Thursday, October 28, 2010

No Brands Land

Across the world there are growing movements advocating that companies do more to encourage sustainability, waste reduction and recycling in order to rein in their environmental impact on our world. In Japan, the Kabushiki-gaisha Ryƍhin Keikaku has been doing just that for 30 years. Americans and non-Japanese would probably recognize this company by a much more compact name: MUJI.

MUJI, meaning “no brand” in Japanese, was started in 1980 as an offshoot of the Japanese supermarket chain Seiyu and focuses on producing cheap, high quality goods for the average middle-class family. It achieves this by streamlining its manufacturing process, minimizing packaging and making use of various sustainable processes such as "using recycled cardboard in many of its products, using unbleached cotton and practicing sustainable forestry."

Currently, all of MUJI’s U.S. stores are located in New York New York City, including one branch at MoMA and one at JFK airport. MUJI’s sustainable practices and unique "no frills" way of doing business have gotten considerable press attention including The New York Times, Time Out New York, and the TAXI design network.

Japan Society hosts the discussion America Meets MUJI  November 3 (currently SOLD OUT), featuring three internationally acclaimed designers from the Muji Corporation, Naoto Fukasawa, Kenya Hara and John Maeda, who discuss the concepts behind the creation, design and essence of MUJI. Fukasawa is a product designer who has won countless awards for his work designing products for MUJI as well as companies across the globe. Hara is a graphic designer and was the brains behind the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies at the Nagano Winter Olympics. Maeda is a Seattle native known for his philosophy of humanizing technology. He is a world-renowned designer, served as associate director of research at the MIT Media Lab, and was named by Esquire magazine as one of the 21st century’s 75 most influential people.

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the store, the discussion is followed by a signing of the newly released coffee table book MUJI that gives an intricate look at MUJI’s rise and the inner workings of the company--a fascinating read for anyone interested in sustainable business practices.

Some describe MUJI as the Japanese IKEA, but perhaps its best described by a quote from the book (reviewed recently in The Times), "Muji exists in a category all on its own."
America Meets MUJI is just one of several Japan Society events focusing on smart design.On November 2, The Design Difference looks at sustainability in architecture and shares lessons from Tokyo on how to build better city housing projects, and Chef Says: Japanese Knives are the BEST  looks at the samurai origins and global appeal of Japan's incredibly durable cutlery.


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