Uniqlo may indeed be the star within today’s apparel industry, but also worth noting is manufacturer Gunze’s Body Wild men’s underwear, which has achieved a steady growth in sales for over a decade, reports Shukan Post (Aug. 21).
The key to the Gunze garment is a special sewing machine that weaves a pair of boxers out of synthetic fibers. The result is a comfortable, tight-fitting form between the abdomen and the groin — a state-of-art design that competitors cannot match.
The firm boasts that Japanese men are no longer confined to the routine that finds them sporting white briefs as a child and trunks upon reaching middle school.
Since its introduction in 1998, the product has achieved double-digit growth in sales.
Shukan Post’s writer, however, is skeptical, noting that these claims makes little sense given that he have been satisfied with his 100 percent cotton briefs, in either black or gray, which do not have any special design.
When this information is conveyed to Michiharu Hihara, manager of product development at Gunze, who is also known as “Dr. Underwear,” he simply smiles and says: “As long as there are people like yourself out there, we will continue to pursue making the best underwear. We want to improve the quality of life of Japanese people through underwear.”
Inside the closet of his home, Hihara stores approximately 150 pairs. The developer continually records data on changes that occur following washes. He also studies underwear from overseas, and he confidently concludes that Body Wild cannot be topped.
In the beginning, there were struggles. Body Wild was instantly popular among men in their 20s and 30s. However, with competitors introducing similar products, sales started to struggle during the second year. This caused the firm to look in a different direction. “New products end up losing their freshness as generics come out,” the doctor says. “This brought us to change to a technology that others cannot duplicate.”
What the firm did was redesign the weaving machine in-house. In general, companies purchase machines from appropriate manufacturers, and for modifications, they do so via that same maker of the machine. However, Gunze utilized its own engineers to do a custom redesign of its machine.
The result is a 3-D structure. “The human body is three dimensional, so if underwear is designed flat, some parts will be too constrained and some parts will have too much room,” the sensei says. “This will result in some stress to the body. By designing underwear to fit with body lines and its curves, we were able to reduce the pressure exerted on the body.”
To create the 3-D effect, the machine spins its fabric vertically as it moves in a circle around a central spindle. It does this without the introduction of stitches on the sides, which can create some discomfort. Over time, the technology improved to where different fabrics and thicknesses could be applied to different parts of the underwear to create a “fitting” that was more ideal.
While similar products have been introduced, Hihara insists that no company can come up with the same technology. (Yet the firm does not file patents as it fears information will be shared.)
Shukan Post’s scribe found the fit to be very nice indeed, indicating that he felt no pressure around his lower abdomen and had an inclination to banish his briefs for good. (A.T.)
Source: “Hit wo tsukuru Jonetsu Kingen,” Shukan Post (Aug. 21, pages 124-125)