What began as a silk factory has grown into a globally-recognized company for its ability to manufacture cuteness. In the early 1960s, Yamanashi Silk company founder Shintaro Tsuji ventured into making rubber sandals. He quickly learned his product had greater market potential when painted flowers embellished the sandals. Branching out, Tsuji began hiring illustrators and cartoonists to create design alternatives to flowers. As the images changed, so did the merchandise sold by Sanrio, as the company was renamed in 1973. Two years later, Sanrio employee Yuko Shimizu invented the character that would be featured on Sanrio's vinyl coin purses. Shimizu created Hello Kitty®, a character that would cover not only coin purses, but virtually every known accessory.
The 1975 coin purse featured a cat-like creature feminized with a red bow around one ear and framed by a bottle of milk and a fish in a bowl. While the character has a stubby tail and whiskers like the Japanese bobtail, Sanrio explains Kitty White is a child in third grade. Her best friend is her twin sister Mimmy, distinguishable by her yellow bow. There is more to Hello Kitty than meets the eye. The children live with their parents, and while many assume Hello Kitty hails from Japan, on her birth certificate one would find a London suburb listed as the place of birth. Sanrio chose this as part of Hello Kitty's narrative at a time when British were fascinated with Japanese culture.
Hello Kitty has been a long-time staple of Japanese culture where kawaii cannot be ignored. Kawaii is the quality of cuteness, and it has the power to easily transcend cultures and borders. In 1976, Sanrio expanded sales by introducing Hello Kitty merchandise to the United States. Now in 2017, Hello Kitty is just as cute as she was more than 40 years ago.
Sanrio believes one factor in Hello Kitty's sustained success is her lack of a mouth. Without one, her emotions are ambiguous, which allows the viewer to instead assume her emotions based on the viewer's own feelings and thoughts. This attribute helps Hello Kitty reach a wider audience. Not only has Hello Kitty's mass appeal helped to make her Sanrio's company spokesperson, but also an ambassador for UNICEF during their “Go Girls!” campaign.
Hello Kitty's super-cute image along with her super-cool merchandise has anchored the brand in the hearts and minds of consumers. While Sanrio keeps an original Hello Kitty clear vinyl coin purse under lock and key, coin purses and nearly everything else under the sun are readily available for purchase. Some items like stationery and makeup bearing Hello Kitty have withstood the test of time. Licensing agreements have made it possible for manufacturers to make anything imaginable with Hello Kitty and her friends on it. Figurines, candy, and easy-to-read books are some of the items children want today just like the generations before them, but now the brand appeals to older consumers.
Trendy Hello Kitty apparel and accessories are now marketed to older children, as well as adults. Besides practical items like keychains, adults want Hello Kitty scarves, wallets, and clothing, not to mention houses and cars. They are willing to buy high-end items too because they can still identify with what Hello Kitty stands for: friendship and happiness. Experience with Hello Kitty does not end with childhood; instead, it grows with the child in respect to the kinds of products available. Additionally, the power of Hello Kitty will last if she continues changing with the times. Hello Kitty reaches her fans by being in books, movies, and even video games. She is no stranger to social media either as fans can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.
Besides Hello Kitty merchandise, the Hello Kitty experience is for sale, too. While Mickey Mouse has Disneyworld and Disneyland, Hello Kitty has Harmonyland and Sanrio Puroland. Both amusement parks feature character-themed rides and live shows. These aren't the only family-friendly destinations where Hello Kitty is queen; attractions spread across Japan and abroad in the form of restaurants, hotels, and hospital wings with a Hello Kitty theme. Reach them by Hello Kitty train or plane.
In the not-too-distant future, Hello Kitty is sure to gain attention from fans both new and faithful. Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, and a grand Hello Kitty display will be awaiting spectators and competitors. Artist Sabastian Masuda's art project Time after Time Capsule is an international endeavor. Ten hollow plastic sculptures currently travel the world being filled with personal and cultural memorabilia, as well as Hello Kitty paraphernalia. All of the time capsules will be displayed during the summer games. It will be fun to see which Hello Kitty items are still in demand when the time capsules are opened in 2035. Chances are, we'll still find Hello Kitty super cute and super useful in our lives.