Image via artapartment /

MUJI has long been a sizeable player in the high-street market but remarkably, very few know about the historical origins of this Japanese company.

The brand was founded in the 1980s, when the nation’s “economic miracle” started to fade out, and consumers began pulling back on spending.

The company took root in the unique occurrence where consumer habits were naturally curtailed, and the ethos of the company represented the opposite of what would be a flagrantly extreme consumeristic society.

It is a culture that still persists in the company today. MUJI’s minimalist design emphasis can find its origins from a societal reaction to that particular economic reality.

Between the two main extremes that existed in the Japanese market back then—the high-end, luxurious, foreign-made products and the lower-end, poorer quality goods—MUJI was born to occupy the middle ground, providing non-branded, affordable items at a high quality and value level.

This middle sector represents a cure to these two extreme positions of the no-brand (mujirushi) and value of good items (ryohin). The brand’s philosophy in design is about elevating simple materials and processes in an attempt to rethink and expand the possibilities for everyday resources.

This is epitomized by Takeo Paper Show: Subtle, an exhibition by Kenya Hara, who serves as MUJI’s creative director. This exhibition aims to rethink people’s perception of fine paper, and push the boundaries of this medium. Naoto Fukusawa, a designer for MUJI, has had experience in designing practically everything, from CD players to kettles, and exudes the concept that he refers to as micro consideration.

MUJI, according to him, always starts a project based on its appropriateness for daily living. The design process is consistently reiterated and refined to extreme levels. Practically everything is scrutinized, where the best possible materials are selected and ideal processing techniques applied.

The design fundamental is focused on producing items that are truly essential to everyday living. The aim is to produce a product that is functional, yet absolutely beautiful in its revered simplicity. The end goal is to be aligned to the Japanese aesthetic concept of “su,” meaning “plain” and “unadorned.”

It aims to highlight the innate appeal of an item simply through rationalization and meticulous elimination of excess, to prove that simplicity can be even more appealing than luxury. This philosophy still transcends every product that MUJI produces, even products that may somewhat betray the notion of plain in modern day context.

MUJI has intelligently embraced the new age with its line of wellness technology, which shows MUJI’s adaptability to sustain a philosophy that stemmed from 1980’s frugality into this modern age.

[via It’s Nice That, opening image via artapartment /]

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