Crocs Not

At Daiso, Crocs found the Japanese retailer’s once two-dollar clogs to be imitative, and did not consider the similarity flattering

Daiso´s version of Crocs clogs seen at one of their stores last year. File photo: Zhao Xiangji for SOTD

The much-copied Classic Crocs at Crocs own store. File photo: Zhao Xiangji for SOTD

When we saw the familiar clogs in Daiso last August (top photo), before they changed from the fixed two dollars per item (mostly) to tiered pricing, we were curious if they would really get away with those lookalikes. You’d think Daiso would know better even if the clogs do not look identical, but it seemed not. A couple of days ago, it was reported that Crocs has officially put up a case at the California District Court last month with the alleged claim that the Japanese retailer was selling foam slip-ons that were “virtually identical to the design of Crocs’s three-dimensional design marks.” It reportedly also said that the former 100 yen brand tried “to free-ride and trade on the significant goodwill developed by Crocs through its innovative footwear.” Some serious charges there. But if it crossed our minds then that questions of copyright could have arisen, should it not have struck Daiso executives’ too?

For certain, inexpensive Crocs look-alikes are now really visible in the market—as in market stalls and HDB neighbourhood shops. And they are sold for what might be considered a fraction of what Crocs charges for their grandly-named ‘Classics’. At a footwear shop in one of the oldest housing estates on our island, you need only part with S$14.90 for a pair that looks very much like the Crocs Classic (and, if you are mindful of not wearing exact knock-offs, can choose those with square holes!), which is presently retailed at S$69.90 (standard styles). On Taobao, you can find a pair for as low as S$7.20. It is hardly surprising that Daiso’s then two-dollar version was appealing to those for whom branding mean nothing, compared to very low price. But did the Hiroshima-based “variety store” think that really cheap would not arouse the notice or wrath of the original creator who sells their clogs way dearer?

Skechers’s Arch Fit Foamies (women’s) in a familiar silhouette. Photo: Jim Sim

The Crocs influence, unfortunately for Crocs, has reached across footwear brands at both high and low price points. Its popularity was augmented when Balenciaga collaborated with the Colorado-based company for some “really cool” clogs, as described on social media, including one hitherto unseen at Crocs, a heeled version. One shoe buyer pointed to us that foam clogs have “low barriers to entry” and “can be found anywhere in China”. It is hardly surprising that many brands on the opposite end of Balenciaga have released their very own. One of these that has started to offer foam shoes as a product category and clogs with the rear strap that could be moved to the front is Skechers. Their women’s Foamies bear rather striking similarity to Crocs, except that the holes on the uppers are hexagonal, not circle, and there are 15 of them, rather than the 13 on the Crocs. And each pair goes for S$59.00—that’s S$10 cheaper than what Crocs is asking for.

It isn’t known how Daiso has reacted to Crocs’s charges, but this is not the first time that the American brand has brought its alleged imitators to court. Last year, Bloomberg reported that Crocs sued “Walmart Inc., Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., and 19 other companies alleging trademark infringement related to the shoes.” We are not certain what the outcome of those cases were. But years earlier, in 2013, French company Gifi Diffusion (describing its brand Gifi as “the French leader specialising in affordable goods for the family and home“) argued in European Union’s General Court that the design registration filed by Crocs should be invalidated because the latter’s shoe (presumably their clog) “lacks novelty”, having been around for longer than the period stipulated by EU requirements. In 2018, the Court concurred, thus backing the European Union Intellectual Property Office (“EUIPO”) cancelling, two years earlier, of the legal protection of Crocs’s shoe design. It will be interesting to see how Daiso will fight this out.

Updated: 15 July 2022, 9.15am

Two Dollars No More

At Daiso, there will no longer be one flat price, come May. Oh, GST not included, too

In Japan presently, Daiso is celebrating its 50th anniversary. We are not aware of any major observance (read: sale) over there, but they do have some anniversary-specific “limited” releases—largely products for the home—that are mostly priced at 100 yen (or about S$1.08, before the Japanese sales tax). Here, news have emerged that Daiso will very soon no longer offer their products at a single fixed price of S$2. Or absorb GST. On Instagram two days ago, the Japanese retailer announced that “with effect 1 May 2022, there will be a price change”. In the second of the two-image post, a colourful list of the new 15-tier (!) pricing was shared. The cheapest item (plus GST) will be $2.14 and the dearest, a staggering $25.47, much to the dismay—even shock—of fans and long-time customers. No one we spoke to about the impending price hike has paid more than double digits for a single item at Daiso, whether here or in Japan.

Some observers think that the announcement of the new pricing is too sudden, and just a week before the new prices will be tagged in the 27 Daiso stores across our island, gives consumers insufficient time to digest the sizable increase. Some retail managers we spoke to said that it is not possible for Daiso to continue to sell at that low price after 18 years here, in the wake of increases in business and material costs. About ten days ago, after news emerged that Daiso would be charging GST from 1 May and with reports showing images on notices of that announcement on Daiso stores, we were looking out for those notices, but did not find any. Now we know why: they took them down as it was not going to be a price hike due to the charging of GST alone. In the same IG post, Daiso wrote: “We thank you for your understanding and continued support”. The latter has not panned out yet, but understanding might be easier if Daiso had explained the reason behind the coming price hike, but they did not. We could only guess: on-going pandemic, long-drawn war, logistic woes, forex fluctuation, and, that dreaded phenomenon, historic inflation.

…understanding might be easier if Daiso had explained the reason behind the coming price hike, but they did not

According to a “Message” on a Japanese microsite created to mark Daiso’s momentous anniversary, the “One Price” is key to Daiso’s branding and merchandising. “The One Price makes it possible to buy more. The One Price allows you to give it a try. The One Price encourages casual purchases that lead to changes in everyday life. The One Price has infinite power to enrich our lives. For these 50 years, our thoughts have never changed.” Until now, it would seem. One price will soon be a distant memory, even when, in Japan, they have pledged that “Daiso will bring out a more exciting shopping experience, life, and society with the power of the One Price.”

Although Daiso in its homeland is proud to be 50 years old, it was not founded exactly five decades ago. In 1972, Hirotake Yano opened Yano Shoten, described as a “street vending shop dealing with 100 yen products”, according to their corporate literature. It was five years later that Daiso-sangyo (or the Daiso we recognise today) was born. According to Mr Yano, “Since our founding as the pioneer of 100 yen shops, we have continued to evolve and take on new challenges. One of those challenges was to abandon our original business model of ‘everything for 100 yen,’ and start developing and selling products for 200 yen, 1,000 yen, and so on.” That abandoning—in 2004—seems to contradict their confident anniversary message. A check with our friends in Japan confirmed that some products now cost more than ¥100. It would really be a matter of time before the business here follow suit. It is also possible that Daiso’s new tiered pricing here will bring it in line with their Threepy stores, and the soon-to-open Standard Products. To better reflect a changed business model? Bargain hunters, take note.

Photo: Chin Boh Kay

More Japanese Homeware To Come

Daiso has announced that they will be opening the Standard Products concept store here

Daiso’s Standard Products in Shibuya, Tokyo

Just as we predicted! Hot on the heels of the opening of Japan’s Nitori at The Heeren, compatriot retailer Daiso has shared that the company will be opening their barely-a-year-old concept store, Standard Products, here in Jurong Point, soon. First unveiled in Tokyo’s Shibuya last May, Standard Products is what Tokyoites has described as “Muji-like”, but priced to be “slightly” easier on the pocket. To be more accurate, the new Daiso store is dedicated primarily to homeware, rather than general goods that the parent chain store offers (or, Muji—a veritable department store!). If they keep to the Japanese shop’s aesthetic for Standard Product’s debut here, expect a one-step-up stylishness that might draw those who find Daiso itself too messy to navigate.

It would appear that Daiso is intending to make their presence on our island felt, intensely. They have already introduced their Threepy chain (not really discernibly different from Daiso itself) to add to the Daiso stores found in almost every corner of our city except the off-shore islands. And now, on a yet-to-be-disclosed date, Standard Products, which, like merchandise at Threepy, is not based on a single price: $2. In fact, Daiso would very soon not be associated with SG’s lowest denominator on our dollar notes. From 1 May, the retailer would be charging GST, which means, each item will soon cost S$2.14 (when the GST is 7%. Some say that the new selling price is such an inauspicious number!). It is not yet known if shoppers will, too, be charged the goods and services tax for purchases made at Threepy or, before long, at Standard Products. The extra, we’re certain, won’t deter the hordes that will no doubt turn up.

Watch this space for more information on the opening of Standard Products. File photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD

All For The Home

Daiso’s new store in Tokyo is completely dedicated to furnishings and kitchenware

Cheap and cheerful Daiso is already where one goes to find inexpensive stuff for the home. But now, the retailer of 100-yen anything (or S$2 here, as you know) has opened one in Tokyo, where only home ware is available. Yes, no nail polish or boxer shorts, but, interesting, there are wristwatches! And not everything is sold at the standard price of 100 yen; new prices are between 330 and 770 yen. The new Daiso store is called by another name, too: Standard Products, presumably to stand out from the (generally) one-price older sibling. And also to set itself apart from the original store, but not nearly enough for it to be different from more established compatriot brands, particularly Muji and, to a degree, Nitori. In fact, so much better looking is the new store—and higher the prices—that Tokyoites happily call it “upmarket Diaso”.

Opened in March and situated inside Mark City in Shibuya, just a hop from the Shibuya Bus Station, Standard Products will inevitably draw comparison with Muji and such (some even likened it to Ikea!). For starters, it’s much better looking than the average Daiso store (if you’ve been to those not in big cities, you’ll remember them to be quite humble). There is also the more staggering variety of products, and better storage/displays (attractively stacked!), even with a veritable semblance of visual merchandising. There is also a neatness not usually evident in Diaso. But that, for some, may take the fun out of shopping in Standard Products: it’s too posh and orderly. And it does not have quite the you-don’t-know-what-useful-stuff-you-may-find madness. If Standard Products makes you miss Diaso, the later is, in fact, just round the corner, and with the unmistakable hot-pink shop front and the crazy jumble inside too.

When approaching Standard Products, Daiso regulars might think they have stumbled upon a home emporium in the hipster neighbourhood of Daikanyama. The main store front is top to bottom aluminium-framed glass panels, on which the name is emblazoned in massive, black sans-serif font. There is no window display. The interior is for all to see. Merchandise immediately greet you at your first step. Inside, you will take a while to get used to the orderly space and wrap your head around the fact that this is a Diaso offshoot. As you explore the surprisingly wide aisles, you’ll find yourself wondering if you are, in fact, in a Muji store (like we said). Even the industrial-space-meets-modern-barn of some corners are unmistakably Muji. And the wares? You need to be a hermit just descended from Mount Fuji not to see the similarities and the matching minimalist aesthetics.

Stuff for the kitchen or dining takes up at least half of the reported 1,300 products available. There are more bowls, plates, mugs, and glassware than you’ll ever need, but truth be told, most of them are truly appealing, especially if you are susceptible to neutral-coloured ceramics and stoneware in simple shapes that can show off their equally stylish content. There is also a surprisingly large selection of acacia wood accessories such as caddies, platters, and pot holders, all handsomely fashioned. What seems to be missing are appliances. Still, the selection of merchandise is so extensive and the products so appealingly designed that it is hard, we think, even for the not house-proud to successfully resist.

Although retail in Japan is going through hard times due to the still-raging pandemic, retailers there have not given up or stopped innovating. Daiso going specifically into home ware with Standard Products makes sense. As WFH is still prevalent and the preferred work-place arrangement, consumers are opening up their wallets or Google Pay to shop for items that can spruce their domestic interiors, rather than those that will fill an already over-stuffed wardrobe. Instead of going by way of the even less expensive route (can they go lower than 100 yen?), the Hiroshima-based company has chosen a retail concept that is a winning combination of friendly prices and accessible designs, both in a setting that reflects the growing sophistication of the pandemic-era homeowner. But this isn’t the first time Diaso has adopted the more-than-100-yen merchandising approach. There is the Threeppy chain (which, according to the parent company, is a conflation of “300 yen and happy”) that was introduced in Japan in 2018. A year later, the first of six Threepy shops (they are nearly always smaller than Diaso) outside Japan opened here at Funan Mall. Don’t be surprised if we see a Standard Products store here in 2022.

Despite the unmistakable home theme of Standard Products, the merchandising team also took pleasure in defining what home is or where it could be. As we well know, as long as there is access to the Internet, home (and the home office) could be anywhere, even in the mountains. Well aware of this, Standard Products has also a section for camping kits, complete with a tent, set up to give context to its attendant products, such as thermoses, water bottles, and even mess tins! Standard is clearly not quite the defining quality of the store, fun is.

Photos: Jiro Shiratori