When it came to finding out how to deal with Japan’s dizzying weather during the Tokyo Games, Sweden’s Olympic and Paralympic teams decided to look for local expertise.
This led to the Nordic nation signing a contract with fast fashion titan Uniqlo, which equipped Swedish athletes at Tokyo 2020. The two parties announced an extension of their partnership on Wednesday, which ensures that Sweden will continue to wear Uniqlo through the Paris Games.
While Uniqlo is no stranger to the Olympics – the team equipped Team Japan for the 2002 and 2004 Winter Games in Salt Lake City and Athens, respectively – it was the company’s first time delivering clothing outside its home country and a new opportunity to showcase its strengths.
“The Swedish Olympic Committee (SOC) recognized our quality and innovation, but they wanted to know about our sustainability,” Koji Yanai, CEO of Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing, told The Japan Times ahead of Wednesday’s announcement.
“Sweden has a strong global reputation for sustainability, and it is something we are determined to improve, and we thought this partnership would be a good opportunity to share it with the world.”
When Uniqlo worked with its uniforms for Tokyo 2020, company officials met with groups of Swedish athletes in Stockholm to review fabric samples, take measurements and ask for feedback. Of greatest concern was Tokyo’s infamous summer weather and how it would affect competitors.
“SOC attaches great importance to getting players involved and listening to their opinions,” said Yanai, who is responsible for Uniqlo’s Olympic and Paralympic events and is the second eldest son of the company’s founder Tadashi Yanai.
“People in Sweden have usually not experienced Japanese summers. They were worried about temperatures close to 40 degrees and all the humidity. But their Uniqlo clothes eliminated sweat and dried quickly.
“For them to believe that our clothes contributed positively to their performance is a great takeaway for us.”
Among the feedback they offered Uniqlo designers was the demand for designs that would inspire them during competition, which led to a collection with an eye-catching neon yellow that may surprise consumers accustomed to the company’s typically muted color palette.
“It’s the clothes they’re competing in, the clothes they’re fighting for, so they wanted patterns that would light them up,” Yanai said. “During training or relaxation in their rooms, they had the good fortune to wear ordinary Uniqlo clothes, but at the Olympics they represent Sweden, and they are in a battle to win gold, and so they do not want to feel relaxed.
“They wanted patterns to get them ready for battle, and that stood out to me. It was very important for the athletes. ”
Uniqlo first started sponsoring athletes in 2009, when wheelchair tennis star Shingo Kunieda became the first ambassador. Since then, the company’s stable has expanded to include more sports, with Kunieda rival Gordon Reid, snowboarder Ayumu Hirano, golfer Adam Scott and tennis players Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori also logging on.
Their continued success on the playing field could give Uniqlo, which began marketing its sportswear products in 2016, greater access to what market analysts believe is worth over $ 200 billion annually.
Yanai believes that the company’s sporting goods, known as “Sports Utility Wear” to reflect that they can also be worn in everyday environments, are on a par with products released by major athletic brands such as Nike and Adidas.
“Uniqlo can be considered a lifestyle brand, but sports are a part of life,” said Yanai. “Our sports ambassadors all perform world-class and it is proof that our clothes can be worn in such situations.
“The clothes we sell are made from the same materials and created with the same manufacturing methods as the clothes that Kunieda and Federer use, and we want consumers to know that.”
Swedish athletes carried Uniqlo on the podium a total of 17 times at the Tokyo Games and won three gold and six silver medals at the Olympics before taking one gold, five silver and two bronze at the Paralympics.
But expectations will be even higher in February, when Sweden will try to beat its winter game record of seven golds – first set at Torino in 2006, then matched three years ago in Pyeongchang.
There, Uniqlo hopes to use its popular series of cold weather technology – including Heattech, the lightweight warm fabric released a year after the company equipped the Japanese delegation in Salt Lake City – to help Swedish athletes reach the top of the Beijing podium early and often.
“There was a lot of concern about the hot conditions in Tokyo, and in the same way we get a lot of requests to deal with very cold weather in Beijing,” said Yanai. “Our biggest goal is that we want to create clothes that allow Sweden’s athletes to compete as comfortably as possible, and we hope to be able to use all our technology.
“We want Sweden to win even more medals than they did in Tokyo. And we want Uniqlo clothing to be able to help them achieve that. ”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, Quality journalism is more important than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.