By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
If deception is your game, Miniso is your name.
Yes, that always-crowded, multi-product assortment of little pseudo-Japanese stores that seem to have sprung up in Mexico practically overnight are masters of deceit.
From the company’s name (which technically is Minoso Japan, as seen practically everywhere inside the stores’ premises), to the not-so-coincidental similarities between its red corporate label and that of the respected Nipponese brand Uniqlo, to the fact that the sales and checkout staff inevitably greet you with a heavily accented “aregato” (Japanese for “thank you”), the little, low-priced consumer goods, household products, cosmetics and toy store goes out of its way to make you believe that it is a Japanese corporation.
But don’t you believe it for a minute.
Miniso is a 100-percent Chinese-owned company based out of and producing practically all its inventory in Guangzhou, China, the undisputed global capital of poor-quality, slapdash mass production.
Founded in 2011 by Chinese entrepreneur Ye Guofu, who paid off a fresh-out-of-college wannabe Japanese designer by the name of Jun’ya Miyake to be a front man for his duplicitous enterprise, Miniso started off with a few stores in China and quickly decided to expand abroad into Asia (carefully avoiding, for the most part, Japan, where its cozenage was more likely to be discovered), Europe, Australia and the Americas.
And so it came to pass that, in December of 2016, the Japanese impersonator brand opened its first store in Mexico, inside Mexico City’s Galerías Coapa.
Cute little plushy toys in the window and a front aisle display of knockoff perfumes and makeup products in the entrance of the store (a model that is followed in all Miniso stores worldwide) soon brought in customers by the hundreds, and, thinking that they were getting Japanese-quality products, sales went through the roof in practically no time.
By July 2018, the company boasted nearly 60 stores in 19 Mexican cities, and just last Tuesday, Nov. 20, it opened a three-story, 700-square-meter, super Miniso in Colonia Roma Sur on Insurgentes Sur, its 85th Mexican point of sale.
It hopes to close the year with a total of 100 stores nationwide, and for 2019, Miniso is aiming to double that figure to 200.
So what’s so wrong with Miniso putting on kabuki makeup and trying to pass itself off as a Japanese, rather than a Chinese, corporation?
Quality. A lot of quality.
Lest we forget, China is the country where hundreds of thousands of infants were gravely sickened in 2009 by melamine-tainted milk (remember, we are talking about the poisoning of their own children).
And despite a nationwide scandal and so-called government crackdown, just one year later, another Chinese dairy producer was caught adulterating its milk products with the very same toxic substance.
If that’s not enough to scare you, then think back to the countless other cases of shoddy Chinese manufacturing.
China’s well-deserved reputation for producing inferior and often-dangerous products stems from the international sale of products as diverse as lead-filled toys, sulfurous drywall, and melamine- and heparin-tainted pet food.
Still not convinced?
In just the first six months of 2011, six public bridges collapsed across China as a result of poor quality construction and inferior building materials, according to the country’s own (heavily censured) official news agency Xinhua.
Chinese construction material factories have also been caught selling faulty welds and weakened steel to international corporations, leading to building collapses.
The fact of the matter is that quality is not a priority in Chinese manufacturing, whatever the product in question might be.
The nature of how Chinese products are contracted has a lot to do with that reality.
As a rule, Chinese factories are typically paid for their goods prior to them being shipped, so there is very little incentive for the manufacturers not to cut a corner or two in churning out production. (What’s that old Spanish-language refrain? “Músico pagado toca mal son,” which roughly translates to “A musician who is paid in advance will play badly.”)
It is only after the foreign customer receives his container that he discovers any flaws in his product, and good luck trying to take a Chinese factory to court in that nation’s Kafkaesque legal system.
The fact is that most Chinese suppliers believe that what a consumer doesn’t know can’t hurt them (the quintessential definition of caveat emptor), so they are not shy to change product specifications or ingredients without asking.
In short, Chinese manufacturing quality is unreliable at best and abominable at worst, simply because, in China, quality is seen as a barrier to greater profitability.
Which is why you end up with tainted baby formula, defective building materials and lead-ridden toys.
But getting back to Miniso, which in its efforts to disguise itself as a Japanese corporation is deliberately distancing itself from the shameful reputation that made-in-China – and worse yet, made-in-Guangzhou – entail.
All those cute plushy stuffed animals Miniso sells are indeed adorable, but one cannot help but wonder what they are made of and if you really want your three-year-old to cuddle with them all night long.
The cosmetics – which run the gamut from knockoff perfumes (with names that blatantly copy bottle and labels of designer scents, but don’t even come close to matching the intended fragrance and last about three minutes on your skin before fading), to horse oil face creams (yes, made out of the fat of real slaughtered horses, or so the company claims) – are a significant concern because numerous made-in-China beauty products have in the past been found to contain lead and other hazardous materials.
I personally bought a backup external cellphone charger at Miniso a few weeks ago that promised to recharge my iPhone at least two and a half times. I got less than a 40 percent charge out of it.
Admittedly, Miniso stores are visually attractive and are fun to explore for quirky made-in-China-cum-labeled-made-in-Japan oddities, and the prices are usually quite reasonable.
But, in the end, I cannot help but think about that other Mexican saying: “Lo barato sale caro” (“Buying cheap can be expensive”).
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.