The Next
Generations

Photography by Shinsuke Kamioka, Shu Tokonami, Su Yu-Xing, UNIQLO
Editing by UNIQLO

Over the next few decades, the world will change at a more dizzying pace than ever before.
When the children of the next generation talk about their dreams,
what kind of future do they want to see?

And how can UNIQLO, as a global clothing manufacturer, make the world a better place and help their dreams become reality?

A girl from the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi accepted a yellow GU dress from one of the members of our team. On this trip, about 250,000 items of clothing were delivered to Malawi from Japan.

A girl from the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi accepted a yellow GU dress from one of the members of our team. On this trip, about 250,000 items of clothing were delivered to Malawi from Japan.

“When it rains here, it’s like a flood, so you might want to grab some boots.” Setting out for Malawi, smack-dab in the middle of the rainy season, I received this word of caution from a member of the team ahead of me. When I stepped off of the plane, though, the sky was so blue I didn’t even need my raingear. In February 2020,
a shipment of recycled clothing from UNIQLO arrived at the refugee camp in Malawi. Gazing out the windows on the bumpy bus ride, I saw scattered puddles and fields of corn, the stalks as high as people. Our destination was the Dzaleka Refugee Camp. Over half of the 200 hectare area is used to house a population of over 45,000 people, making it twice as crowded as the busier parts of New York or Tokyo.

A girl who picked a yellow dress for herself turned toward the camera. Children like her make up half the population of the camp, and some will spend decades of their lives here.

1. Steve Matara smiles after trying on a new shirt. 2-4. Sixth-graders at Minokamo Shiritsu Ota Elementary School in Gifu Prefecture, which collected 12,570 items of children’s clothing with the guidance of in-class presentations made by employees from UNIQLO and GU. That’s enough to fill eighty-four giant boxes!

The Joy of
Discovering Clothing

As a child grows, access to clothing is essential. For those who only have one set of clothing, the gently worn items delivered by UNIQLO and GU present a valuable encounter with new clothes.

“I’m here alone, but I have friends, so I’m not lonely,” says a smiling Steve Matala, eighteen years old, who took refuge in Dzaleka on his own. When he tried on a black polo shirt, he did a little dance. Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he and his older brother set off on the 2,000 kilometer walk on foot, but he was separated from his brother along the way, and lost his parents years ago. From the way he averts his eyes and grows quiet when he talks about the past, it’s heartbreaking to imagine all he’s been through.

What they lacked yesterday, they now hold in their hands. The joy of discovering clothing is something we all share, no matter where we’re from or how we’re raised. Which is why UNIQLO is sending clothes to those in the greatest need. Since only 10% of clothing purchased worldwide is recycled, the collection boxes outside of UNIQLO and GU stores around the world are simply not enough. Our hope is for people to see what’s happening not as the plight of a faraway place, but as a situation that involves them too. With this in mind, we have been giving presentations at over 400 elementary and middle schools per year, where we discuss the importance of reusing clothing. Vested with a knowledge of recycling, the children of Japan are chipping in, calling on their schools and their communities to help their peers across the globe by donating children’s clothing for delivery to refugee camps.

Think of the clothes sitting in the back of the closet, held onto for their sentimental value. Decades later, these clothes are as ready to be worn as ever, holding the power to make a difference in someone’s life. Even stained or frayed clothes can be put to use, if converted into fuel or automotive parts. UNIQLO began collecting fleeces in 2001, a project now entering its twentieth year. With nearly 500,000 garments donated in the first year of the program, more donations arrived from all over the world every year, and by 2019 the total surpassed 36 million items.

Giving Shape to Hope

Can this framework go beyond clothing, and become a source of hope-making the world perhaps a little brighter, for the next generation? Art, sports and community ties are all prime with opportunity.

In June 2018, UT garnered attention for its collaboration with Sesame Street and KAWS, whose characters with X’s for eyes have stormed the world of art. This project can be seen as an example of art crossing over into fashion, but something unexpected was awaiting us across the bridge that KAWS created.

Discovering a shared commitment to assisting refugees, UNIQLO and Sesame Street teamed up, using the power of art to give children living in precarious circumstances, away from their home countries a reason to dream. The idea was to let children at refugee camps draw their future however they liked, and talk about their dreams alongside their friends from Sesame Street. Their illustrations could be made into greeting cards and sold at UNIQLO stores, raising money for childhood development programs. The ideas came together, like a row of dominoes falling in sequence, and the plan turned into a reality.

In winter 2018, the colorful cards were displayed at registers in Germany and the U.S. The drawings of children playing in the sun or walking to a family home, all their own, gave shape to the sincere hopes of the children living in these camps. At three for $1.90, these cards were in high demand around Christmas and New Year’s, with 9,000 units sold by World Refugee Day in June 2019. All sales benefited childhood development programs for children living as refugees in the Middle East.

Cards for Hope

1. In New York, KAWS participated in art workshops and mingled with the children. 2. Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon, drawing greeting cards about hope with friends from Sesame Street.

© 2018 Sesame Workshop. All rights reserved.

But art is only part of our supportive efforts. We’d also like to share with you a unique program we’ve been helping out with in New York.

A short walk from our UNIQLO 5th Avenue Store, you’ll find Times Square, which each year hosts the largest street soccer tournament in the U.S., the “Times Square Cup.”

The children who participate are mainly from immigrant, homeless or underprivileged backgrounds. The Times Square Cup is actually an offshoot of Street Soccer USA, founded in 2004 as a haven for children living on their own in the U.S., which compared to some places might have a diverse population, but also has a massive economic divide. Hoping to do its part, UNIQLO has been a sponsor since 2014.

How does the power of sports help rescue children from living on their own? To find out, we looked into the way Street Soccer USA teaches soccer to children on the streets.

Coaches and staff are primarily people from the community, and apart from the usual yellow card and red card, they have a blue card, which goes up if a child demonstrates compassion or respect for another player. When the coaches reach out to the family and explain exactly why the blue card was shown, it starts a conversation that can gain momentum, resulting in increased connectivity and trust within the community. These connections go beyond the goalposts, leading to new starting lines in work and school. Eight out of ten participants land education or employment opportunities, demonstrating how tremendously effective the system is. The footsteps of these kids make a real impact on the national and global scale. An American microbiologist is credited as having popularized the saying, “Think globally, act locally.” Though threadbare as a pair of vintage jeans, this concept has been crucial to UNIQLO, in its expansion into countries and regions all over the world.

UNIQLO Soccer

Kids competing in the Times Square Cup. Maintaining a presence in sixteen U.S. cities, including LA and San Francisco, the program has seen over 18,000 participants. To date, UNIQLO has donated 36,000 items of sportswear to the cause.

By observing the workings of each community, we’re able to see what we can do to help.

In 2018, UNIQLO opened a new store in Legazpi an hour plane ride from the capital of Manila, in the center of the Philippines. This regional city is known for Mt. Mayon, which takes its name from “magayon,” a local word for “beautiful,” in reference to the mountain’s perfect cone shape.

Five months after opening, UNIQLO built something else: not another store, but a kindergarten, whose white walls were lined with colorful bookshelves in orange, green and red. The employees who gathered donations from within the company and brought this “UNIQLO Classroom” into being say they learned of the needs of the community from their experience at the store.

For children in the Philippines, where compulsory education begins at age five, being able to enter kindergarten on time has a major influence on their future. If a student enters late, they start from kindergarten regardless of their age, but a shortage of schools means that classrooms are cramped and materials are in short supply. This means some teenage students have to study alongside little kids, and on top of poverty, concerns like marriage once these students turn eighteen make it hard for them to continue studying for thirteen years straight through high school. One in ten children is unable to start school at age five, which translates to 220,000 kids per year. Up against these numbers, one company can only do so much, but even modest progress can lead to major changes. Our goal is to add one classroom every year, in the hopes that even one more of these children will discover the fun of learning.

UNIQLO Classroom

UNIQLO Classroom in the Philippines. Before construction, 956 students used the same cramped school, short on materials, desks and even seats. Renovated with help from the AGAPP Foundation, the facility now has two classrooms and sparkling new bathrooms, and has been supplied with training programs and books for the children.

A Link to the Future

listen to Bob Dylan while I work. All I can hear outside is the sound of the cicadas. No cars, not even footsteps.

Just as I pulled over to check my email, I realized “Blowin’ in the Wind” was playing on the stereo. Knowing where this message came from, I could almost smell the gentle, lemony breeze of the Inland Sea on a hot summer day blowing through my window. It was sent by a resident of Teshima in Kagawa Prefecture, who grows olives on the island, among other things, to help preserve its idyllic atmosphere for the next generation. His periodic messages speak to the fact that Teshima, though once called “trash island” as a result of illegal dumping, is well on its way to regaining its natural beauty. This marks the twentieth year of UNIQLO’s in-store fundraising efforts, and though the island is only partly rehabilitated, the children living there today will surely see clear ocean waters by the time they reach adulthood.

When I heard that olive trees from Teshima had been planted at our brand-new Yokohama store, UNIQLO PARK, I had to see.

Gazing upon this manmade park, it’s clear this is a place for children. You can take a giant slide down from the rooftop, where the olive trees shake their leaves, or play with picture books and games, like a sustainability quiz with different panels you can open. Another planned offering is “My First Outfit,” an event where kids can break free from their parents and pick out clothes on their own. An experience enjoyed across the globe, but especially exciting here, in a store designed around the kid’s perspective. If you draw a penguin at Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, you can have a UT shirt made on the spot. We also plan to launch the “Manager for a Day” program, which has been a big hit in Taiwan. Providing a supportive environment, geared toward the future- UNIQLO PARK is the shape of the UNIQLO of tomorrow.

In Taiwan, where activities for kids receive strong support, UNIQLO hosts “My First Outfit” and “Manager for a Day” events monthly. So far, 31 stores have held 250 sessions, with over 1,700 children participating.

Store Information

UNIQLO PARK
YOKOHAMA BAYSIDE

Strolling around UNIQLO PARK, you can play in the jungle gym on the rooftop overlooking the ocean or sit down for a snack while you shop. The flower shop on the ground floor stocks a colorful assortment of flowers, while the play space designed with toy company Bornelund has spots for climbing and bouldering.

6-5 Shiraho, Kanazawa-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa
OPEN 10:00-20:00 Daily

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