In the world of fashion basics, there are really only two contenders. In the red corner is American Apparel, the LA-based vertically-integrated, sweatshop free fashion phenomenon, launched by the controversial Dov Charney in 1998. In the blue corner is Uniqlo, the Japanese retail chain most famous for its designer collaborations, nabbing Jil Sander as creative director, and defying the Asian financial crisis a decade ago by selling cheap clothes to cash-strapped fashion fans.
Both AA and Uniqlo are hugely popular among the fashion press, as well as consumers just looking for a decent t-shirt at a decent price. As we enter another round of recession-based fun, I’ll be interested to see which brand comes out on top…
Launched in 2006, HeatTech is Uniqlo’s patented brand of fabric technology, designed to keep you warm by layering. And we all know how good the Japanese are at layering – it’s all the bloody street style blogs are full of. Heattech is a kind of complex science which you can read about on their website, but it essentially consists of a special hollow fibre, which absorbs body moisture and converts it into heat. True, AA has tie-dye and thermochromatics, but when it comes to actually useful innovation, Uniqlo win hands down.
2) UT t-shirt
Uniqlo has attracted several big name designer collaborations over the years (Alexander Wang, Philip Lim, Steven Alan, Opening Ceremony), but the annual UT t-shirt line consistently comes up with the goods. With designers and artists as varied as Terry Richardson and Keith Haring on board, the project has so far seen more than 700 unique limited edition designs come to fruition. And when they sell for roughly £10 a pop, it’s one of the most affordable designer ranges on the High Street.
Everyone is aware of American Apparel’s front man Dov Charney and his extensive history of sexual harassment lawsuits. The man is no stranger to debate, and by opting to use ‘adult actresses’ and largely naked members of his own staff in the store’s ad campaigns, Dov continues to court controversy and column inches. Uniqlo also uses ‘real people’ (got to love that term) in their ads, but more often than not, they have clothes on. They also use stuffed animals at times, and that’s always going to be a winner with me.
Uniqlo’s ethics are admittedly more vague than American Apparel’s, and by offering such bargain prices, it doesn’t take a retail genius to realise that something untoward is afoot. 90% of their products are manufactured in factories in China, but the brand are kind of vague about the conditions, unsurprisingly.
Still, what we can applaud them for is the All Product Recycling initiative. Uniqlo collect used clothing at their stores for reuse or recycling. Twice a year the collected goods are either distributed to refugee camps if they’re in good condition or recycled to create electric power or industrial fibres if they’re not wearable. Thumbs up!
5) The Uniqlock
It just keeps getting better the more you watch it. Try it and see.
We all love AA’s t-shirts, and if you’re into that kind of thing, their leggings, unitards and bikinis are all pretty cool too. However for actually wearable clothes, that fit more than the AA-ideal (no boobs or hips allowed), last, and look good, Uniqlo wins hands down.