Muji translates to “without brand,” which makes sense: The 37-year-old Japanese lifestyle retailer has built its business on products that don’t call attention to themselves. Asako Shimazaki is leading its push into the American market, with 12 stores now open and more due this year.
For Muji, it’s about quality, utility, and consistency. “Some people think that the Muji products are well designed, and so many design people like the brand. That’s good,” Shimazaki said at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in November. “But we want to concentrate on function. As a result, the product itself becomes good design.”
It’s tempting to court customers by trying to predict their wants, but Shimazaki has a different strategy. “I often hear the question, ‘How do you modify Muji for this market?’ Our store is the same all over the world. Muji in Japan has a long history, and we have huge fans there. We try to introduce the same experience for the customer of any country.”
Shimazaki tries to foster a familial culture. “I will protect my staff no matter what. They have responsibilities, but also the right to be friends with each other outside work, and to [care] about things outside the company. It is important to encourage their creativity.”