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Saturday April 14, 2012

Muji in Malaysia

YOU could almost hear the resounding “yes!” Muji was finally opening in Malaysia; specifically, at noon today at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur.

About 22 months ago, Muji fans set up a Muji Malaysia Facebook page, kicking off the rumour mill that the no-frills Japanese lifestyle brand was coming here. To date, the page has about 1,311 “likes”.

Local fans who had their first encounter with the company’s products in Japan or other countries were all agog. After all, you can walk into a Muji store in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Manila, Singapore – the list could go on – but not in Kuala Lumpur.

Until, finally, Muji Singapore’s plans came to fruition: “We’ve been making plans for Malaysia since a couple of years back because there are Muji fans all over the world and Malaysians, in Kuala Lumpur especially, have high spending power,” says Akihiro Kamogari, managing director of Muji (Singapore) Pte Ltd and Muji (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, in an e-mail interview.

Malaysian customers can expect more than 4,000 items including household wares, clothing and stationery, at the store.

Items like electrical and skincare products and food, which require extra licensing, will be brought in later. But expect to fork out about 20% to 30% more than Japanese pricing due to import duties and sales tax.

Graphic designer Jarvis Thoo first stepped into a Muji store in Singapore nine years ago. “I was hooked. There was really nothing like that in the market – a very unified look and pure aesthetics,” says the Kuala Lumpur-based graphic designer.

“It was like getting detoxified from all the tacky, super-ornate and ostentatious products in other shops.” Thoo has been sporting his Muji tortoise-shell spectacles since 2006. He stocks up on Muji apparel, bags, shoes and notebooks. His mother uses Muji’s skincare range.

“I’m a big fan of their tableware – they are Bodum quality and design but cheaper; and some of their wool sweaters are made in Italy but affordable,” says Thoo, 29, who drops in on Muji stores whenever he travels. He likens it to a “pilgrimage”, like how Louis Vuitton fans would check out LV boutiques in every country they visit.

“I love the amount of care and design the brand puts into its products, although I find the ‘no-brand’ concept a bit gimmicky, to be honest. And I like the humour in their products – like a toilet air freshener designed to resemble a toilet roll, or a CD player designed with the height of CD cases, so they could be stacked together seamlessly,” he says. “Muji speaks to consumers who appreciate good, non-fussy designs and subscribe to the ‘less is more’ philosophy.”

Another long-time Muji fan, Lim Sue-Anne, echoes Thoo’s sentiments. “Muji’s design goes beyond aesthetics, they follow the Bauhaus school of form following function, which resonates greatly with me,” says the 32-year-old advertising planner. Lim was initiated into the Muji world when she lived in Japan seven years ago. “I have almost everything of Muji’s except their skincare, and furniture because I couldn’t haul it back to Malaysia.”

“If browsing through their digital catalogue is liberating, it’ll most probably make you the happiest camper when you visit their store,” chips in another Muji aficionado, Chong Jenpey, 30. “It’s hard not to be attracted by this no-frills retail company.”

And because the brand eschews trends, Muji fans tend to stick around for the long term.

“I’ve fallen in love with Muji even more over the years after learning that they work closely with the grassroots community in Japan and other areas in the world (like stone carvers in Africa, for example),” says Thoo. “Their Muji summer camps allow kids to appreciate nature and whole food. There is a lot of respect for consumers and the land.”

> Muji Malaysia opens its doors at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur at noon today.