Recently MoneySmart reader Eliza Tay told us about Singaporean online store Iuiga, which supposedly sells Muji products at cheaper prices than in stores.
Iuiga’s business model is to obtain goods from Muji’s manufacturer and sell them directly to consumers. Assuming that’s true, you’d be buying “authentic” Muji with the same Japanese minimalist aesthetic and quality we’re all so crazy about.
Since Iuiga doesn’t have Muji’s overheads (like store rental, hiring employees, running an entire global brand…) these savings are passed on to you, the consumer.
How much cheaper are these Muji products?
Here’s a quick price comparison of some bestselling “Muji same manufacturer” products. Images and original Muji prices are taken from Iuiga and valid as of 8 Jun 2018.
|Item||Price at Muji||Price at Iuiga|
|Bean bag sofa||$218||$129.90|
|Travel neck pillow||$33||$16.80|
|Memory foam bath mat||$34||$13|
|Quilt cover set||$128||$59.90 to $69.90|
|Cotton gauze pyjamas||$59||$29.90|
Bean bag sofa ($129.90, U.P. $218 at Muji)
Muji’s bean bags aren’t your regular bean bags. They feel like… giant cubes of mochi. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who’s wanted one of these forever, but always found the price prohibitive.
Travel neck pillow ($16.80, U.P. $33 at Muji)
One of the most popular items at Muji has been copied all over, most notably at Miniso (at under $10!). But just like their bean bag, the real Muji neck pillow has that “mochi” feel that’s hard to replicate. By the way, Iuiga sells a hooded version too.
Glass teapot ($15.80, U.P. $20.90 at Muji)
Of course you can get a teapot at any old Japan Home, but is it made with Muji’s super-clear glass and pure white acrylic!? I think not.
Memory foam bath mat ($13, U.P. $34 at Muji)
I don’t know if I want to spoil myself with an ultra-cushy bath mat. I mean, it’s something you use for literally only 5 minutes a day. The $34 price tag at Muji made this a silly luxury, but at $13, it’s a bit hard to not treat yo self.
Seat cushion ($19, U.P. $36 at Muji)
I don’t know which mochi factory Muji commissions to make their products, but somehow even their humble seat cushions feel amazing.
Quilt cover set ($59.90 to $69.90, U.P. $128 at Muji)
No matter where you go, it’s difficult to get good sheets for cheap. Considering the quality of Muji’s sheets, $60 isn’t such a bad price tag.
Cotton gauze pyjamas ($29.90, U.P. $59 at Muji)
I used to buy Muji pyjamas when I was depressed because I spent so much time in bed. I can vouch for their comfort.
Does Iuiga sell authentic Muji products?
According to Iuiga, the items are sourced from the same manufacturers that really do make Muji products.
In fact, working directly with manufacturers is the heart of their business. Iuiga has somehow dug into Muji’s supply chain and located the actual factories that make Muji goods – such as the Muji glassware factory, Muji bed linen factory and Muji slipper factory.
But is it an infringement of copyright? According to Iuiga, no. Here’s what they had to say:
“The design rights of Iuiga and Muji products belong to the manufacturer and not the companies.
The intellectual property of the product designs do not belong to either company. Any company can approach the same manufacturers.
Iuiga operates on an ODM (Original Design Manufacturer) business model. This means a brand will shortlist products they want to manufacture and an ODM will come up with a suitable design before manufacturing the particular product; with input from the brand. Manufacturers also propose designs which are bought by various brands to resell under their own brands.
The products will then be rebranded by the buying firm (Iuiga). Under this model, the exterior, aesthetics, materials, dimensions and patented technologies are developed by the ODM and these product and design rights belong to them.
There is no direct ownership of the product by any single brand entity, allowing the ODM to produce for more than one brand.”
(By the way, Iuiga does the same with lots of brands like Samsonite and Thermos. Maybe one day they’ll have a deal with Foxconn and then we can buy “Apple same manufacturer” phones too.)
Would you buy these if you’re a Muji fan?
Look, if you want to get Muji-style products, they’re everywhere because that aesthetic has fully infiltrated the mainstream.
Taobao has reams of “Muju” brand lifestyle items (beanbags, bedsheets). Lazada is chock-full of “Nordic” furniture and plastic organizers. Daiso has $2 knockoffs of Muji bathroom products. Even Xiaomi has this Muji aesthetic going on with its household cleaning devices.
What’s telling is that none of these retailers feels the need to claim that they’re doing a public service by “cutting out the [overpriced Japanese] middleman”. That’s just… not very nice, to put it mildly.
If you have mixed feelings about Iuiga’s entire marketing strategy, you’re not alone. My colleague Eugenia flat-out refused to write this article because she thinks there’s something realllllly iffy about this.
I guess she has a point. Think about it – what would happen if everyone started buying from Iuiga? Would we end up in a situation where Muji is no longer incentivised to innovate, design and develop their products? What happens when there’s no more Muji? How will we live!?
Of course, for most of us it doesn’t matter what relationship Muji (or any other brand) has with Iuiga. The 50% price difference sells itself.
2019 UPDATE: At last, Muji speaks up
As some of you have pointed out, this article has felt incomplete for the longest time because there was no representation of Muji’s side of the story.
But after about a year of silence, Muji is finally doing something about Iuiga. Namely, sued their asses for trademark infringement. According to Business Insider, Muji took offence with Iuiga claiming its products are from “Muji same manufacturer”.
When asked to show proof that this is indeed the case, Iuiga did not respond. (A quick look at Iuiga’s website shows that they’re still retailing products under the “Muji same manufacturer” tagline.)
I’m not some kind of legal scholar, but I think it will be difficult for Muji to win this case and successfully take legal action against Iuiga. Intellectual property is poorly protected in Singapore; just look at how many Xiaomi products the average Singaporean has. *shuffles guiltily*
But what Muji might be able to achieve is a consumer boycott. Now that we have an official stance from Muji, it’s clear that if you support Muji, you shouldn’t buy from Iuiga.
Has Iuiga gone too far? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
Image credits: Iuiga