Founded in 1960 by Shintaro Tsuji as the Yamanashi Silk Company, Sanrio has evolved significantly since its conception.
Initially, the Yamanashi Silk Company focused on producing and selling silk products such as ties and scarves. However, in the early 1970s, Tsuji recognized the potential for using cute characters to market products to children and young people. It was an instant hit, and the company quickly shifted directions. To reflect the new focus on character goods, the company's name was changed to Sanrio, which comes from the Spanish words "san" (a shortened form of "santo" meaning "saint") and "río" (meaning "river").
Introduction of Hello Kitty
Tsuji began hiring cartoonists to develop an original range of character-based merchandise. One such cartoonist was Yuko Shimizu, who created Hello Kitty, a little girl who looks like a white cat with two eyes and a yellow nose. Famously, Hello Kitty has no mouth because she "speaks directly from the heart". Released in 1974, the first Hello Kitty product was a transparent coin purse featuring her image, a glass bottle of milk, and a fishbowl. Two years later, Hello Kitty was launched in the United States. Quickly, the simple character became a global phenomenon. To this day, Hello Kitty continues to be the brand's most popular and profitable character. Today, there are more than 100 Sanrio boutiques throughout Japan, and Sanrio goods are sold in over 15,000 U.S. retail locations.
Since Hello Kitty's debut, Sanrio has introduced numerous other popular characters, such as My Melody, a pink bunny with a red hood; Keroppi, a frog with big eyes and a small smile; and Little Twin Stars, a pair of angelic twins. These characters, along with many others, have appeared on a wide range of products including clothing, accessories, stationery, and home goods. Two of them, Aggretsuko and Gudetama, even have their own animated TV shows on Netflix!
Sanrio Puroland Theme Park and Beyond
Sanrio continues to grow and innovate, not only in terms of original character designs but also through a number of significant events and partnerships. In 1990, the company opened the Sanrio Puroland theme park in Tama, Japan, which features live shows, parades, and attractions based on its characters. At Puroland, visitors can meet and interact with the characters in person, dine at character cafes, and snap photos in an ultra-kawaii environment. Sanrio has also collaborated with a number of well-known brands including Converse, Anti Social Social Club, and MAC Cosmetics to create limited-edition collections featuring its characters.
In recent years, Sanrio has continued to expand its reach and influence, with Hello Kitty and its other characters appearing on everything from cellphone cases to airplanes. The company has also made a push into the digital space, with TV programs, mobile games, and virtual reality experiences featuring its characters. This has allowed the brand to remain relevant in the modern age, solidifying its position as a leading character brand.
All around the world, fans of Sanrio continue to show their enthusiasm for the brand’s lovable characters.
About the author:
Britney Budiman (@booritney) is a writer, minimalist, aspiring effective altruist, and runner-in-progress with a penchant for saying “yes.” Previously, she has worked in Cambodia at a traditional arts NGO, in Brazil as a social sciences researcher, and in San Francisco at a housing start-up. She currently lives in the countryside of Kagoshima, Japan, where she teaches English. Her favorite thing in the world is good conversation.