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Uniqlo Launches 3D-Knit Made-in-Tokyo Line

Japanese fast fashion brand Uniqlo rolled out its first collection of domestically produced goods, dubbed the Made in Tokyo collection last week.

The limited-edition line and the business model used to bring it to life represent a significant step for parent company Fast Retailing Co., according to Tokyo-based Nikkei Asia, which first reported the news. Launching on the company’s website and at its central Tokyo location with just three products, including a 3D-knitted cotton crewneck sweater for 2,990 yen ($27), the company plans to produce the homegrown capsule to meet consumer demand.

The seamless line will be made in the manufacturing district of Shinonome by Fast Retailing subsidiary Innovation Factory. The facility, which employs Shima Seiki Manufacturing’s advanced 3D-knitting machines, is the leading producer of Uniqlo’s 3D-knit collections, which showcase the brand’s proprietary one-piece “Wholegarment” technology. The lights-out facility, which runs all day and night, is capable of manufacturing 1,000 pieces per day.

According to details on its website, Fast Retailing acquired a 51-percent majority stake in Innovation Factory in September, while Shima Seiki owns the remaining shares. The retail group made the investment with the intent to expand operations at a new location in Tokyo’s Koto Ward, near the Fast Retailing offices, and to build out 3D-knitting capabilities and expertise that could be shared across the firm’s facilities in Vietnam and China, along with other manufacturing locales. That shift took place in April.

Innovation Factory CEO Tomoya Utsuno told Nikkei Asia that the new factory location “enables closer cooperation” between Fast Retailing’s headquarters and production, citing prior product issues stemming from a lack of physical proximity. Innovation Factory’s previous factory was based in Wakayama, more than 300 miles west of Tokyo.

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Utsuno told the publication that Fast Retailing stakeholders seldom visited the factory to weigh in on product samples, leading to delayed communication and hold-ups on scheduled launches. Since the Shinonome facility opened its doors this spring, however, frequent collaboration has become the norm, he said, and the groups are looking to cut the timeline for product design and production down to one month or less from a traditional three-month timeframe.

Fast Retailing aims to create limited runs of specific products for its Tokyo flagship store at the Innovation Factory facility, using the popular retail location to track sales and gauge demand. Those insights will be used to inform larger-scale production trends for the Uniqlo brand, Utsuno said. Ultimately, the fashion firm hopes the process will help limit waste and improve forecasting accuracy.