Apparel: With Djokovic, Uniqlo Gains Tennis Inspiration
By Kent Oswald
Last May, the world’s fourth largest retailer, Uniqlo, took over from Sergio Tacchini as clothing sponsor of the world’s then No. 1 player, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic. In August, in conjunction with the 2012 US Open, the Japanese chain unveiled the Djokovic Performance Wear Collection at its 90,000-square-foot New York City Herald Square flagship store.
Credit the megabrand with outside-the-box thinking. The company was interested in expanding the idea of its “Uniqlo Innovation Project” (UIP) begun in 2011 to offer the company’s “Made for All” motto in a more tangible form. A company spokesperson explained how Djokovic arrived at this junction in brand building: “We believe that tennis is a sport where the individual’s performance is combined with a personal sense of style and fashion, both on and off the court.”
They hired the winner of the 2012 Australian Open and runner-up at Roland Garros and US Open, not even midway through his Tacchini deal, as a global brand ambassador. Rather than enter the performance-wear market against the established heavyweights, Uniqlo is limiting distribution to a select number of its own 1,100-plus stores. And in something of a hat tip to the halcyon days in the 1970s and ‘80s, the company markets the 10-piece collection as fashion, explaining in a press release announcing the clothing’s debut that, “The tennis line will closely resemble the look and feel of the actual performance wear that Mr. Djokovic will wear.”
Echoing Djokovic’s relationship to the clothing’s style, Naoki Takizawa, Uniqlo’s creative director, said inspiration for the designs, the colors and even the piping that runs down the sides on both shirt and shorts, comes from the Serbian flag. The shirts, shorts, warm-ups, cap, sweatbands and socks, with items priced from $9.90 to $89.90, will be created with fabrics produced by Uniqlo partner Toray Industries. The clothing is cut in a more tapered, less baggy style than is standard. The shirt features the proprietary “Dry-Ex,” which wicks away sweat and doesn’t cling and has ultra-thin meshing under the arms. The shorts pockets have a pile fabric to hold tennis balls and give players a quick way to wipe away perspiration.
Uniqlo currently sponsors two other male tennis players, current No. 19 Kei Nishikori and Japan’s premier singles wheelchair player, Shingo Kunieda. There are no current plans to sign an endorser from the women’s tour, a decision echoing that Uniqlo is not actually a sportswear manufacturer as well as what anyone can observe with a walk down the aisles of any of their stores: They have no problem attracting fashionista females, but can always use a few more men aspiring to hit like, or at least look like, “Nole.”
See all articles by Kent Oswald
About the Author
Kent Oswald is a contributor to TennisNow.com, producer at the JockBookReview.com and a former editor of Tennis Week magazine.
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