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Japanese disguise helps sell 'Made in China' in Vietnam

A Miniso outlet with a remarkably familiar logo

HANOI -- Three variety shops that opened in central Hanoi in mid-September have signs that might look familiar to many consumers around the world: two red squares containing Japanese characters and Latin alphabet letters in white.

One could be forgiven for believing they were genuine outlets of the popular Japanese clothing store Uniqlo. Inside, however, they resemble more of a cross between lifestyle retailer Muji and a dollar store.

Though they have an undeniably Japanese look, with everything from the signs on the shelves to the price tags written in Japanese, almost all the products are made in China.

This may be a well-executed marketing strategy; many Vietnamese have a certain fondness for Japan. But it is somewhat misleading.

According to the explanation written on the back of the products, the store, called Miniso, is run by its namesake company based in Tokyo's upmarket Ginza shopping district. The company operates around 80 stores, mainly in China. The Hanoi outlets are the first in Vietnam.

When asked if Miniso is a Chinese company, a 28-year-old clerk at one of the Vietnam stores said, as though reading from a manual, that it is produced by a Japanese company and the goods are made in China. If Miniso is Chinese, so is an iPhone, the clerk added.

The lineup of goods, food, cosmetics and stationery could be the same as in any dollar store, yet the packaging resembles what you would find in Muji or Uniqlo. Their prices are not cheap, considering the country's average standard of living. A bottle of lotion sells for 130,000 dong ($5.82).

South Korean camouflage also appears to be in vogue. In early September, another variety store chain opened up in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The shop, called ilahui, sells goods with labels written in Hangul but, again, they are almost entirely made in China. The shops are packed with young women keen on "fashionable" South Korean goods they have been exposed to by popular TV dramas from the country.

Stores in Vietnam are flooded with Chinese goods. Many are of questionable quality and numerous problems have been reported, such as food poisoning and a faulty battery exploding. Strained Vietnam-China relations in recent years may also have contributed mistrust of Chinese products.

It appears a little creative rebranding can go a long way to keeping sales figures up.

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