Kevin Kelly’s always-interesting Cool Tools has a blurb on Muji, the “no mark” shop. I fell in love with Muji’s Yokohama shop a decade ago, and was surprised to notice a large number of Muji bags being carried around central London a few months back.

I like Muji’s stuff for a couple reasons. I like the simplicity of using inexpensive materials (lots of cardboard and tin) to create attractive and useful products. I keep a seam-ripper on my desk to help with the process of “deboning” newly purchased clothing — freeing myself as much as possible from advertising, except when I decide I want it (e.g., for organizations with which I am affiliated). I don’t have an allergy to brand labels (cf. Pattern Recognition) but I have long had an aversion. I enjoy the generic nature of Muji’s stuff, and ended up with a lot of their desk products. (I hope they open up a US shop soon, since although I like their stuff, I don’t see spending 20 quid for shipping.)

In a world where college students choose to wear Abecrombie shirts made to look like college shirts (choosing the simulation over the representative branding — Baudrillard would be rolling in his grave, you know… if he were dead). Meanwhile, Britney Spears wears the real deal. Go figure.

(And while we’re at it, can we get a Capricciosa somewhere east of Honolulu, please?)

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  1. Posted 12/18/2004 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Even “no brand” is a brand. I like Muji too, it’s their minimalistic styling that’s got me, but be aware, it is this branding that accounts for its premium pricing. Muji has been in Singapore for a while and though their brand is “generic”, I feel that their products are merely better packaged and presented than say equivalent “made-in-china” products. Average Singaporeans tend to be cautious when buying from Muji because it it is actually premium pricing. If you want the cheap & real deal, you can find a good buy direct from China. You just have to dig around on your own.

  2. Posted 12/18/2004 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Kevin, you are absolutely right. You do pay a premium, but I suspect that premium is for convenience, as much as the non-brand branding. (And there is some irony in seeing large bags proclaiming “no brand” being carried around like moving billboards.)

    It’s a lot like Costco. You pay for someone else to have done some selecting and filtering for you. And you trust that they’ve done a good job.

    I think that becomes the important role for retailers now. Traditionally, the role of retailers was simply to get the product into the shop and promote it. There is enough competition, especially with the internet, that this is no longer the added value it once was. The value now is one of saving time.

    This is why one esteemed former colleague justified shopping at Wegman’s, which is more expensive than other supermarkets in town. There are many ways to make such a justification (better produce, etc.), but the best is that you don’t have to think much.

    I have a feeling that those who can design products and experiences that are relatively decision-free, while providing choice (!), are going to be real winners. Mass customization can occur without requiring mass interaction, and that is going to be a mark of the winners in future consumables.

    (Think iPod, Costco, Ritz-Carleton, Mercedes, etc.)

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