If it seems like the minimalist aesthetic of Japanese housewares brand Muji is everywhere these days, you have Asako Shimazaki to thank. As president of Muji U.S.A., Shimazaki oversaw the launch of a two-story flagship on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan last year, as well as a sprawling new outpost in Palo Alto. The opening of a store in Paramus, New Jersey, this summer will bring the number of American locations to 12 (worldwide, there are more than 400). The timing couldn’t be better: Japanese writer Marie Kondo’s 2011 self-help tome, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is a mainstay on U.S. best-seller lists, and with meticulously organized shelves of unadulturated storage containers, kitchenware, and bathroom accessories, Muji offers everything a reformed pack rat needs to keep clutter at bay. Shimazaki is shaping the way the 35-year-old brand is presented to American consumers.
Fast Company: How are you customizing the Muji experience for Americans?
Asako Shimazaki: The Fifth Avenue store has some elements that are new to the U.S. market, including a plant shop, bookstore, essential-oil lab, an embroidery service, and other concepts that previously only existed in the Asian market. It’s important for new customers to experience these products in person.
How have you adapted your business strategy for the U.S. market?
Instead of providing a backstory about who we are, we usually let our products’ functionality and simplicity speak for themselves. But in the U.S., we announced Naoto Fukasawa [the revered Japanese industrial designer and member of Muji’s advisory board] as the designer of our small kitchen appliances because people want to know how products are developed. This information makes customers more comfortable and confident in the brand.
What is your strategy for deciding where to open the next store?
We need to make a profit for each store, so location is taken very seriously. With our e-commerce platform, we can tell where the demand already exists, and we go there. We’re fulfilling orders from every state in the U.S., so there’s demand all over. Right now we’re focusing on the coasts, but we’re planning to open more locations.