What do you get when a staple Japanese casual wear conglomerate join forces with arguably one of the most influential contemporary artists of our generation? Affordable, aesthetically appealing, attention grabbing clothing that’s available to the entire public.
Over the years, UNIQLO has collaborated with iconic names from various industries including Andy Warhol, Takahashi Murakami, Alexander Wang, Keith Haring and Roger Federer, just to name a few. But the UNIQLO project that has by a milestone attracted far more attention and scarily vigorous demand, involves Brian Donelly, better known as KAWS.
Whether streetwear enthusiasts were well aware of KAWS’s presence (from his distinct artwork and characters, Original Fake clothing line, collaborations with BAPE) or just simply witnessed the hype (and potential opportunity to resell) surrounding this collaboration, there’s no denying that the people were in for something special.
Can't get enough? Shop our KAWS X UNIQLO Mystery Boxes on Top Floor Gallery!
In 2003, UNIQLO gave life to a line known as UT (Acronym for UNIQLO T-shirt); the concept behind it being to add a further element of freedom and fun to T-shirts, allowing people to express their personality through the style, design, logo, colour etc. of clothing.
KAWS described UT as being “a brilliant canvas that allows me to spread my work across the globe”.
Coincidently, Nigo (the founder of BAPE) is the creative director for UT. Most likely not a coincidence, but we were just happy to see the two geniuses work together on a project again.
So now that you know the backstory behind this ultimate collaboration, let’s go through the drops that took the world by storm.
2016 - KAWS X UNIQLO UT: SPRING/SUMMER COLLECTION
The very first UT Kaws collection was released first hit stores across all UNIQLO stores in KAW’s home country the U.S, on the 22nd of April, and all stores including online on the 25th.
The collection was comprised of 27 items – 18 T-shirts and 5 tote bags and 4 pairs of room shoes/slippers (which dropped in June). Each features KAWS’s iconic artwork including variations of the famous “Companion” character, the XX motif, The Clouds, The Heart With Eyes and more. One of the major selling points of this collaboration was affordability, with all items retailing for under $20USD/$30AUD. But Nigo, UNIQLO and KAWS ensured that quality was not compromised, which ultimately meant that people could get their hands on multiple nice quality KAWS-designed items (before they sold out that is…) without having to break the bank.
Nigo wasn’t wrong when he said that this collaboration will be a big topic of discussion around the world in his interview with UNIQLO. It was more than just a big topic of discussion, with the first launch instantly selling out.
This collaboration also meant that KAWS fans could once again purchase official apparel, since the shut-down of the brand he ran with the Medicom Toy Company known as “Original Fake”, in 2013.
Popular demand saw a re-release of the full collection in 3 waves, from May 20th to June 17th. And you guessed it. All 3 re-releases also sold out.
2017 - KAWS X UNIQLO UT X PEANUTS
A year on from the 1st, the highly anticipated 2nd capsule was released; this time, another collaborator in the mix. Although the character “Snoopy” is instantly recognisable, most may not know he’s from comic known as “Peanuts” – one of the most popular and influential in the history of comic strips.
A legendary comic, legendary brand, and legendary artist coming together? You really can’t get much better than that.
This collection was released on the 28th of April 2017 in the US. Once again, KAWS showcased his creative spirit and unique artistry throughout the 20+ items released – including 23 T-shirts, 4 home shoes/slippers and 4 tote bags. Characters featured include Snoopy, Woodstock and Charlie Brown.
But many would argue that the standout of this collection was the Snoopy fluffy plush toy with KAWS’s signature “X” eyes, releasing in both a small and large size. The perfect interior decor addition to any KAWS fan’s room, or any Hypebeast’s room for that matter.
KAWS X UNIQLO X Peanuts ended up becoming a-2-part collection. On the 24th of November the “Black Snoopy” theme was released, this time with men’s, women’s and even kids sizing. This monotone design is a stark contrast to the bright and vibrant designs seen in the first collection. KAWS derived the idea from Black Friday – hence the November 24th release. This was also the first drop to include sweatshirts and hoodies.
Although not in collaboration with Uniqlo, KAWS, in typical KAWS fashion, put together a “Joe KAWS” Vinyl figure (a take on Joe Cool for those who know) to accompany the numerous figures he’s created during his time. But don’t expect to be grabbing one of these with last week’s pay – you may need to save up just a little (check it out here on StockX)
2018 - KAWS X UNIQLO UT X SESAME STREET
Although the collaboration with Peanuts may have fallen under the radar for some, this 2018 capsule was an instant head-turner, attention-grabber, eye-catcher…whatever you want to call it.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who don’t know the timeless PBS children’s show, Sesame Street. As with the Peanuts release, KAWS X UNIQLO UT X Sesame Street was a 2-drop installment, but this time solely apparel coming first, and plush dolls following.
Volume 1 dropped on the 28th of June and included 6 unisex, 6 men’s, 5 women’s and 9 kids T-shirts. one of the most notable designs being Cookie Monster, Elmo and a trash-canned Companion replacing Oscar the Grouch. A nice little touch to this drop was the XX embroidery at the sleeve of each garment, providing a more premium vibe, resembling KAWS’s Original Fake days.
Volume 2 dropped on the 23rd of November and included KAWS’s interpretation of 5 Sesame Street characters – Elmo, Bert, Earnie, Cookie Monster and Big Bird, all as plush toys with the signature “XX” eyes were all up for grabs. These could be purchased individually, or as a set in a special box. UNIQLO was well aware of the resell community and sheer popularity of these collaborations, therefore limited customers to only 2 of each character plush toy and 2 complete box sets in a single transaction. Of course there were ways around this, and people acquired countless plush toys to flip. The plush dolls retailed at approximately $30USD/$40AUD, and the box set at $140USD/$200AUD.
The 2nd installment also included a number of men’s and kids crewneck sweatshirts, along with women’s lightweight hoodies. Although there were no tote bags for this collection, KAWS had something in the works for the following year, which we’ll share below.
2019 - KAWS X UNIQLO UT: SUMMER COLLECTION
This was a bitter sweet drop for many – we were all blessed by some of the dopest designs by KAWS yet. But unfortunately, the contemporary artist took to Instagram, announcing this would be his final collaboration with the Japanese fast-fashion chain retailer.
Soon after the online and in-store launch on the 3rd of June in the U.S and 6th in the Europe, as expected UNIQLO ran out of stock. Thankfully, additional quantities of some items were produced, and are said to be available from August. This goes to show just how crazy the demand is.
In this final installment, the light shined on KAWS’s original characters themselves; Companion and BFF. Some of our favourites include a small Companion doll in the warm embrace of a pink BFF, Companion holding 2 smaller Companions (the design known as “Clean Slate” also seen in the first drop), and Companion holding an unconscious (or conscious? Or dead? Hard to tell with the XX eyes…) blue BFF. 4 kids T-shirts were also released to spread some KAWS goodness across to the younger generations.
The Flayed tee (2nd from the left) which depicts a half-flayed or stripped Companion, even broke into StockX’s top-10 best selling streetwear items in the last 12-months. Crazy stuff.
Now, we’re all aware that hype can get out of hand, as seen in the past with highly sought after Supreme drops, covered here by Complex. And that was exactly the case with this final KAWS x UNIQLO UT release in China. The moment doors opened, people flooded in violently, pushing and shoving, fighting over the apparel and severing the limbs of mannequins, all in a desperate attempt to secure as many T-shirts and tote bags as possible. As expected, the UNIQLO website also couldn’t keep up with the hype, crashing on the day of the release.
You can witness the madness with your very own eyes in this compilation put together by South China Morning Post.
Although we’re sure KAWS would have never wanted this sort of chaotic situation to arise over his final drop with UNIQLO, it really is a testament to the enormous impact he’s had on the streetwear industry.
Who would have thought that a kid graffitiing the streets of Jersey City would go on to travel the world working with big names across a vast number of industries, have his artwork being a part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, have his own Art Museum on display, and be a major contributor to the 2013 MTV awards?
So there you have it! 4 incredible KAWS X UNIQLO UT releases in 3 years. Although the curtains have closed on this chapter of KAWS’s career, we’re sure it won’t be the last time we’ll see his artwork permeate across the globe.
Which is your favourite drop? Better yet, which is your favourite piece?