The name UNIQLO has become synonymous with quality and affordable apparel in Japan and across the globe. It’s always my first stop when I’m after that basic knit that will go with everything, a pair of casual chinos or some thermals to get me through the winter months. The 4 year old UNIQLO items I still wear today are a testament to the quality of the products, which despite now being manufactured mostly in China, instil feelings of trust and reliability that distinctly come with buying Japanese goods.
But this leading clothing giant doesn’t just make good sweaters. They have a social conscience too!
Over the past few years UNIQLO has developed a partnership with UNHCR which has seen more than 5 million items of recycled clothing distributed to refugees in camps worldwide. Since 2006, the company has been collecting, sorting and distributing preloved clothing donated by customers as part of its ‘All Product Recycling Initiative’ at its many stores.
Recently, this program has expanded to include an internship program within Japan, offering refugees who study at a Japanese university the opportunity to undertake a 2 week internship at one of their stores. So far four refugees have been through the program – one Vietnamese and three Burmese, with two staying on in part-time employment. The company hopes to increase this number to up to 50 interns working at UNIQLO stores around the world.
Since signing onto a new partnership agreement with UNHCR last year, UNIQLO are looking at alternative ways to further their support for refugees such as more internship programs, cash donations and charity events. Social enterprise is another keen prospect, following in the success of their current joint venture with Grameen bank in Bangladesh. This project produces clothing at very low prices and then empowers local residents to sell the product by establishing their own businesses through microcredit loans.
Within Japan, Yukihiro Nitta, a senior executive of UNIQLO’s holding company Fast Retailing, acknowledges there is much to be done in terms of raising awareness of the plight of refugees. But UNIQLO’s partnership with UNHCR is a good start, he explains:
Since we started our initiative in 2006, more Japanese people have been made aware of refugees. We collected 4 million items of clothing last year. If a customer brings an average of 10 items it means that 400,000 pieces of clothing have been brought back to our stores. As a result people are very interested. We also help people become more aware through our website and brochures.
A corporate empire trying to make a positive difference in the lives of others? Sounds too good to be true.. Spread the word!
**Keep an eye out for a unique range of T-shirts designed in collaboration with Laura Ashley and featuring special messages about refugees – to be released later this year.**
If you’d like to donate your preloved UNIQLO or g.u. clothing to someone who really needs it, you can drop it off anytime at any UNIQLO or g.u. store in Japan. More info here.