We all know and recognise Japanese lifestyle brand MUJI for its warm and minimalist aesthetic but did you know that the guiding philosophy of the brand is to create products that are functional? According to advisory board member Kazuko Koike, the establishment of MUJI was born out of the desire to provide a better life for people. If you associate a certain look and feel to MUJI it is because its products are made to be functional first followed by the use of good materials and the simplification of packaging.
Having been an advisory board member since MUJI’s inception in 1980, Kazuko has been involved in the development of the brand for almost 40 years. We sit down and talk to her about how the brand has stayed relevant and popular even outside of Japan.
Can you tell us more about your role as a member of the advisory board at MUJI?
I’m the head of a research institute within the MUJI company. Here, I give advice to product makers of the company and I also help to write columns on our website, which the consumers read. So I give a lot of support in terms of communications with the consumers.
How has MUJI stayed relevant since its inception in 1980?
The reason for that is directly related to the reason for the birth of MUJI. It is based on how you want to imagine your life to be. In a way, it allows you to live out your ideal lifestyle. It’s all based on that imagination. At the very beginning of the brand’s inception, there was no rigid formula or rule as to how MUJI products should be. It all started with our desire to provide a better life for the people of Japan. The creation of a better life and providing something useful for everyday life was our desire. That is the reason behind MUJI’s birth in the first place.
Based on the fact that we wanted to come up with something that was useful for people’s everyday lives, a few formulas came about. These include the choice of good materials, simplification of the production process as well as the simplification of packaging. These are some of the key factors to be able to provide useful everyday products. And these are some of the elements why MUJI is able to stay relevant for almost 40 years.
Why do you think MUJI’s philosophy of facilitating a better life has become so popular outside of Japan?
I think it’s because even outside Japan the kind of lifestyle ideas that MUJI suggests to consumers in general actually matches the desires of people around the world.
You have been part of MUJI since it was created. What is the brand’s guiding philosophy?
I remember a campaign that I worked on once for MUJI’s range of cotton fabrics. The campaign targeted mothers who were choosing garments for their babies, and we came up with a slogan that says, “Love doesn’t come with embellishments”. That is the kind of slogan or motto that we have at the very bottom of our thinking. It has become like a corporate catchphrase. What triggered it was actually from the cotton that we were selling. But the saying synchronises with MUJI’s corporate philosophy.
The brand is doing very well in Singapore, why do you think people are seeking or appreciating simple but high-quality products?
I like the assumption of how our busy lifestyle – the “always-on” lifestyle – actually calls for us to look back to a simpler way of living. If that were true, I’m more than happy because the concept behind our products is to learn from nature and incorporate its way into our way of life. That is the concept behind MUJI’s products. If our products can somehow be incorporated into our busy, modern lifestyle, and we are able to coexist in that way, I’m more than happy about it.
What, to you, are some iconic MUJI designs?
There are so many product categories in MUJI’s collection. If we focus on a product created in the early days of MUJI, there is the canned salmon flakes. Back then in Japan only perfectly shaped salmon was sold. What we did was to gather all the parts of the salmon, all those that were to be discarded, and we made full use of the entire fish. How delicious it can really depend on the cooking skills of the chefs or mothers. In terms of the food department, that is very MUJI.
Another category of items that I feel is an iconic MUJI creation is the stationery. The products in the category are very simply designed and they fulfil the essential demand for stationery that we have – very simple, clean and very essential.
From the brand’s standpoint, what is more important: form or function?
We’ve actually never taken the route of design first because the birth of new products begins from the level of need with the consumers. So we assess how much consumers need a product before we decide if we should make it. We always strive to create good quality products that are useful and functional, and as a result, come the design or form. The form or design is the means to meet the needs of the consumers.
In Japan, we have this principle called the beauty of deduction. This is where you eliminate all the unnecessary elements and there after all the unnecessary things have been eliminated comes out the true beauty. At MUJI, this lies at the very baseline of our understanding and it’s something we always go back to in our way of thinking.
Photo credits: MUJI