Mayhem hit Chinese shopping centers this past June when a new KAWS and UNIQLO collaboration dropped. Mannequins were stripped, KAWS hashtags clogged the digital airwaves, and videos of grown men brawling over t-shirts went viral. It was supposed to be the final chapter in this three-year partnership, but the immense publicity seems to have convinced the American artist and the Japanese fast-fashion brand to re-release selected items from the original 22-piece collection.
“KAWS: SUMMER,” will include nine graphic t-shirts and four tote bags when released on August 30. Having previously designed collections inspired by Sesame Street and Peanuts favorites, Brian Donnelly (better known by his pseudonym KAWS) has turned to original characters in more recent projects. These include the popular “COMPANION” and “BFF” motifs, which will play on the theme of friendship — an ironic choice given the total lack of camaraderie evidenced across Chinese UNIQLO stores earlier in the summer.
The crushing melees in June were caused by the speed at which UNIQLO’s online inventory sold out, which sent eager shoppers rushing in droves to retail outlets. This time, UNIQLO is restricting purchases to one item per person in a bid to curb the rampant online resale market that saw t-shirts marked up at eight times their original $14 sale price.
Although the level of attention KAWS and UNIQLO’s series of t-shirts and bags garnered in China was unquestionably excessive, the hype made sense. Not only has UNIQLO developed a strong reputation for forging limited collaborations with renowned artists, brands, and designers like Pharrell Williams, Alexander Wang, and Takashi Murakami, but their artistic leanings tie neatly into China’s burgeoning craze for cultural products, commonly known as wenchuang.
Interest in art among Chinese Millennials and Gen Zers is booming, and the nation’s museums and cultural institutions are responding via exhibition curation and cultural products. For example, UCCA’s Picasso – Birth of a Genius saw a staggering 150,000 visitors during its opening month, and The Central Academy of Fine Arts’ exhibition showcasing Argentine artist Leandro Erlich generated more than 3 million discussion posts on Weibo.
In terms of wenchuang products, Chinese museums regularly see limited-edition cultural products sell out on e-commerce platforms Taobao and Tmall. In spring, Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, home to the Terracotta Army, released a batch of collectible figurines that sold out in minutes, and products released by the Palace Museum achieved similar levels of attention.
With China’s ever-growing appetite for artistic products, expect these new KAWS X UNIQLO goods to fly off digital shelves once again. Let’s just hope the fierce competition for them doesn’t spill onto the streets this time around.