Photography by Yoshiio Kato
Text by UNIQLO
Ultra Light Down
Unique clothing changes the rules. And changing the rules changes our lives.
Here’s the story of a masterpiece, manufactured by UNIQLO to this day.
First-generation ULD, 2009. Shiny and with wider bands of quilting than today’s model, but just as light.
“Because it’s there.”
World-renowned mountaineer George Mallory’s answer to why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest is so famous it has become a byword for mountaineering, but have you heard about the other George, his trusted colleague George Finch? In 1922, Finch became the first person to wear a jacket packed with down, in an attempt to fend off the mountain’s frigid temperatures.
Over the past century, the down jacket has evolved into a modern essential, indispensable to life in the city. Light and warm and comfortable. Checking all the boxes, our Ultra Light Down, or “ULD” for short, debuted in 2009, as a new kind of down jacket that nearly eliminated the use of bulky down packs.
What makes clothing unique enough to transform outdoor goods into the LifeWear of today, accessible to all?
The waved quilting of the latest model draws inspiration from military jacket liners. Complete with snap buttons and minimalist side pockets.
Testing the Limits of
Lightness and Comfort
“A down jacket underneath a coat? How is that possible. . .”
In 2009, when we released the first ULD (under the name “Premium Down Ultralight”), there were probably lots of people saying things like this at UNIQLO headquarters, as we charted our course for the future. The first model garnered praise for its incredible lightness, marking a new era of down. Our thought was that by narrowing and slimming up the quilted panels, while maintaining the lightness and slim profile, these jackets could also be worn under a coat. At the time, lightweight or layerable down jackets had yet to become universal, offered mostly as experimental items by specialized outdoor brands. Working from a unique perspective, we saw a chance to enrich everyday life. Released in 2010, our thinly quilted ULD could be layered with ease, the first bold step in a new era of evolution.
Pointedly Perfecting the Down Jacket
Clear terms have been defined for what we call the ULD.
“Fabric uses ultrafine 20D thread. No down packs. Fill is 90% down 10% feathers.”
Conventional down jackets stow the down inside of baggies, or “down packs,” giving the quilting of the body a double-layered construction. The ULD made these packs obsolete. This incredibly light product was achieved by using less fabric overall, and by opting for an ultralight fabric comprising superfine fibers one-tenth the thickness of a human hair.
However, eliminating the protective bags allows the down to poke through the weave of the fabric. You can pack a jacket with the finest down, but it defeats the purpose if it all comes spilling out. To prevent this, we processed the fabric using heat and pressure to tighten the weave. Not stopping there, we gave the fabric a higher thread count to begin with and have made other discreet improvements, most recently by adding antistatic backing to most models to prevent static electricity, one of the reasons why down comes poking through.
In 2020, we debuted our recycled down jacket, setting the wheels in motion for a tradition of sustainability. This year, the appearance of the ULD was considerably improved with a 3D cut and waved quilting. Why keep updating a classic? The answer is simple.
“Because it’s there, with the potential to continually enrich our lives.”
1. 2010 ULD jacket. Note the thinness of the bands of quilting, compared with the 2009 model on the above. 2. Cross-section of quilting. Since no down packs are used, 640 fill power down is housed between the surface and the liner. 3. Cross-section of ultrafine 20D thread used in the fabric.
2021 Fall & Winter