Muji, William Gibson and the Future of No Brand

Muji, William Gibson and the Future of No Brand

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. In fact, 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 at double digit CAGR. Fast forward to today and Gibson’s themes read more like inevitability than fiction. For example, Local Sourcing  and Curated and Subscription Retailing (e.g. Stichfix) are evidence of the counter-mass retail movement in a omni-channel marketplace.

Muji and Future of No Brand

Ad Campaign, Muji

One retailer, Muji , has taken the Gibson notion of “allergy against global mass brand” to its purist extreme. Muji is a Japanese “No Brand” retailer that offers a broad range of apparel, stationary and home products. In fact, they have no manufacturer branding, not even private label brands. A No-Brand model also allows Muji to configure its supply chain to offer functional products with efficient FFP/SIOC packaging and value pricing.

This No-Brand strategy seems to be working as Muji is responding to strong global growth. Plans are underway to expand its presence in the US, UK, China and other markets. In fact, some Chinese fast follow retailers are even copying Muji’s model to the point of patent infringement. In Muji and Future of No Brand Part 2, I will explore the viability of scaling the model. I will also discuss how retailers might think through the  value chain capabilities and supply chain implications …

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