Unique
clothing

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    3

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    Recycled Fleece Jacket

Text by UNIQLO

Unique clothing changes the rules. And changing the rules changes our lives.Here’s another story of a masterpiece, manufactured by UNIQLO to this day.

Fluffy Fleece Jackets

Our fleeces for men, women and kids all feature 100% recycled fleece fabrics, sourced from plastic bottles.

The Ingredient

These plastic bottles are the source material for our fleece fabric. Gathered, sorted, washed, and crushed, they find new life as clothing.

Photography by Yoshio Kato

What’s the most classic item in the history of UNIQLO? One answer might be the fleece jacket. Launched in 1994, it caused a sensation in 1998, with long lines at our Harajuku store, at the time on Meiji-dori. This fleece jacket soon became one of our signature items. In 2003, the fluffy fleece joined the family. The high pile fabric, with a soft touch, was a big hit.

Since then, we’ve made minute adjustments every year, always aiming for a perfect product. And now, here in 2022, UNIQLO fleeces are entering a period of change so notable it would be fair to say they’re being transformed. That’s because we’ve met the goal of making fleeces from 100% recycled materials, specifically plastic bottles. Here’s how our signature item is evolving into a classic for the ages.

The ongoing pursuit of perfection

What do we mean when we say UNIQLO is transitioning to 100% recycled materials? Will every component, not just the fabric, including zips and all little parts, be made using recycled materials? The answer is yes: every single part will be recycled. To demonstrate this change, we’re focusing on three items, our classic men’s fleece jacket and our men’s and women’s fluffy fleece jackets (for the kids’ fleece, only the fabric is recycled fabric). What you see here is the result of over twenty years of research. To ensure that our fleece keeps its status, we’re updating the materials while maintaining the high quality.

True reliability: working with our partners

In a nutshell, production of recycled fleece involves the following steps. Firstly, recovered plastic bottles are crushed, washed, and melted, resulting in white polyester chips. These are melted once again and spun into thin fibres. After that, the fabric is woven and sewn into products.

Our initial challenge was ensuring “traceability.” What kind of plastic bottles did we procure, from where, and how many were used? Searching globally for a factory to make recycled textiles according to our standards, we found a handful of contractors we could rely on and established partnerships. Our factories in Asia and China especially have been dramatically expanding. As one example, take Cyclone, a company in China’s Fujian province whose vast facilities are depicted in the photos below. With every step from procurement to spinning handled on proprietary equipment, the production process has an extremely high degree of transparency. The greatest provider of raw materials for this project has been Shenghong Group, located in Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai. Its advanced facilities combine the reliability of the numerous companies under its umbrella to ensure a crystal-clear production framework. By onboarding global partners with a track record of success, we’ve cleared the way for future innovation.

賽隆力 CycloneChina

Heaps of plastic bottles procured domestically in China are sorted on conveyor belts.

Bottles are sorted, crushed, and washed, transforming them into chips.

Image from the spinning process, in which recycled chips are melted and made into thread.

True reliability: working with our partners

In a nutshell, production of recycled fleece involves the following steps. Firstly, recovered plastic bottles are crushed, washed, and melted, resulting in white polyester chips. These are melted once again and spun into thin fibres. After that, the fabric is woven and sewn into products.

Our initial challenge was ensuring “traceability.” What kind of plastic bottles did we procure, from where, and how many were used? Searching globally for a factory to make recycled textiles according to our standards, we found a handful of contractors we could rely on and established partnerships. Our factories in Asia and China especially have been dramatically expanding. As one example, take Cyclone, a company in China’s Fujian province whose vast facilities are depicted in the photos below. With every step from procurement to spinning handled on proprietary equipment, the production process has an extremely high degree of transparency. The greatest provider of raw materials for this project has been Shenghong Group, located in Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai. Its advanced facilities combine the reliability of the numerous companies under its umbrella to ensure a crystal-clear production framework. By onboarding global partners with a track record of success, we’ve cleared the way for future innovation.

盛虹 ShenghongChina

Yarn twisting process at a highly automated factory. Facilities are kept perpetually clean.

Inside of the machines.

Spinning facilities. Transformed from chips, the thread is wound with high-precision machines.

Finished spools of recycled polyester thread.

Endlessly reaching for 100%

Photography by Yoshio Kato

With a supply of yarn secured, our next big step was to continually refine our processes so that the recycled fabric was on par with virgin polyester. Since last season, our fluffy fleeces have incorporated 30% recycled materials, but this was only in the base material that doesn’t touch the skin. To move ahead, we would have to make the inner part of the fleece this way as well. For starters, we rebuilt the fleece from scratch. No matter how high the quality of materials, a recycled textile is inevitably a little less soft than a virgin fibre. But since softness in a fleece is paramount, we heightened our quality controls and repeatedly inspected for an optimal feel, until we finally arrived at the right texture.

A fabric that only gets softer, 
gaining character with age

Meanwhile, we faced the hurdle of developing new zips. Examining the market, we found few examples where so much of a garment was sourced from recycled materials. But we were committed to reaching for 100%. Though we experienced some resistance on the manufacturing side, we persevered in our discussions and eventually developed the recycled zips used on our men’s fleece and our men’s and women’s fluffy fleeces. The zip tape, teeth and metal slider are all made using recycled materials. The result was a zip made from nearly 100% recycled materials, with the exception of a few tiny components. There are still a few parts we have not yet found a way to make using recycled materials. One of these is the thread used to sew everything together. We’ll get there, but developing a recycled material strong enough to withstand lots of wear is taking time. These parts are at the core of the problems that we’ll tackle next.

At long last, a recycled fleece is here. We hope you’ll visit our stores and feel it for yourself. Perhaps you’ll think, “This doesn’t feel so different from last year.” But that’s the highest compliment that we could ask for. If you peek at the care label, you’ll see the tiny words “Recycled Polyester.” One by one, we’re improving the little details, things you might not even notice if we didn’t point them out. This is what it takes for the makers of today to create the classics of tomorrow.

Fabric of our fluffy fleece, made from 100% recycled materials. Combines soft textures with bold colours.

Coil zip used on the men’s full zip fleece. The grip of the zip pull uses TPU, made from scrap materials.

Care label for our men’s fleece jacket. Certifying this to be recycled fleece, the label is itself made from 100% recycled polyester.

Recycled fleece collection

Photography by Yoshio Kato

Fleece Jacket

This is the most classic style in our fleece collection. The piping, tags and other small components use recycled materials as well. Available this season in a retro palette.

Fluffy Fleece Jackets

Featuring exceptionally soft high-pile fleece, this jackets stands out as an insulating midlayer or as cozy loungewear for around the house. Available in a range of vivid colours.

*Kids’ items use 100% recycled polyester for the body fabric only.

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