Fast Retailing expands deal to boost 'on-demand mass manufacturing'

Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing announced an important expansion of an existing deal on Friday, a deal that has the potential to make it a major player in “on-demand mass manufacturing” as well as boosting its selection of advanced technology textiles.

The company said it has signed an agreement to bolster its strategic partnership with Shima Seiki Mfg, “accelerating their work on comprehensive development and technological innovation for knit products over the medium and long term.”

They said they have created “a revolutionary mass production technology for  WholeGarment merchandise” through Innovation Factory Co, a joint venture set up in October 2016. 

The partners plan to “leverage Innovation Factory's expertise to expand mass production around Asia and boost manufacturing efficiencies” while also seeking to develop new merchandise and mass production processes “that link consumers directly to factories with a view to cultivating on-demand mass production systems.”

That’s a tantalising concept, but unfortunately, no other details are available at present.

But the company did also say that it intends to develop “innovative knitwear” focused on WholeGarment products “that offer new value and can generate greater sales.”

As the name suggests, Shima Seiki’s WholeGarment technology sidesteps the issue of a knitted garment traditionally consisting of separate parts that have to be sewn together. The tech means knitwear is produced in one entire piece, three-dimensionally, directly on the knitting machine. That means it requires no expensive, time-consuming post-production labour, “realising a whole new kind of knitwear that would otherwise require highly skilled sewing labour or even be too complicated to sew.”

And as well as fashion,  this can be applied to seam-free “second skin” fit garments.

Fast Retailing’s interest in this is hardly surprising. The company has become known for its technological approach to materials, such as the Heattech that is a key part of its autumn/winter season offer. Last autumn it launched seamless Heattech for the very first time and also incorporated moisturiser into the material.

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