5 Questions for Miki House’s Yoshi Takeda

Miki House is growing its footprint in the U.S.

Since launching here six years ago, the Japanese children’s brand, known for its colorful, whimsical clothing and shoes, has seen its business expand rapidly. In addition to building a wholesale account base that includes some key independents, among them Fred Segal, Babesta and Kenzie Kids, the label has bowed five standalone concept stores. Most recently, it rolled out shop-in-shops at Bloomingdale’s in New York, San Francisco, Miami and Bergen County, N.J.

“The U.S. is definitely a major growth opportunity for us,” said Yoshi Takeda, president of Miki House Americas. “Customers here seem to really appreciate our designs and the quality we offer.”

Footwear, which now makes up more than a quarter of Miki House’s U.S. sales, is a major focus. “It’s a significant category for us,” Takeda said. “We see footwear as a great entry point to our brand that hopefully then encourages people to try other things from our line.”

The brand’s shoe offering, which includes fashion casuals, sneakers, rainboots and snow boots, retailing for $49 to $159, will expand this fall with the launch of a sport line aimed at an older audience. While the core collection is decorated with the label’s traditional Japanese bear and bunny characters, the sport shoes will have a more sophisticated look, Takeda said.

As it plots its U.S. expansion, Miki House hopes to replicate its success abroad. The brand, founded in 1971, is a household name in Japan, where it operates more than 300 shops, has roughly 500 wholesale accounts and even runs a sports studio for kids. In addition, Miki House has a strong business in international cities including Paris, Milan, Hong Kong, Istanbul and Kiev, Ukraine, where it has flagships. China also is a growing market with eight Miki House stores.

Here, Takeda talks about building consumer awareness and balancing function with fashion.

What distinguishes Miki House’s shoes from others in the market?
The biggest thing is that children always come first. We are very focused on creating shoes that children love and want to wear and that are safe for them. In fact, if we have to choose between design and function, we absolutely choose function first. If we can’t assure the function or safety, we will sacrifice the design. Our shoes have [subtly] turned-up toes to prevent stumbling, flexible bottoms for comfort and a boxed heel structure that supports the [developing] bones in children’s feet.

What can you share about the new sport line?
The [intent] behind the line was to create an extension of our sizes. Right now, we stop at age 6, but a lot of customers have been requesting those bigger sizes for their kids. But of course, our shoes with the bear and rabbit motifs are too sweet. We wanted something more sophisticated. And as kids get older, they are more active and involved in sports, so we created a line of sporty shoes, both in look and function, but still with our Miki House twist. The shoes are much cooler in terms of the styling and colors. We’re starting with about 15 styles, and we’ll expand from there.

Has brand recognition been an issue in the U.S.?
It has definitely been a challenge. Miki House is not as well known in the States as it is overseas. It takes time to build awareness, and we understand that. Our strategy has been to reach out to customers who already know our brand and encourage word of mouth. We also are getting more active with social media such as Facebook. Still, we are a high-end brand, so we know that not everyone can be our customer. We have a very clear target market, and we are focusing our advertising efforts specifically on those customers.

Why is Bloomingdale’s the right retail partner?
Bloomingdale’s [has an] upscale customer base [that] is a perfect match with our brand. It attracts a lot of international tourists, especially in Miami and New York, providing us with tremendous exposure. In addition, we continue to do in-store events, which have been great for building buzz and getting consumers excited about our brand. Sales have been very strong so far, and we’re doing especially well with our shoes. But we are still not satisfied, so we keep pushing our goals higher.

Do you find American consumers have a lot of interest in Japanese products?
It’s been a big trend in men’s and women’s fashion, and it’s trickled down to the kids’ market. We see it more on the West Coast than the East Coast. It’s really just starting on the East Coast. [To play up our roots], we also make a point to include elements of Japanese culture in our consumer events, whether it’s origami demonstrations or [activities like] decorating accordion books.

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