MUJI’s Philosophy of ‘No Brand Quality Goods’
MUJI was founded in Japan in 1980 as an antithesis to the habits of consumer society at that time. On one hand, foreign-made luxury brands were gaining popularity within an economic environment of ever-rising prosperity. On the other, poor-quality, low-priced goods were appearing on the market, and had a polarizing effect on consumption patterns. MUJI was conceived as a critique of this prevailing condition, with the purpose of restoring a vision of products that are actually useful for the customer and maintain an ideal of the proper balance between living and the objects that make it possible. The concept was born of the intersection of two distinct stances: no brand (Mujirushi) and the value of good items (ryohin). MUJI began with three steps: selecting materials, scrutinizing processes, and simplifying packaging. MUJI’s concept of emphasizing the intrinsic appeal of an object through rationalization and meticulous elimination of excess is closely connected to the traditionally Japanese aesthetic of “su” –– meaning plain or unadorned –– the idea that simplicity is not merely modest or frugal, but could possibly be more appealing than luxury.
Selection of Materials
Tasty and healthy foods. Comfortable clothing. Household goods that are, above all, easy to use. For MUJI, the materials we use to make such products are of the utmost importance; consequently, considerable attention is given to their selection. We search worldwide for the most suitable raw materials. We use many industrial materials as well as materials discarded by others because of their appearance – items that can be acquired in bulk at low cost. The overriding selection criteria is always quality. These activities underpin our ability to create low-priced, high-quality products.
The processes by which each product is manufactured are subjected to careful scrutiny at MUJI. Processes that have no bearing on a product’s quality such as sorting, sizing, and polishing are eliminated, leaving only these processes that are truly necessary. Even items that have been discarded because they do not meet certain standards of size and appearance are turned into products for sale. Focusing on true quality, MUJI’s manufacturing processes eliminate waste and reduce costs.
When packaging products, MUJI seeks not to adorn them but rather to highlight their natural colors and shapes. For this reason, we use bulk packaging and place products in plain, uniform containers. Faithful to our philosophy of simplicity, this approach is also in keeping with our policy of conserving resources and reducing waste. Thus, all MUJI products appear on store shelves in simple packaging bearing only product-related information and a price tag.
MUJI is not a brand whose value rests in the frills and “extras” it adds to its products.MUJI is simplicity – but a simplicity achieved through a complexity of thought and design.MUJI’s streamlining is the result of the careful elimination and subtraction of gratuitous features and design unrelated to function. MUJI, the brand, is rational, and free of agenda, doctrine, and “isms.” The MUJI concept derives from us continuously asking, “What is best from an end user’s point of view?”MUJI aspires to modesty and plainness, the better to adapt and shape itself to the styles, preferences, and practices of as wide a group of people as possible. This is the single most important reason people embrace MUJI.MUJI – in its deliberate pursuit of the pure and the ordinary – achieves the extraordinary.
Picking this week’s example was a no-brainer. Muji is a design-led business whose communications engage two recurrent concerns of this blog: the importance of translated and repurposed copy in a newly-globalized market; and the problem of maintaining coherence across a company’s written communications without slavish repetition.
We’ve discussed Recurrent Concern #1 at such length that we’ll content ourselves this week with pointing out that Muji were early adopters of raw Japanese vocabulary, and that their copy thus anticipates higher-profile initiatives like the recent Mazda campaign by decades. This brings us — with some inevitability — to Recurrent Concern #2.
Muji’s ‘no brand’ concept can be read as a precursor of all kinds of interesting phenomena: Naomi Klein’s millennial ‘no logo’; more recent ‘open source’ and ‘maker’ initiatives; Etsy post-crafts; the internet-mediated resurgence of buyers’ co-ops… Yet the example text contrives to suggest a company in thrall not only to its own past but to the particular economic conditions of 80s Japan. It’s so hidebound that even the most sympathetic reader will be inclined to ask whether anything has changed across the intervening decades. If not, why not?
Brit firms get around this particular bind by personalizing the company’s vision. (“When Johnnie Boden launched his business in 1991, you couldn’t get a pair of mustard corduroys for love nor money” etc etc.) But, since Recurrent Concern #1 suggests that Muji has sound reasons to maintain its principals’ anonymity, we chose instead to streamline the existing text and update it in line with Wikipedia’s account of the company’s last two decades.
‘No Brand’ Goods Around The World
MUJI is a Japanese company with a founding vision which has gained currency worldwide.
At the end of the 70s, Japanese consumers faced a stark choice: expensive branded goods, or low-quality generic copies. Muji, whose name is a Japanese wordplay on the terms for “unbranded” (mujirushi) and “value of good items” (ryohin), took another approach. The company launched in 1980 with stock of just 40 simple, high-quality products. Every item in the range was unbranded and minimally packaged, and ecological and health considerations were prominent in design and production.
The tiny startup quickly found a market. In less than three years, Muji had opened its first dedicated store. Four years later, it commenced global operations, and in 1991 it opened its first international shop in London. Today the company operates nearly 750 stores worldwide, along with hotels, camping facilities and other ventures.
The Muji way
Muji’s approach is based on the elimination of excess. It is closely allied to the traditional Japanese concept of su, the aesthetic which holds simplicity to be more appealing than luxury. For Muji’s designers, consumer advocates and production specialists, the philosophy of su extends beyond the provision of tasty and healthy foods, comfortable clothing, and effective household goods and stationery. The Muji way has been applied to hospitality businesses, the design of cars and bicycles… even architecture.
Materials, processes, packaging
For an international business like Muj to fully implement su, it is necessary to maintain rigorous discipline at every stage from conception to execution. Muji achieves this, focussing on three steps in particular: selecting materials, scrutinizing processes, and simplifying packaging.
Material selection often involves a worldwide search. While Muji’s selections are always driven by quality, many of the materials it chooses have been discarded by others because of their unconventional appearance.
Process control is a complex, ongoing review involving the entire production staff. Non-essential processes like sorting, sizing and polishing are eliminated from the chain, while discarded items — seconds, to other companies — are carefully reclaimed and turned into saleable product. Eliminating waste in this fashion enables Muji to lower costs to the consumer and reduce its carbon footprint.
Simplified packaging is both a cost-reducing measure and a signature device. When customers enter a Muji outlet, they know that they will encounter bulk packaging in plain, uniform containers bearing only product-related information and a price tag. Understated elegance is part of the deal.
Any one of those three components would be sufficient to make the company stand out. In combination, they represent a unique offer. Through its deliberate pursuit of the pure and the ordinary, Muji achieves the extraordinary.