Kitty Turns 35

Hello Kitty is an astonishing piece of design work. She's made up of just a few solid black lines and dashes, but she's spawned some 50,000 products and been at the forefront of stylish consumer products for all ages

April 6, 2018

3 Min Read

Hello Kitty is an astonishing piece of design work. She's made up of just a few solid black lines and dashes, but she's spawned some 50,000 products and been at the forefront of stylish consumer products for all ages for more than three decades.

Late in 2009 her owner, Sanrio, launched Hello Kitty's 35th anniversary celebrations with a seven-day tour of Europe, including a celebrity-attended fashion show and high tea at one of London's most distinctive eateries, Sketch. The tour moved on to Milan, Barcelona and Paris (where a Hello Kitty area was featured in the upscale boutique Colette) before ending in Stockholm for events with H&M and UNICEF.

The character is depicted as living in London, so it was appropriate to start her birthday with tea in the city. But the events here have also played an important part in strengthening the brand's position across all demographics in Europe. i2_375.jpg

"Japan and Asia remain the biggest markets for Hello Kitty, and although Sanrio has been selling products around Europe for 25 years, it's only in the last five that we have set up a serious strategy to cover the European market and only in the last two that we've done so for Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa," Roberto Lanzi, Sanrio's president, EMEA, told License! Global.

Hello Kitty's appeal in Europe has traditionally been strongest with junior teens and young adults, but in the last two years Sanrio has worked hard to penetrate the younger kids' market. "Now, with the strong increase in younger fans, we have to be careful not to lose our older target customers. We do this through 'underground' activities such as partnerships with artists, designers and musicians," says Lanzi.

Activity surrounding Hello Kitty will ramp up another gear this year (Sanrio's 50th anniversary) with the creation of a European design team and the first Hello Kitty live show opening in February before touring Europe. The live show will appeal to both kids and families but also, specifically, to older audiences.

Lanzi says that other product news for 2010 underpins the strategy to build Hello Kitty as a lifestyle brand rather than a character. For example, there is a collaboration with Swarowski, as well as Hello Kitty and Christofle housewares set to launch across Europe. A program called "Hello Kitty Made in Italy" will see products from some of Italy's most important food companies, from mineral water to olive oil, pasta and pizza, launched worldwide.

Hello Kitty counts most retailers among her customers, but Sanrio has always had a case-by-case approach to working directly with retail. "We have very few DTR deals and believe that retailers should maintain the relationship with licensees," Lanzi explains. But he concedes that where the company does have direct relationships with retailers such as H&M, Zara, Oysho and M&S (who don't purchase from licensees), Sanrio has been able to build up "unbelievably great projects" with these partners. He adds: "So we are always open to discuss projects coming from retailers if they make sense for our branding." i3_242.jpg

An important guest at the celebrations in London was Yuko Yamaguchi, Hello Kitty's official designer for the last 30 years. She told License! Global a little about the process behind creating one of the world's best-known icons, day after day.

Although she started drawing Hello Kitty with a pen and pencil, Yamaguchi now uses permanent markers and says she draws Hello Kitty many times a day in her own mind. Her inspiration comes from talking to people and the most recent designs for Hello Kitty's 35th anniversary feature five colors that she says carry important messages to people around the world. "Red for friendship, pink for cute, yellow for heartful, green for wish and lavender for sweet. What is significant is that over the last 35 years, Hello Kitty continues to change with her fans," says Yamaguchi.

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