• Satoru Matsuzaki, president of Ryohin Keikaku

Muji, the no-brand brand

lifestyle September 21, 2017 01:00

By KUPLUTHAI PUNGKANON
THE NATION

Even without the sales sticker, you somehow still know it's a Muji product



“WHAT’S MUJI?” That’s exactly what the Japanese lifestyle brand is explaining in its “What’s Muji?” exhibition at Central Embassy, continuing through October 1. It’s like an art exhibition – except that you’re looking at household cleaning equipment. 

It’s not as dull as it sounds. In fact it’s all rather dazzling.

Satoru Matsuzaki, president of Ryohin Keikaku, the firm that owns the brand, has been part of the Muji project since the day it was founded in 1980. He was in Bangkok for the exhibition’s opening last week and got to see the revamped of Muji Zen store at CentralWorld. 

Muji doesn’t “sell” Japanese culture, Matsuzaki said. There are certainly elements of the culture in the products, but the design pursues simplicity and convenience, so the products appeal to people anywhere in the world. 

That home-cleaning system too requires minimal effort on the user’s part. Its components are as small as possible, yet the products are flexible enough to do all sorts of jobs thanks to interchangeable heads.

The products boast good-quality materials, careful attention to detail, and responsible sources, whether for a toothbrush or a pair of socks.

“These are products useful in everyday life that have earned great appreciation not only in Japan but around the world,” Matsuzaki said. 

“We follow the concept of ‘no-brand branding’. The word muji actually means ‘no brand’. 

“This is a wide selection of good-quality products, including household goods, apparel and food items, but once you take off the sales sticker, there’s nothing to show that this is a Muji product – and yet people remember it. That’s our strength! 

“The inspiration for the designs comes from daily life, from what’s simple and natural. Then there’s added appeal in the colours used and the packaging. Plus, the materials we use are sustainable and environmentally friendly. The shirt is 98-per-cent organic cotton and we plan to make that 100 per cent.”

Muji cotton isn’t just purchased from farmers. The company teaches its business partners – in China, India, Tanzania and elsewhere – effective methods of organic farming and helps build the infrastructure for them. It provides financial assistance while promoting self-sufficiency. 

Muji products convey the unique qualities of the materials used. Wool, for example, has attributes that differ according to climate and other natural features of their regions of origin. French wool is more durable than most, Andes wool fluffier, New Zealand wool less itchy. 

In Thailand, Muji has tapped into the talents based at Doi Tung in Chiang Rai. It buys handicrafts like the pottery that reflects the natural beauty of the local clay, and the hand-woven fabrics made with traditional techniques passed down through the generations. 

 Muji’s own manufacturing process is remarkably rational. Its bath towels can be cut into smaller pieces as they age and used for other purposes. The washable turtlenecks have cotton-blend collars that feel more comfortable. A sweater is made from reclaimed wool to reduce waste – factory yarn scraps that would otherwise be thrown away. 

“You can continue using Muji products for many years, and people appreciate that,” Matsuzaki said. “Some people are used to ironing their socks, but that shouldn’t be necessary, because the manufacture should be making convenient products, low-cost, that don’t waste time or energy. Likewise, everyday product should require all sorts of unnecessary procedures.”

Speaking of socks, the ones Muji has are quite interesting – an organic blend of materials, a good fit, especially at the heel, and they don’t slip down. 

Packaging should be kept very simple too, Matsuzaki said.

“We simply tie a bow on a neatly folded shirt so that customer can spot it right away. There’s no need for luxurious packaging, as our customers agree. They see we’re more concerned about getting the details right.”

The cleverness of the designs is evident in the exhibition. Naoto Fukasawa is one of several styling geniuses working for the brand and there are 14 items he created on view.

He’s the guy that came up with the Right Angle Socks to match the 90-degree turn of actual feet. His Mattress with Legs has no frame, just a strong wooden base supporting the springy mattress. It can be either a bed or a sofa. 

The Wall Mounted CD Player is an award-winner for its space-saving compactness. 

Fukasawa was at the opening, talking to fans of amazing design, reiterating the boss’ words that it has to be simple, functional, reasonably priced and natural. 

“The charm lies in making people feel comfortable with just the right balance, which means using your instincts,” he said. 

“You purchase a product because 

 you like it and I design products that I myself would like. But I ask questions. For example, with the digital world advancing so quickly, I need to adapt my designs, but I still have to touch the consumer’s heart. That’s what went into the CD player.”

There are more than 700 Muji stores around the world carrying more than 7,000 items, ranging from clothing and household goods to food and even whole houses. 

The global staff numbers 16,000. New recruits receive a work manual called the “Mujigram”. 

“Our Mujigram is over 2,000 pages, but it’s ‘alive’ in the sense that we’re constantly updating it. It’s now in the 13th edition,” Matsuzaki said.

“The Mujigram is the basic guide for every employee, where they can find the information about the products and solutions to work problems. In Japanese we have the word gemba, which refers to a place where valued is created – in this case our shops. Our sales staff often help with the Mujigram input and we’re interested in creating a Mujigram that can widen their variety of skills.”

  SO MUCH 

TO SEE

- The Muji flagship store at Zen CentralWorld is the biggest in Thailand, topping 1,000 square metres.

- As well as the products, there are services including Muji Yourself (a paper-decorating station) and Interior Consultation (advice and 3D help in arranging furniture).