Fast Retailing exec on Uniqlo’s efforts to support refugees worldwide

Nobel Prize-winning physician and scientist Shinya Yamanaka. 

One hundred per cent of the profits, or at least 20 per cent of the sale price of each t-shirt, will be donated to UNHCR, Save the Children and Plan International – Uniqlo’s charity partners on the project. 

Additional collections are already in the works featuring designs from Jonathan William Anderson, Ayumu Hirano, Rei Inamoto, Kosuke Kawamura, Shingo Kunieda, Christophe Lemaire, Kei Nishikori, Gordon Reid, Adam Scott and Hana Tajima.

“Peace For All is not a one-off project. We want to make this an ongoing commitment,” Eiko Sherba, Fast Retailing’s director of corporate PR, said through a translator at a launch event on Thursday. 

The power of clothing

The initiative comes amidst a global refugee crisis, exacerbated in the last 12 months by the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to the UNHCR, as of May 23, 2022, more than 100 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, up from 40 million in 2001. 

“Across the world, we are facing quite a significant challenge,” Koji Yanai, Fast Retailing’s group senior executive officer, said through a translator at the event on Thursday. “The most impacted segment of people are women and children, unfortunately.”

Uniqlo has a long track record of donating money and clothing to organisations supporting refugees and others experiencing hardship, going back to 2001 when the war in Afghanistan first began. 

“Tens of millions of pieces [of clothing] have been donated … to help [displaced people] become self-sufficient and independent,” Yanai told Inside Retail through a translator at the event. 

The brand has also employed more than 120 refugee women in its stores since 2012. 

“Seventy of them [have been] employed in the EU,” Sherba told Inside Retail. “Other than that, Asia inclusive of Japan.” 

Underlying these efforts is Uniqlo’s belief in the “power of clothing” to protect people and enrich their lives. 

“That remains unchanged from our founding days,” Yanai said. 

At times, however, this belief has led the company astray. 

Earlier this year, Uniqlo was one of the few international fashion brands that continued to operate in Russia after it invaded Ukraine, though the brand did say it would donate US$10 million and 200,000 clothing items to UNHCR in response to the humanitarian emergency in Ukraine.  

Fast Retailing’s president Tadashi Yanai told the media that Uniqlo was delivering a “basic human need”. 

“Clothing is a necessity of life. The people of Russia have the same right to live as we do,” he said. 

Ultimately, however, the brand reversed course, and on March 10, it temporarily suspended operations there.

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