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Female-Geared Design and the Sophistication of Kawaii

The Harvard Business Review projected in 2009 that by the year 2020, 50% of private wealth in the United States would be in the hands of women. According to other sources this number might have already been met. This mirrors the increasing number of women entering and staying in the work force. The worldwide upward trend of women’s wealth and buying power may be good news for businesses looking for opportunities to climb out of slumps, as female consumers are generally more willing to spend money on products and services that can boost a sense of well-being and improve their quality of life. Many designers have already picked up on this trend and are endeavoring to make products that appeal to women. In Japan the “Cult of Kawaii” (“Cult of Cute”) is still going strong, and the popularity of products with cute design elements continues to grow beyond Japan, as well. Apart from the cute elements, women also look for products that will make their lives easier and reduce stress, which is especially important for women who are struggling to balance their work with caring for children and aging parents.

Our Japanese makers have made efforts to address this trend in various ways. For example, The Karimoku60 Collection is known for its sleek, retro leather chairs and sofas that would fit right in on the set of Mad Men, but that is not all they have to offer. In the summer of 2016, the maker released a limited edition version of their K Chair upholstered in “bruno pink”, a shade of pink loved by Japanese people for its resemblance to cherry blossoms. Although making a product pink does not guarantee sales in the female-oriented market, the maker’s reputation of high quality adds another dimension to this piece that increases its appeal.

The limited edition Karimoku60 K Chair 1-seater and 2-seater in "bruno pink." Photo Credits: D&DEPARTMENT (left), Ding Ding (right)

However, this trend is not limited to style. It is also an attitude. In their report on the female economy, the Harvard Business Review pointed out that women seek to buy products from companies that are “good for the world”, including companies with an awareness of environmental concerns. Our partner Hida Sangyo from Japan addresses this concern by placing an emphasis on sustainability. In 2013, Hida Sangyo developed a new technology to compress cedar wood, one of the fastest growing and abundant tree species in Japan, into a beautiful new material hard and durable enough for furniture making. In 2016, Hida went one step further and reaffirmed their commitment to sustainability with their new Kinoe Collection. In this collection, cedar branches, the “waste” part of the timber, are carefully utilized in the furniture. The irregularly shaped branches are meticulously selected and finished, and their use adds character to the products. Each piece is one of a kind, and is sure to add whimsy and fun to any room.

Hida's Kinoe Chair features a backrest that uses a hand-selected, one of a kind, cedar branch.

Another approach makers have been taking is to rediscover materials that are conventionally perceived as hard and masculine, by adding a softer expression to them. The term “iron furniture” tends to conjure up images of heavy, masculine furniture. But Sugiyama Seisakusho has succeeded in creating fine and delicate iron products with a touch of femininity. The Pear collection features a sturdy yet lightweight iron frame with elegant rounded lines. These pieces are perfect for families with young children as they are easy to move around, which allows for easy layout rearrangements as the family grows, as well as enabling one's creativity to flourish. Sugiyama Seisakusho's Fe Collection, designed by female designer Fumie Shibata, is also full of adaptable pieces that will stimulate creativity. The Grid Box can be used as a shelf, a container, a stool, or a side table with a glass top. Likewise, the Wall Deco and Desk Deco pieces are not only unique decorative objects, but functional pieces that one can use to keep notes and artwork on with magnets, or use as accessory organizers.

Sugiyama Seisakusho's Pear Collection features furniture with durable yet lightweight iron frames, perfect for families.
Sugiyama Seisakusho's Fe Collection features pieces that are simultaneously decorative and functional. Pictured here are the Desk Deco and the Grid Box.

As the influence of women increases in virtually every industry, the impact of female consumers is becoming more and more obvious. The wants and needs of women will continue to help shape the world, not only in terms of product design, but ethical responsibility, adaptability, sustainability, and how products are sold.

By Danielle Johnson, OOKKUU


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