Muji, one of the strongest retail brands in the world, has created its own subcategory. BrandJapan has measured brand strength for 1,100 brands in Japan for eight years. Muji is always in the top 30 and usually in the top 20, a spot shared by only three other retail brands.
After opening its first store in 1983, it now has over 330 stores nearly one third of which are outside Japan. Few brands deliver more emotional and self-expressive benefits than does the Muji brand. Yet, the Muji brand vision is not to be a brand!! It is the no-brand brand.
Muji is about simplicity, moderation, humility, and self-restraint. The Muji philosophy is to deliver functional products that strive not to be the best but “enough.” Enough does not mean compromise and resignation but a feeling of satisfaction knowing that the product will deliver what is needed but no more. Superfluous features and attributes that are unrelated to function are omitted. The aspiration is to achieve the extraordinary by modesty and plainness in the pursuit of the pure and ordinary. Not a contradiction at Muji.
A visit to a Muji store is an eye-opener. One of the first things you notice is that the clothes are all bland, mostly white or beige and never bright. Beige works. And there is no logo on the front of the shirt, in fact there is no label at all not even on the inside of the garment. Why would you want a label? The furniture, cook ware, and office equipment is plain but functional. The designs are simple but not for some minimalist statement, they just provide what is needed to deliver function.
The store setting supports the products and the philosophy. The music in the background is soothing. The ambiance is relaxing and delivers emotional benefits that are very Japanese but also travel well. In essence, Muji is a lifestyle brand without the usual associated energy. Very different from the loud visuals and sounds that come with Abercrombie and Fitch for example. Muji can be described as a reaction to the glitz of the Ginza and other shopping centers that are filled with brands each trying to be more upscale than the next. Muji is anti-glitz. There is an explicit desire to eliminate the self-expressive benefits that people aspire to.
The badge of Louis Vuitton is the polar opposite of Muji. Ironically, this desire to eliminate self-expressive benefits actually provides self-expressive benefits. Shopping at Muji and using Muji products makes a forceful statement about who you are. You are above looking for badge brands. You are, rather, a rational person, interested in the right values, connecting with a firm that is interested in promoting social good and satisfaction from life.
The fact that there has been little real competition shows the strength of the barriers that Muji has created. Its values are both unique and compelling. They are not simply due to any part of the line, there is no flag product. Rather, it is a combination of everything that they do which all emanates from their core values and culture. It would be impossible for Macy’s to carve out a section with a sub-brand and deliver the Muji spirit and products. It just could not happen.