Controversies continue to hound Miniso, a retail chain in mainland China that projects the image of a Japanese fashion brand.
Also, the Guangzhou-based vendor of household and consumer items, which has already penetrated the Hong Kong market, has been accused by a Hong Kong designer of stealing his original design of stickers, which he says he found on smartphone cases sold in Miniso stores. But Miniso regional manager Mike Wong says there must be a misunderstanding as his company has no intention of infringing on others’ intellectual property as it can well afford the licensing fee.
Miniso opened its first Hong Kong store in downtown Yuen Long in November 2014, expanding since into Tsuen Wan, Kwun Tong and Yau Ma Tei, boosting its network to 35 stores in less than two years. Its employee headcount is 450 and growing, with Wong aiming to double the number by the year’s end.
By comparison, Muji and Uniqlo together have no more than 36 outlets in Hong Kong.
A typical Miniso store is around 200 sqm and sells such goods as cosmetics, stationery, toys and kitchenware at prices as low as HK$15 (US$1.93). Most items are sourced from China.
Sales are brisk enough that the brand needs less than eight months to recoup the initial investment, around HK$3 million, for each new store.
Since 2013, Miniso has opened 1600 stores, with more than 1000 in mainland China and others in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and the UAE. Aggregate sales will double from last year’s HK$5 billion.
Wong, who once worked as a procurer for Swarovski, says the first time he visited a Miniso store he thought it was another brand under Muji. Now, with Miniso hiring Japanese designers and advocating a simple, low-carbon lifestyle, he says he sees no problem if customers “sometimes can’t tell us from other Japanese brands”.
He also says that all items in its Hong Kong stores conform to intellectual property regulations. “You can’t say we are copycats.”
However, he cannot deny the fact that customers in Hong Kong and the mainland trust a Japanese brand more than their homegrown offerings, and many find Miniso’s corporate identity misleading. Nevertheless, the group has four stores in Tokyo’s Harajuku, Ikebukuro and Shibuya districts.