Chinese retailer Miniso apologizes for pretending to be Japanese

'Miniso is a proud Chinese brand through-and-through,' the company said in a recent statement

Discount retailer chain Miniso recently apologized for pretending to be a Japanese brand and thus hurting the feelings of Chinese consumers.

“Miniso is a proud Chinese brand through-and-through,” the company said last week in a statement, reports Vice.

The statement was posted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, adding that it was deeply ashamed for having promoted itself as “a Japanese designer brand” in the early stage of its development, which it described as “a wrong direction.”

The marketing strategy of the New York-listed company has come under scrutiny and sparked outcry as political tensions with Tokyo stirred anti-Japanese sentiment in China.  

The discount retailer has taken over the world by presenting itself as a Japanese brand, with more than 5,100 shops from the capital of North Korea to Broadway Avenue in New York, emulating the aesthetic and storefront of casual wear chain Uniqlo, along with cheaper, knockoff versions of designer goods from homeware brand Muji.

And their logo even features Japanese Katakana characters, which are pronounced as Meisou.

The company, which is based in the southern Chinese city of Guangdong, said it has begun “de-Japanizing” since 2019 and will remove any element that makes references to Japan from its marketing materials and storefronts by March next year. 

Its management pledged to hold senior staff responsible for the “severe mistake.”

Miniso also vowed to export the correct Chinese culture and values.

The statement came after the company caused a domestic backlash earlier this month, as Miniso Spain mistakenly described Disney Princesses wearing Chinese cheongsam in a recent toy collection as Japanese geisha.

The Chinese company subsequently issued an apology and demanded its agent in Spain to terminate the agency that ran its social media accounts.

“We admire the long historical civilization and splendid cultural achievements of China,” Miniso Spain later wrote in an Instagram post. 

Though Miniso opened its first store in Guangzhou in 2013 and most of its products are manufactured in China, the company repeatedly insisted it was a Japanese brand in the first few years, citing the presence of Japanese designer Miyake Junya as a co-founder. 

“It is funny how the strategic partnership and high performance of Miniso in China has overshadowed the business in Japan,” Junya said in 2016, when the company operated more than 1,000 outlets in China, but only four in Japan. He hoped to share Japan’s design philosophy with people around the world. 

By 2019, when the company was preparing for its public listing in the US, all mentions of Junya and its Japanese origins had disappeared from its site and documents, including its IPO prospectus, which listed Chinese entrepreneur Ye Guofu as its only founder. 

Miniso was embroiled in 68 lawsuits in the same year, with more than 40 cases involving copyright infringement. In 2016, a Hong Kong outlet reported that several well-known Nordic designers’ names were featured on Miniso’s website without their agreement.

At least two Hong Kong artists have also accused the company of ripping off their design.