Sunday, May 10, 2009
Hello Kitty: A Lifetime Obsession
Sanrio's Hello Kitty, according to Sharon Kinsella, originated in 1971 as merely a stationary company for Japanese school students. (Kinsella 1995) At the time who would've thought that the simplistic cartoon character of a cat would be an icon with such staying power in decades to come. About 39 years later, Hello Kitty is bigger than ever. The mouthless cat is now redesigned and modernized with the times (now even in black and hot pink, as opposed to her now out-dated white face with a red bow). However, her cuteness still remains.
But what actually makes hello kitty such a classic over the years? The mystery of Hello Kitty is actually simple: consumer culture & Kawaii cuteness.
When Sanrio expanded production into fancy goods in the 1990s, they began to market the figure to ADULTS in Japan. Toasters, water coolers, computers, rice cookers, TVs, humidifiers, you name it. These goods have cartoon characters with specific Kawaii design elements: small, mamalian, round, without bodily orifices, mute, etc. (Kinsella 1995)
Through my observation as a child in the 90's, Sanrio goods were rare because they were only found in their mall boutiques or Asian specialty stores. Hello Kitty at the time wasn't as mainstream in the United States as it was overseas, which is what added to its appeal for young girls. They were rare and coveted, and often so pricey that most of the time my parents only offered to buy me a piece of 50 cent gum with Hello Kitty's face on it.
Currently Hello Kitty has become an icon, and because all things Japanese has become so trendy in the United States her popularity has risen to new heights. Now I can go to regular retail stores such as Target, Ross, and Urban Outfitters and purchase Hello Kitty products. Items such as Calendars, Toasters, microwaves, sewing machines, televisions, and adult sized robes, T-shirts, and Pajamas. Come on now, what's a 5 year old really going to do with a toaster? Clearly, they are now selling to a different audience here in America.
Mariah Carey In her Hello Kitty room.
Kimora Lee & her daughter's Aioki & Ming with their collection
Call me crazy, but the secret to Hello Kitty's recent success is the fact that they are marketing to not just children but now to the adult demographic in the United States. One in particular, that used to love Hello Kitty when it first originated. What were once so coveted and rare in the past are now readily available and affordable as an adult, and because of this new found access I just HAVE to have it!
MAC recently released an entire line of cosmetics with the redesigned cat, and prior to this Kimora Lee came out with a luxury line of jewelry. Sanrio has also opened a new Luxury high end boutique in NYC called Sanrio Luxe with diamond jewelry, and designer hello kitty clothing and accessories.
(A Video of MAC's 2009 Hello Kitty Collection)
The Hello Kitty Luxe Store in NYC
No more gum for this gal! Sanrio is obviously capitalizing on our childhood, knowing we can't resist that whiskered face. A smart consumerist tactic indeed.
Even though I'm a sucker for Ms. Kitty I've chosen to make better decisions in buying products, by buying sustainable items from socially responsible brands that do not impact the environment, such as SIGG of Switzerland. During the compact challenge, even though I'll be sporting Hello Kitty atleast I won't be wasting anymore water bottles with my Sigg!
- Elaine de Lara
- Cuties In Japan by Sharon Kinsella