Story by Jeremy Lewis
Photographed by Geordie Wood and Naho Kubota
Can a layer of clothing keep you cool? Can a fiber change the way you live? Because we sweat, we made AIRism. It’s a breathable fabric that keeps you cool and comfortable by wicking away sweat. It’s an unconventional approach that works in tandem with the body—a modern innovation in comfort derived from our Japanese way of life. Here, in three parts, is the story of how AIRism came to be.
Gokan: The Five Senses
On the easternmost edge of the Asian continent, on the westernmost boundary of the Pacific Ocean, sits the archipelago of Japan. Over the centuries the people inhabiting the islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu have cultivated a poignant wisdom and acute awareness of their world. Though known for its tranquil calm, the Pacific can be wildly unpredictable. Living beside such a boundless neighbor has nurtured a delicate understanding of the natural world. Rather than try to control it, the people of Japan learned to adapt to it and to appreciate its transient beauty.
Such a unique outlook has led to a profoundly poetic understanding of life, the nuance of which is most easily understood through Japan’s cultural expression of the five senses. In the Japanese language sound, sight, smell, taste and touch are collectively called “Gokan.” The word refers as much to our physical connection with the outside world as it does to its symbolic meaning.
The fragrance of a flower can magically evoke the spirit of a new season. The sound of a wind chime can let you hear what can’t be seen. The sweet taste of ripe watermelon can contain all the warmth of a summer’s sun. The touch of something sharp can warn of danger while the caress of something soft can put us at ease. And it’s with these considerations of mind, body and meaning that UNIQLO creates clothes for life.
An Innovation in Touch
Summer in Japan is notoriously hot and humid, its intensity almost impossible to escape. Throughout history there have been many attempts to cope with its clinging discomfort but none have been as effective as the body’s own means.
When it’s hot we naturally cool ourselves down. We sweat. And when sweat evaporates it takes the heat along with it. But the clothes we wear block this process and instead our sweat gets trapped and the heat remains stuck to our skin.
right:AIRism V-Neck T-Shirt
Recognizing the body’s simple but ingenious coping mechanism inspired UNIQLO to find a solution of their own. Much in the same way a base layer like HEATTECH can warm us up, could a garment do the opposite and cool us down? Shouldn’t everything we wear breathe with us? To find a solution UNIQLO enlisted the aid of Japan’s Asahi Kasei and Toray Industries.
Considering the needs of a woman’s body, UNIQLO looked into the properties of Cupro, a micro-fiber made exclusively by Asahi Kasei. Repurposed from leftover cotton linters, Cupro is exceptionally smooth, offering a silky, barely-there touch. And due to its rare ability to rapidly absorb and release moisture, it allows the body to breathe and diffuse the heat from under our clothes.
For men’s bodies, UNIQLO turned to Toray Industries who developed a micro-polyester that is so fine it can only be measured at the micron level. These super-fine fibers are not only smooth on the skin, they also wick away moisture for a cool, dry touch.
Their effort, research, and collaboration resulted in a new genre of comfortable, breathable innerwear that UNIQLO coined AIRism.
Microscopic images courtesy Toray Industries and Asahi Kasei.
Men’s AIRism uses an incredibly thin, moisture-wicking micro-polyester made by Toray Industries. It’s nearly 1/12th the thickness of a strand of human hair.
Women’s AIRism uses Cupro made by Asahi Kasei. It’s a regenerated fiber made from cotton and is able to rapidly absorb and release moisture.
To keep itself cool, the human body sweats. As our sweat evaporates, so does the heat.
An Innovation for the Everyday
The world is changing, and probably a lot faster than we all think. Climate change is affecting the natural world. Seasons are not as they were. Temperatures are not as they should be. Yet, despite all this, AIRism can help us adapt.