Uniqlo occupies a weird place in the clothing landscape. The Japanese fast-fashion behemoth bounces between tasteful minimalism and bland normcore that your dad would find suspicious for all the wrong reasons. But if there’s one thing just about everyone can agree on, it’s that Uniqlo is a pretty great place to go T-shirt shopping.
The store produces new designs and collaborations at a dizzying pace, and earlier this year launched "The New Model T" — a redesign with stronger materials and no seams along the side. The new UT line is now under the creative direction of Nigo, who founded legendary Japanese streetware label A Bathing Ape, with Pharrell Williams on board as the public face of the brand. And now you can design your own Uniqlo tee straight from your smartphone.
The UTme service, which recently launched in Japan, is a simple app for iOS, Android, and web that gives you a reasonable degree of freedom to create, print, and buy your own designs. There are some major limitations — right now it only offers white shirts, and you're given a fairly small area on the chest to work with — but there's a lot to like about the app as well. Each shirt starts off as a blank canvas, giving you the option to add "paint," type, or photos, and you can choose to upload your creation to the website for the world to see.
There's nothing stopping you from creating a design in a more user-friendly app
These interfaces have their quirks. The painting option is difficult to get solid results from, and much better suited to rough designs — there's no way to draw lines or shapes beside free-form finger painting, and your color palette is limited. Typographical functionality is very basic, too, only letting you use Uniqlo's trademark font with almost no freedom over placement. Still, the company has designed UTme! to be fun and creative even when you stick to the built-in tools.
Drawing with your fingers results in realistic paint spatters across the T-shirt canvas, heightening the sense that your design is your own work. You can customize further by splashing and glitching your image after the fact, with unusually involving input methods; I achieved the glitching effect on the T-shirt above by shaking the phone to make the design flicker like a broken monitor. But while this functionality won't be for everyone, you can import your own photos or other images from the camera roll, so there's nothing stopping you from creating your design in a more user-friendly app.
Nothing except Uniqlo's policies, that is — my first two attempts at ordering shirts were rebuffed within a couple of hours. The first design, a photo of our social media manager Sam Sheffer with a glitzy "The Verge" wordmark underneath, was rejected for no given reason, and the second, a simple hand-drawn Penrose triangle with the word "Verge" next to it, was turned down because it might have infringed on The Verge's intellectual property. Uniqlo clearly has human staff monitoring each submission and sending out rejection emails.
But I got my Verge T-shirt in the end without too much trouble — just removing the word "Verge" did the trick. I ordered it along with a design based on a photo I took on the Japanese island of Niijima, which I wrote across the top in white text. Each T-shirt cost ¥1,990 (about $20) and arrived lightning-fast; I ordered on a Tuesday night and took delivery Thursday morning. The quality of the inkjet print is decent, with the Verge logo printed in bold primary colors and the high-contrast Niijima photo turning out well enough, if not quite across the full spectrum of hues.
Of course there's nothing new about ordering custom T-shirts online, but the design of the UTme app combined with Uniqlo's obvious cachet in the area makes it the most interesting option yet. There's no word on when or whether UTme will make it outside of Japan, however, so your dreams of quick, easy, and smartphone-powered T-shirt creation may have to be put on hold for the time being.