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Canada: MUJI is for ‘independent’ people

Canada: MUJI is for ‘independent’ people

Marzo 21, 2017

👤Periodista: María Alejandra Lopez Fuente: Vancouver Sun 🕔21.Mar 2017

 

While creators try to further explore the idea of sustainability and consumers increasingly demand timeless designs versus fleeting fancies with which to fill their closets and homes, there are a few brands that have long eschewed the idea of one-season styles.

Take MUJI, for example.

The Japanese retailer, which operates three stores in Toronto with two outposts planned to open in Metro Vancouver by the end of the year, was built on the idea that a certain type of consumer existed who wasn’t interested in trends and instead wanted pieces that would fit — and function — seamlessly in their lives.

“Our premise was that if there were 100 people, there might be one of those people who would not be swayed by consumerism and would be more interested in presenting their own internal personality in a beautiful way,” says Masaaki Kanai, chairman and representative director of Ryōhin Keikaku Co Ltd. “We tried to imagine what that one person would want when we began designing products.”

Dressed in a simple black turtleneck, black trousers and equally inky sneakers, Kanai is the picture of Japanese minimalism. In fact, it doesn’t take much to imagine him as the target MUJI customer he so succinctly describes.

“It’s an independent person. A person who stands on his or her own,” Kanai says. “Most people can’t do that. They can’t walk on their own. They see all these trends. They see all these famous brands. They look at it and say, ‘If I’m not wearing that trend, I’m ashamed of myself.’

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“They have to always be a part of whatever the latest trend or fashion — or they’re constantly worried.”

Kanai says the MUJI concept caters to those who want to assure their own “freedom,” rather than follow trends.

So, can such a consumer exist in North America — and Canada, specifically? Especially given its history of more-is-more consumption? According to Kanai, the answer is absolutely.

“They’re here,” he says matter-of-factly. “Whether it’s in the U.S., Canada, England or even China, we see that. Especially the younger generation are much more MUJI-like in their thinking. That generation has grown. I feel that very strongly.”

According to Kanai, finding that MUJI customer in various international markets is easier than ever because people are much more interested in learning the ways in which the rest of the world lives — both differently and similarly.

“I think what defines the modern time is we have learned from each other, watching one another’s differing ways of thinking — being surprised by the different ways that we all think from one another — but progressing nevertheless together,” he says. “That’s modern.”

Japan has long been considered a country that favours simplicity, in many ways. And that is what Kanai hopes to convey with MUJI’s product offering.

While minimalism from an esthetic approach is certainly en vogue at the moment, Kanai says the goal of MUJI is to attract shoppers who literally want less detritus in their lives rather than those who are latching on to the current design movement.

“Our direction is not exactly minimalism,” he says. “We are more interested, through our stores that we are opening up in different regions, in having people become interested in, understand and learn about our spiritual way of thinking.”

Rather than speak about cups, plates and clothing, Kanai and his team are eager to dig deeper into exploring how their consumers behave. And, more importantly, how they should behave.

“We’re thinking about how it is that human beings, when they live in nature — and when I say nature I’m including cities like Vancouver — should behave,” he says. “What is an attractive way for us to live?”

Simplifying your life and your surroundings is a way he hopes to remind shoppers that we are all, after all, just humans.

“When you’re up in the penthouse of these incredible, high buildings, I think humans tend to make the mistake of thinking they’re important,” he says. “I often think people think that — even though we are actually the weakest of all the animals.”

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Chatting with Kanai gives one the sense that MUJI wasn’t built on a model for retail success. Especially when you factor in the company’s complete avoidance of traditional marketing mechanisms such as print ads and commercials.

“Normal marketing would say, ‘You sold this, let’s sell them to more people,’ ” he says. “What happened to us is we said, ‘We are not going to pay attention to how much money that person has, where he comes from.’ We’re saying, ‘If you bought this, you might like this and you might like that.’ That is how we have expanded. With the same one person.”

And Kanai admits that, without the safety net of being the private brand of a Japanese department stored called The Seiyu, a general-merchandise store that is currently owned by Walmart, they likely wouldn’t have been able to sustain — and grow — with their trademark less-is-more mentality.

“If that weren’t in place, a business like this would never be born from scratch,” he says.

In lieu of advertising, MUJI takes part in exhibits and informational talks around the world that showcase “indigenous products,” such as the event held last month in Vancouver called Japan Unlayered at the Fairmont Pacific Rim, which gave visitors a look at modern Japanese art, architecture and culture.

“We want people to notice things,” Kanai says of the approach. “We want people to feel some sort of sympathy.”

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