LOS ANGELES — Japanese retailer Muji is preparing for its seventh and largest West Coast store opening on the Third Street Promenade as the company looks to refine its U.S. strategy, even mulling the possibility of bringing its hotel concept to the region.
The Santa Monica door will total 10,494 square feet and is set to open in September, bringing with it services such as alterations, an embroidery station and the launch of the Re-Muji line. Santa Monica will be the only store in the U.S. to have the line, which takes pieces from past seasons and recycles and then re-dyes the garments in indigo for a new look.
Santa Monica will be followed with the opening of a Portland, Ore., store, also this year, as the company eyes markets such as Washington, D.C., Seattle and eventually Texas in a bid to more aggressively grow brand awareness in the market.
“Our Third Street Promenade is very concentrated to the local community and also tourists. Portland will be concentrated on re-explaining what Muji is, the brand concept and philosophy,” Muji U.S. president Toru Tsunoda said through a translator.
The brand, which markets itself as a purveyor of well-designed, yet functional, everyday goods ranging from furniture and housewares to apparel, is still young in the U.S. and finding its footing.
The company has more than 400 stores in Japan and another 400 outside of the country where it was founded in 1980. Within the U.S., there are 15 stores.
The first location Stateside opened in 2008 with a focus on mostly tertiary locations before the company began concentrating on building brand awareness and opening in higher profile locations such as Fifth Avenue in New York and now Santa Monica, explained Tsunoda.
The West Coast stores were not growing at the same rate as the East Coast stores up until last year when improvements in traffic and sales began to show through, the president said. Much of the challenge has been seasonal and making sure the store assortments are brought up to match local weather patterns. The East Coast’s seasons match more closely with that of Japan, where much of the product is being shipped from into either the Ports of Long Beach or New Jersey. The West Coast, in contrast, tends not to have seasons making categories such as outerwear not as popular even during cooler months, Tsunoda said.
To address that challenge, Muji began concentrating on more spring and summer items. There was also a shift to designing more casual apparel pieces such as T-shirts and shorts. In the case of furniture, which had been largely designed to be compact in keeping with small spaces in New York, that’s now being scaled up for the West Coast where apartment dwellers and homeowners have more square footage to work with.
There is potential to bring the hotel concept, which would be managed by a third party similar to the properties in Asia, to the U.S. with Tsunoda saying if that were the case it would make sense to bring it to the West Coast first.
Cheaper real estate and a greater sense of community where there is less transient foot traffic are two of the factors driving that perspective, he said.
“We think West Coast has a lot of potential with the community — people’s enjoyment and how they react to activities,” Tsunoda said. “We want to try to concentrate on more of that than just opening a hotel. We want people to experience it.”