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Muji: The no-brand brand opens in Malaysia

Malaysia's first Muji outlet in Pavillion. - Picture by CK  LimMalaysia's first Muji outlet in Pavillion. - Picture by CK LimKUALA LUMPUR, April 14 — Today Muji opens the doors of its first outlet in Malaysia at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur. Long queues of shoppers and diehard Muji fans are expected. Weeks earlier, these fans (known as mujira in Japanese or “Mujirers”) have already been speculating online whether the launch will go on as planned after a statement on Muji Malaysia’s official Facebook page warned that the opening may be delayed. Some local Mujirers have been waiting for almost two years since Muji first announced its impending arrival in Malaysia. 

The average person on the street might well ask, “What’s all the fuss about?” 

The answer may well lie in the scenario that presents itself to visitors once they have had a chance to check out the Muji store for the first time today: Simple, minimal, functional and reasonably priced. There’s a lack of clutter; in fact, there’s a very discernible lack of colour too. Most importantly, no logos or brands loudly splashed all over the products. Most have a minimum of what is needed on the packaging — some product information and the price tag. That’s it. 

One of my friends, when we visited a Muji store in Beijing some years ago, remarked that the effect was not unlike entering a no-brand factory outlet. While I (and many Mujirers) may well disagree with her on the factory outlet part, my friend has certainly gotten the no-brand element right in her observation. 

It wasn’t always known for this level of intense loyalty and fan following. Back in December 1980, Muji first started as a series of affordable but good quality products in the Seiyu supermarket chain. The product range was called Mujirushi Ryohin (Mujirushi translated as “no-brand” and Ryohin meaning “quality goods”) and came with the slogan “Lower priced for a reason.” 

Functionality without waste was the main concern back then. (The cult of design-savvy fans came much later.) For example, the products had plain brown paper labels and were wrapped in clear cellophane. No unnecessary packaging was tolerated. 

Some of Muji's products with minimalist design. - Picture courtesy of MujiSome of Muji's products with minimalist design. - Picture courtesy of MujiToday Muji has opened stores in over 20 countries, including Europe and the USA. Malaysia will be the 22nd country to have a Muji retail outlet. Products offered worldwide include household goods, food, clothes, furniture and even cafés, but some are unique to Japan such as an off-the-shelf Muji-designed house. 

Some interesting collaborations include Muji Lego, where Muji worked with the renowned toy maker Lego to create a new series of toys combining Lego’s plastic blocks with paper and hole punching tools. These are used to create animals, characters and any number of other shapes with the help of a little imagination. 

In 2001, Muji teamed up with Nissan Motors to design and produce a limited edition fuel efficient, low-emission and low-cost car which incorporated recycled materials where possible. Codenamed the Muji Car 1000, the vehicle had no logos as per Muji’s no-brand philosophy. 

In light of the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, Muji has refocused its minimalist, no wastage philosophy amid increasing concern about society’s excessive consumption of goods and materials. As a result of their drive to return consumption to a more sustainable level, the company has launched “Product Fitness 80” — both an awareness campaign as well as basic product redesign to reduce waste. 

Muji Lego - a collaboration that allows children to use their imagination to create new toys on their own. - Picture courtesy of MujiMuji Lego - a collaboration that allows children to use their imagination to create new toys on their own. - Picture courtesy of MujiWhere overpackaging or use of excessive materials may occur, Muji streamlines the design and manufacturing according to the Japanese concept of adequacy (“fitness”). Designers seek to reduce to the 80 per cent that is sufficient without sacrificing the craftsmanship (monozukuri in Japanese) built into every Muji product. 

“Less is more” is clearly Muji’s message but what would KL-ites make of this? The company is certainly making a bold statement by opening its first Malaysian outlet in a known luxury and branded goods haven. In the land of labels (and label queens), might the no-brand brand be king? 

* Kenny believes in the good in people. He has been writing for over 10 years at Life for Beginners. (No, his hands aren’t tired. Yet.)

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