Muji revamps in Paragon, and goes green

MINIMALIST lifestyle brand Muji has a lot to share lately.

Not only has its Paragon store - the largest in Singapore - enjoyed a revamp (it officially opens tomorrow), but there are also plans to open more stores in Singapore's heartland.

But one thing the Japanese brand is particularly proud of right now is its eco push, as this reporter found out on a recent trip to Tokyo.

Muji president Masaaki Kanai explained that the earthquake that rocked Japan on March 11 threw him and his team into energy-saving mode.

In response to the power shortage that followed, the Muji head office in Tokyo shut down all lifts for a period of time and cut down on the number of lights used.

Having to climb eight flights of stairs up to his office was no mean feat, Mr Kanai said.

He added, jokingly: "It was pretty tiring, especially for those in more senior positions, but no one complained. We just kept telling ourselves that it was for the good of our health."

Mr Kanai, who was at the head office in Ikebukuro when the earthquake hit, said: "The earthquake made a great impact across Japan. Everyone started re-examining their daily lifestyle habits and looked into conserving energy."

If anything, he added, the disaster showed him and his team that a more eco-friendly way of life is possible. For instance, Muji in Japan has since cut down on the use of lights at its office permanently.

Mr Kanai and his product- development team are also going one step further: Eco-friendliness will be built into future product designs.

Starting with Muji's new Spring/Summer collection, the brand will incorporate the concept "mono fitness 80" - an initiative to eliminate waste by creating products with just 80 per cent of materials used in current products.

Mr Kanai, who introduced the concept during a press conference at the Cafe & Meal Muji Minami Aoyama earlier this month, said: "After the earthquake, we started to question whether our current products are excessive in design and materials."

For instance, Muji is looking into using thinner packaging materials and developing thin but warm underwear. However, Mr Kanai pointed out that Muji will not scrimp on quality.

Product designer Naoto Fukasawa, best known for creating the ingenious wall-mounted CD player sold in Muji for years, said: "Using 80 per cent of the materials doesn't necessarily mean (that quality will be) less than 100 per cent."

He explained that the "mono fitness 80" philosophy is inspired by a Japanese phrase that advises people to "eat till you are 80 per cent full" for better health.

The cultural habit, practised on the island of Okinawa, supposedly enables practitioners to live longer, healthier lives.

Mr Fukasawa added: "We have adopted those words for life... (When it comes to Muji design), it's about using materials more carefully and effectively."

Muji fans can check out the "mono fitness 80" products here, such as a refillable tabletop tissue box ($4.90) that is about 60 per cent smaller than the original size.

Can't wait to get your hands on more eco-friendly gifts this Christmas season?

Shoppers can already pick up products crafted from recycled sources at the Muji X'mas Market & Gallery Exhibit, which is on at Atrium 2 of Paragon Shopping Centre.

The store itself is packed with 5,000 product offerings. The revamp has seen it expand by 1,600 sq ft, and it now spans 7,400 sq ft. It has also moved. While still on the fourth floor, the store now enjoys higher visibility than before.

A Muji Singapore spokesman said: "It has been our desire to renovate and upgrade the Muji Paragon store, so when the opportunity came for us to move to the current location with bigger floor space, we were more than happy to accept."

With good business at its four stores here (Muji Singapore anticipates a 5 per cent sales increment year-on-year this year), it is no surprise that expansion plans are in the works.

Muji Singapore revealed to my paper that it hopes to open one store in the country's east and west, respectively, within the next two years.

Catch the Muji X'mas

Market & Gallery Exhibit at Atrium 2 of Paragon Shopping Centre from now until Dec 4. Visit the revamped Muji at 04-36/38 in Paragon, or at its Bugis Junction, Marina Square or ION Orchard locations.

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