The secret to Muji’s ‘normcore’ success in China

Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/12 16:28:39

Kenya Hara Photo: Courtesy of Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business

As the unisex fashion trend known as "normcore" continues to gain ground around the world, an increasing number of consumers around the world are heading to retail stores run by Muji, a Japanese household and daily goods company that has pioneered the normcore style.

Muji comes from a Japanese word Mujirushi Ryohin, which means "no-brand quality goods." Just like its name, the company emphasizes keeping things simple and avoiding waste when it comes to production, packaging and sales.

Muji first entered China in 2003 when it started working with a company in Taiwan. However, it wasn't until 2011 that Muji really began pushing into the Chinese market in earnest. Over the years, Muji's successful promotion of normcore among Chinese consumers allowed it to go from 13 stores in China in 2011 to more than 40 stores in 2016.

Brand philosophy

"Many brands play upon consumers desire to show off their possessions, but Muji encourages customers to abandon that desire and just stay comfortable," Kenya Hara, art director of Muji, told the Global Times.

"We are passing along the idea of kong [emptiness]," Hara emphasized.

The idea of pursuing emptiness can be found in Zen Buddhism and also Taoism.

"The pursuit of a natural and simple lifestyle originated from Taoist philosophy. As more and more consumers try to pursue this way of life, all Muji has to do is satisfy their needs," Hara explained.

Taoism emerged in China during the Spring and the Autumn Period (770BC -476BC ). Laozi, the famous Taoist sage and ascribed author of the Tao Te Ching, encouraged his followers to lead a simple and balanced life that stayed in harmony with the natural order of the universe.

For today's Chinese, whose busy lives are filled with fast food and long hours spent at work, the idea of living a simplistic and relaxed lifestyle is very appealing. For them, Muji opens a doorway onto a "highly efficient life" in which they can slow down and take a breath by unshackling themselves from the unnecessary and complicated. According to Hara, he "sees the need for simplicity deep inside people's hearts."

This is also the reason why Muji is able to move at its own pace when competing with fashion trends. Hara explained that Muji's strategy of "keeping its distance" from the tide has enabled the brand to avoid becoming "out of date."

Home of the future

If you think of Muji only as an original and unique brand that doesn't care about new global trends, you'd be wrong.

In July, Hara traveled to China to discuss his ideas for the home of the future, specifically the role of smart technology. As technology has developed, smart appliances have gradually become an inseparable part of people's daily lives.

Hara's presentation focused on maintaining a balance between applying high technology and maintaining the original functions of a home.

"Technology has changed the way we live our lives, but it should not be highlighted at home," Hara told the Global Times.

"The interaction between smart devices and human beings should be natural."

To ensure that home and technology exist together in harmony, Hara has designed his own home of the future.

The main area of the house consists of three concentric circles. The core area is covered with green plants and offers a quiet and comfortable place for people to relax. The middle circle provides room for daily household activities and is where appliances are located. As for the outer circle, Hara places the homes entertainment center there. Hara also offers another bold idea: a space is set aside so drones can deliver groceries and other daily necessities. 

"Technology has changed people's lives. With this design, I am hoping to build a bridge between technology and our daily lives," Hara explained.
Newspaper headline: Simplicity and balance


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