takizawa spoke to Racked through a translator. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
· Is Uniqlo Having a Fashion Identity Crisis? [Racked]
· If Apple Has the iPhone, Uniqlo Has 'Lifewear' [Racked]
· Uniqlo Scored Suno's First Fast Fashion Collaboration [Racked]