Matthew Bednarik’s day often begins like any other. The Rutgers–Camden graduate arrives each morning at Japanese clothing giant Uniqlo’s Tokyo headquarters with a game plan to attack the day’s workload. He then promptly watches as his plan scatters in a whirlwind of feedback, revisions, presentations, and last-minute dashes to the deadline.
Simply put, there is no “typical” day for the Rutgers–Camden alumnus.
“I will be figuring out the best ways to visualize concepts, and then quickly get to work trying to bring these ideas to realization,” says Bednarik, who graduated from Rutgers–Camden in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. “I will have smoke coming from my ears, as I do all of this while attempting to understand a language in which I’m not completely fluent.”
Such is the frenetic pace working as a graphic designer for one of the hottest up-and-coming clothing companies in the world. According to Bednarik, the company’s success is due in large part to its focus on offering well-designed, basic clothing for all ages at an affordable price. “Their clothes are marketed as ‘Made for All’ and ‘LifeWear,’ which is quite true,” says Bednarik. “Here in Japan, you can find a whole family, from the kids to their grandparents, shopping and finding products that they like in the same store.”
The former Mount Holly resident adds that Uniqlo is quickly building momentum in the United States, and will soon have the same name recognition as other iconic, internationally renowned companies. “It’s a lofty goal, but even during my short time here, it’s very clear to see how this company has every intention to follow through with it,” he says. “They are already well on their way to achieving it.”
Bednarik joined the creative team in Uniqlo’s Global Marketing Department last August. The team is responsible for handing key design projects that require proper application of the brand's tone and style. Among the group’s many focuses, it develops the visual assets for the launch of new stores, most recently in Shanghai and Russia, creating everything from large outdoor promotions, such as posters, billboards, and building-sized banners, to smaller-scale materials, such as floor maps and in-store wayfinding systems. The team also works closely with the brand’s creative director to develop new product logos and campaign-branding solutions, which are introduced worldwide through various media.
Bednarik personally oversees a handful of projects, domestic and international, at any given time. Many of these projects span all of the languages spoken in each region in which the company conducts business. To date, he’s worked on projects specifically geared to Australia, China, Germany, Japan, Russia, Southeast Asia, and the United States.
“We also have to give special consideration to the production aspects of our designs, as even the smallest change can have a significant impact, given the scales at which our work is produced,” he explains.
The integral, multifaceted tasks of the team routinely put it in a unique position to interact with key members of the company, as well as external directors who are leaders in their respective fields of design and fashion. This unbridled access has enabled Bednarik to develop a broader understanding of the industry and how it works.
It’s been a quick, uphill climb for Bednarik, who, only several years earlier, was trying to get accustomed to the Japanese language, culture and work environment. He previously worked as an English teacher in Kagoshima Prefecture, a rural and scenic area in southern Japan, from 2009 to 2012. At the encouragement of his wife, Miyuki Eguchi, he applied and landed the highly coveted job at Uniqlo.
As he’s adjusted to his new role, Bednarik attributes his preparedness to the solid foundation that he received at Rutgers–Camden. He recalls benefiting immeasurably from his professors’ professional, caring and realistic approach, which enabled him to develop a positive state of mind, to think critically, and to gain invaluable experience working collaboratively with his classmates. “Hard work, long hours, and a lot of mistakes along the way helped me to work at this level today,” says Bednarik. “Being given the chance to embrace our failures and the support to move forward from them had an incredible impact, and that perspective has been invaluable for me in practice.”
Moreover, he hasn’t lost sight of his parents’ willingness to allow him – from an early age – to explore a wide range of interests that weren’t necessarily career- or goal-oriented. As he recalls, this freedom allowed him to tap into the creative community surrounding the 90’s inline skate culture, kicking off a slew of new projects in the process. Bednarik and his friends regularly made skate videos, beginning with in-camera edits on a VHS camera, before graduating to a linear editing system in the TV studio at Mount Holly’s Rancocas Valley Regional High School.
“Conceptual thinking, composing, editing, titling – all of the basic concepts of what I do now were in place, just in a different medium,” recalls Bednarik, who also worked from 2005 to 2008 as a graphic designer and photographer for 160over90, an advertising agency, and subsequently for GDLOFT PHL, both in Philadelphia.
Today, when Bednarik isn’t utilizing his talents at Uniqlo, one can still find him with a camera in hand, cruising the streets of Tokyo on his inline skates. That is, when he and Miyuki aren’t busy caring for their newborn daughter, Hikari Annabelle. The family currently makes their home in Nerima-ku, one of 23 wards in Tokyo, which Bednarik says is analogous to New Jersey’s location between Philadelphia and New York.
As he ponders his future, Bednarik is grateful for the opportunities he’s been given. As a daily reminder, he enjoys peering out his 29th-floor window to see the awe-inspiring image of Mt. Fuji in the distance. “I will feel lucky to be in a position with so much potential, in a city that seems limitless, in a country that I call my second home,” he says.