In 2003,  William Gibson wrote a prescient novel – Pattern Recognition –  that explored  the tension between art and mass commercialization in retailing, among other interestingly speculative themes. One area of Gibson’s focus was consumer  fatigue against ubiquitous brands in an increasingly global and  digital market through his metaphoric protagonist Cayce Pollard – a coolhunter who experiences and uses as a consulting tool her varying degrees of allergic reactions against mass customized and inauthentic brands.

Cayce is reduced to wearing completely unbranded shirts and having to file the logo off of her jean buttons. Gibson’s metaphoric theme read more like fiction in 2003, in a world where the “World is Flat” was in full bloom, ubiquitous branding through social media was in its infancy and BRIC consumers were gobbling up global brands of Coach, Gucci, McDonald’s and Starbucks at double digit CAGR. Fast forward to today and Gibson’s themes read more like inevitability than fiction. Local Sourcing  and Curated and Subscription Retailing (e.g. Svbscription, Stichfix) are evidence of the counter-mass retail movement in a omni-channel marketplace.

One retailer however has taken the Gibson notion of “allergy against global mass brand” to its purist extreme – Muji. Muji is a Japanese “No Brand” retailer that offers a broad range of apparel, stationary and home product with one unique commonality – they have no manufacturer branding, not even a private label brand. A No-Brand business model also allows Muji to configure its supply & value chain economics to profitably offer functional, elegantly designed (minimalist Scandanavian school), and eco-green friendly product  at value pricing.  This No-Brand strategy seems to be working as Muji is responding to strong global growth and plans to expand its presence in the US, UK, China and other markets. In Part 2, I will explore the viability of No-Brand as a scalable retail operating model and offer some considerations on how retailers might think through the  value chain capabilities and supply chain  implications of a No Brand strategy…

3 replies on “Muji, William Gibson and the Future of No Brand

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