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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Sanrio, the home of Hello Kitty: why the brand is appealing in a boring, adult world

Students share their perspectives on the Japanese character brand


By KACEY CHAN — features@theaggie.org  


Sanrio is one of the most well-known brands out there. Its most iconic character, Hello Kitty, is worth an estimated $7 billion alone. There are over 50,000 Hello Kitty product lines available in more than 130 countries, and Sanrio’s peak revenue in 2022 was $575.3 million. The “Hello Kitty Girl,” a term coined on TikTok, refers to a typically younger woman who is a fan of Sanrio and often styles herself in accordance with the brand. 

There are numerous reasons for the popularity of Sanrio and specifically why the brand has been able to maintain its appeal for so long. 

Sanrio is a Japanese brand that primarily creates a line of simple, animated characters. While Hello Kitty is it is most well-known, the brand features other popular characters such as Cinammonroll and Kuromi, who each have their own signature personalities and symbols. Since the creation of Hello Kitty in 1974, people all over the world can instantly recognize the character upon seeing the figure’s iconic red or pink bow. 

Sanrio’s line of cutely designed, minimalist characters with their own color palettes and backgrounds has influenced students on a deep level. Leah Tahmassian, a third-year political science major at UC Davis and member of the Davis Anime Club, attests to the popularity of the brand. 

“When I was little, one of the first characters I found out about was Hello Kitty simply due to seeing her around school when other girls wore her shirts and had her backpacks,” Tahmassian said via direct message. 

Sara Lindstrom, a second-year design major, also became interested in Sanrio when she was younger and has continued to be a loyal fan into adulthood. 

“I’ve stayed loving Sanrio over the years because it reminds me of being a kid,” Lindstrom said in an Instagram direct message. “I get excited to have special Sanrio backpacks, clothing, stickers, etc.” 

Indeed, this youthful aspect of the brand seems to be its draw for students and young people in general. Unlike other children’s brands, which may lose their target audience over time as fans age, Sanrio has ensured their brand remains childlike but not childish

“The creator, Yuko Shimizu, and her company have done an exceptional job at marketing and curating a world with characters that people of all ages can enjoy,” Lindstrom said. “They keep the childlike wonder alive by not taking things too seriously in the Sanrio world.” 

A particular example, and perhaps an endearingly eccentric one, is that Hello Kitty’s size is exclusively measured in apples. 

“She’s five apples tall and three apples heavy,” Lindstrom wrote. 

The company also seems to inject a simple happiness in a world that rather lacks it. A study conducted by Medium magazine which examines Hello Kitty as a symbol determined that Sanrio has successfully “created a product that emotionalizes and humanizes everyday human world through embodied charm.”

Cassandra Brown, a small business owner from Georgia selling beaded jewelry online, has noticed Sanrio items tend to sell more quickly than non-Sanrio items.

“I think Sanrio is so popular because there’s a lot of variety,” Brown said in an Instagram direct message. “People can find [a character] that fits them and their aesthetic the best.” 

It is also this universality which has led to the brand’s cult following online. 

“I love the diversity of the characters because it feels like there’s one for everyone with all their many different styles and colours and personalities,” wrote Adele Newcomb, a second-year biological sciences major, in a direct message. 

Newcomb points to the increasing popularity of niches on social media which users often strongly identify with. 

“With the rise of different aesthetics such as the ‘clean girl,’ the ‘it girl,’ etc., I think Sanrio seems to be a more flexible aesthetic than many others,” Newcomb said. 

Clarissa Gutierrez, a third-year cinema and digital media major and small business owner, confirms the establishment of the brand as its own niche. 

“Whenever I think of Sanrio, I think of cute characters, soft colors and very girly things,” Gutierrez said in a direct message. “Even online, there are such things [labeled] as ‘Sanriocore.’”

A key attraction of the brand is its various types or sub-aesthetics. Almost functioning as a cuter version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test, each character has its own colors, themes and even personality traits. 

Kuromi, a white dwarf rabbit who often wears a black jester’s hat, has a darker theme identifiable by the colors black and pink. My Melody has a “light” theme, as opposed to Hello Kitty and Keroppi, who have more “bright” themes. 

With the rise of other East Asian cultural trends like K-Pop and anime in the U.S. over the past few years, it is perhaps not surprising that Sanrio would be a part of this wave as well. Tahmassian, for example, mentioned that her preference for a particular Sanrio character — Little Twin Stars — led her to watch an anime called “Sanrio Danshi,” which centers on a group of boys all obsessed with different Sanrio characters. 

Sanrio may be a children’s brand on the surface, but it is clear that the brand has maintained a strong following and fan base of adults. Sanrio, and Hello Kitty, have curated their image to such a degree that it lacks a specific, target age. 

“I know of many older adults who have and love Sanrio things, like people my parents’ age,” Newcomb said in a direct message. 

Lindstrom has become such a fan of the brand, she has Hello Kitty tattooed on her hand.

“Sanrio fits into my personal style really well,” Lindstrom said in a direct message, “so much so, that I have Hello Kitty on me forever.”


Written by: Kacey Chan— features@theaggie.org 


Correction: In a previous version of this article, the incorrect pronouns were used for Sara Lindstrom. Her pronouns have been changed from “they/them” to “she/her” to better reflect her lived identity. The California Aggie regrets this mistake.