Muji is the newest model to go the approach to life retail route with West Elm deal

Consider it as Tokyo meets Brooklyn. Or perhaps this week’s information that West Elm will start promoting chosen merchandise from Muji is extra millennial meets minimalist?

Nevertheless you view it, the brand new partnership between the Brooklyn, New York–based mostly mega-retailer and the Japanese dwelling and attire model matches into an even bigger pattern of U.S. life-style shops inking offers with third-party manufacturers and licenses. In adopting this technique, West Elm joins fellow Williams-Sonoma manufacturers Pottery Barn and Rejuvenation, plus different outstanding dwelling retailers like Crate & Barrel and CB2, that are leveraging third-party collaborations to broaden their buyer bases.

The transfer can be an indication that Muji, whose U.S. subsidiary filed for chapter this summer time, is taking a look at new methods to promote into the American market throughout a time of COVID situations—and as a workaround to its community of 19 bodily shops, a lot of that are located in high-rent, tourist-heavy areas.

The Muji model was born in Tokyo in 1980, a derivative from a bigger Japanese grocery store, The Seiyu, that centered on easy merchandise throughout the house and attire classes. Muji’s title comes from the Japanese mujirushi ryohin, which interprets to “no-brand high quality items,” and its mantra is predicated on three core values: choice of supplies, streamlining of processes and simplification of packaging. And whereas the corporate’s merchandise all bear a sure minimalist design aesthetic (not in contrast to the look of Swedish behemoth Ikea), they’re on no account cheap, notably when bought outdoors Japan.

Past its retail places (greater than 300 in Japan, plus greater than 500 worldwide places), Muji just lately opened its first lodge in Tokyo atop one in every of its shops in an effort to supply prospects a full expertise; the corporate has additionally examined comfort retailer and furnishings subscription ideas in Asia.

Muji’s first look within the American market got here within the early 2000s, when it launched a restricted variety of merchandise via the Museum of Fashionable Artwork’s retailer and web site. The corporate planted roots within the U.S. when it opened its personal store in New York’s SoHo in 2007; the transfer was adopted by 18 further places, primarily in huge cities, and an e-commerce website. All the shops have been pressured to shut when the pandemic hit, which appeared to be a significant reason for the corporate’s chapter 11 chapter submitting in July. (The corporate has additionally struggled in different nations—notably in China, the place anti-Japanese sentiment is robust as relations between the 2 nations deteriorate.)

The West Elm tie-in appears to signify an try to open up Muji’s distribution to a wider viewers, though West Elm options solely about 100 of Muji’s 7,000-plus SKUs—and they’re solely accessible on-line. Objects vary from $2 make-up containers to a $600 oak storage bench.

The partnership is one in every of a number of West Elm is at the moment working, together with offers with out of doors firm REI, direct-to-consumer furnishings maker Floyd, and residential decor manufacturers Margo Selby and Closed Mondays. “We companion with ahead-of-the-curve makers, designers and types to deliver you extra of what you’re keen on and make it even simpler to buy the perfect of recent design,” reads the West Elm website.

Different companies who fall underneath the overused (and under-explained) “life-style” heading are pursuing related methods: Retailers that after solely carried their very own in-house model are all increasing with a view to usher in new prospects and quickly supply merchandise that may not match their core design matrix. Pottery Barn, for instance, provides any variety of collaborations—from partnerships with the Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter franchises to collaborations with Airstream and the Mates TV collection.

CB2 has its personal big selection of self-dubbed “design collabs” with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop model, musician Lenny Kravitz, style equipment model Hill-side, L.A. retailer Fred Segal, GQ journal, and a number of other particular person designers. Its sister model, Crate & Barrel, has a line from HGTV star Leanne Ford and simply launched kitchen equipment based mostly on Frank Lloyd Wright designs. And whereas the overwhelming majority of the assortments discovered at these retailers nonetheless sport the home label in advancing the store-as-brand merchandising technique, there’s no disputing we’re seeing extra breaks with that philosophy.

Muji might translate to “no-brand high quality items,” however the truth is that its items are very a lot branded—and its new West Elm partnership is designed to capitalize on that.

Homepage picture: Merchandise from the Muji x West Elm collaboration | Courtesy of West Elm


Warren Shoulberg is the previous editor in chief for a number of main B2B publications. He has been a visitor lecturer on the Columbia College Graduate Faculty of Enterprise; acquired honors from the Worldwide Furnishings and Design Affiliation and the Style Institute of Expertise; and been cited by The Wall Avenue Journal, The New York Instances, The Washington Publish, CNN and different media as a number one trade professional. His Retail Watch columns supply deep trade insights on main markets and product classes.


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