Asian-centric household goods brands set sights on expansion across Canada

Interesting (we also discovered Muji when travelling):

When discount store Oomomo flung open the doors to its first Toronto location in early December, customers lined up well in advance to scoop up everything from low-cost origami paper and shrimp-flavoured chips to vegetable peelers and toothbrushes.

Oomomo’s president Andy Cheng expects the scene will repeat dozens of times as the Vancouver-based purveyor of Japanese goods expands beyond its current four stores in Canada to open about 30 in the country over the next three years.

“We have customers asking us if we can open as many as possible and make it as huge and giant as possible,” he said of the brand that sells mostly Daiso and Seria products for $2, but prices some up to $15. “We are not trying to take over the market, but we want to focus on bringing Oomomo to every major province and city.”

Oomomo is part of a growing group of Asian-centric retailers selling affordable household goods that are expanding in Canada, quickly conjuring up loyal customer bases with big plans to conquer the market in little time.

Miniso — a Chinese discount brand masquerading as a Japanese company — has the most ambitious goal in mind: 500 stores by the end of 2020. Despite a recent court case threatening to force the Canadian operators into bankruptcy over allegations that they fraudulently transferred registered trademark rights to third-party corporations and disposed of inventory, Miniso has already opened 50 stores in Canada since its December 2017 launch in the country.

Muji, whose stores are more fashion-centric and expensive than Miniso but still marketed as affordable, has more pared down expectations. Vice-president Shogo Okazeri said Muji hopes to grow the eight stores it has opened in B.C. and Ontario to 30 by 2025. Okazeri named Alberta and Quebec as target markets for the expansion.

Experts say such rapid growth in the market is being fuelled by Canada’s diverse population and the increasing demand for both innovations and discounts — a hallmark of items produced in Asia, where labour is much cheaper and access to inexpensive manufacturing materials is greater.

“I picked up a couple of things that I hadn’t seen before at Muji that solved a little problem for me because I hadn’t seen anything quite like it,” said Michael LeBlanc, a senior retail adviser at the Retail Council of Canada.

“Canadians love a good value proposition and (at these stores) the price points are right, the assortment is unique and they offer different solutions.”

The expansion of Asian retailers has been no surprise for LeBlanc because he said the country has really transformed itself into a top shopping destination.

Canada welcomed a record 50 new international retailers in 2017 alone and Toronto outranked several U.S. cities to be named North America’s most popular market for international expansion, according to commercial real estate business CBRE Group Inc.

That excitement around Canada came even as retailers’ cross-border expansion into new markets declined by 2.9 per cent from the year before, CBRE said.

Oomomo’s Cheng was keen on starting his company in Canada instead of Asia because of Canada’s multiculturalism. Half of Canada’s foreign-born population hailed from Asia in 2016, according to Statistics Canada.

“We have a lot of Asian population and also a lot of local, Canadian customers that like to learn about the lifestyle of other cultures and how they do little things around the house,” said Cheng.

It’s an observation he shares with Muji’s Shogo Okazeri, who said Muji quickly discovered Canada has “a growing interest for a simple lifestyle and for products without branding, a trend that is found in traditional Japanese culture.”

He also found multiculturalism was playing a large role in retail.

“We didn’t expect that it would have such an impact, but after expanding in Canada, we realized that many people actually knew MUJI because they discovered it when travelling abroad,” he said in an email to The Canadian Press.

“As a result, we have been receiving requests to open stores in various areas we didn’t necessarily think about at first.”

Oomomo has also been seeing demand to expand to new cities and suspects the market can sustain further growth because of the success enjoyed by companies like Dollarama Inc.

However, Cheng is insistent he doesn’t consider Dollarama a competitor because he said both suit different kinds of customers that will shop at both stores.

“When I need something quick I go into a dollar store, but when I am at a store like Oomomo, I spend an hour at the store just to stop and look around at stuff I haven’t seen before.”

He similarly brushed off concerns about rivals including Miniso and Muji.

“I haven’t talked to anyone who after purchasing something from our store said we are not going to go to the other store,” he said. “We are not in direct competition.”

Source: Asian-centric household goods brands set sights on expansion across Canada

U.S. Has Highest Share of Foreign-Born Since 1910, With More Coming From Asia

Significant shift.

Extent to which it may change the tenor of US immigration debates, largely over illegal and undocumented immigration from Mexico and Central America unclear:

The foreign-born population in the United States has reached its highest share since 1910, according to government data released Thursday, and the new arrivals are more likely to come from Asia and to have college degrees than those who arrived in past decades.

The Census Bureau’s figures for 2017 confirm a major shift in who is coming to the United States. For years newcomers tended to be from Latin America, but a Brookings Institution analysis of that data shows that 41 percent of the people who said they arrived since 2010 came from Asia. Just 39 percent were from Latin America. About 45 percent were college educated, the analysis found, compared with about 30 percent of those who came between 2000 and 2009.

“This is quite different from what we had thought,” said William H. Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution who conducted the analysis. “We think of immigrants as being low-skilled workers from Latin America, but for recent arrivals that’s much less the case. People from Asia have overtaken people from Latin America.”

The new data was released as the nation’s changing demography has become a flash point in American politics. President Trump, and many Republicans, have sounded alarms about immigration and suggested the government needs to restrict both the number and types of people coming into the country.

The last historic peak in immigration to the United States came at the end of the 19th century, when large numbers of Europeans fled poverty and violence in their home countries. Some of the largest numbers came from Germany, Italy and Poland. That wave peaked around the turn of the century, when the total foreign-born population stood at nearly 15 percent. But after the passage of strict racial quotas in the 1920s, the foreign-born population fell sharply for decades in the middle of the 20th century. By 1970, the population was below 5 percent.

The passage of a more liberal immigration law in 1965, which ended ethnic quotas and prioritized family reunification, ushered in new demographics. And the changes have only accelerated in recent years.

For many years, Mexico was the single largest contributor of immigrants. But since 2010, the number of immigrants arriving from Mexico has declined, while those from China and India have surged. Since 2010, the increase in the number of people from Asia — 2.6 million — was more than double the 1.2 million who came from Latin America, Mr. Frey found.

The foreign-born population stood at 13.7 percent in 2017, or 44.5 million people, compared with 13.5 percent in 2016.

Some of the largest gains were in states with the smallest immigrant populations, suggesting that immigrants were spreading out in the country. New York and California, states with large immigrant populations, both had increases of less than six percent since 2010. But foreign-born populations rose by 20 percent in Tennessee, 13 percent in Ohio, 12 percent in South Carolina and 20 percent in Kentucky over the same period.

Emmanuel D’Souza, a nurse practitioner in Dayton, Ohio, who emigrated from India in 2004, said he has noticed a growing and thriving Indian population in his area.

“Now when you go to the grocery store at 5 or 6 in the evening, you see a lot of Indian people, buying vegetables after work,” said Mr. D’Souza.

He said he saw fewer Indian people when he bought his house in 2009 than he does today. Now he counted at least four temples and two mosques, and said there are two Indian specialty grocery stores. Mr. D’Souza, 41, who is Catholic, also sees Indians in church on Sundays.

The data also suggests a political pattern among states with large percentages of foreign-born residents. Of the 15 states with the highest concentration of immigrants, all but three — Florida, Texas and Arizona — voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. Many of the states with low and moderate concentrations of foreign-born people voted for Mr. Trump, Mr. Frey found.

In those low-concentration states, foreign-born populations tended to be more educated than the native-born. In Ohio, for example, 43 percent of the foreign-born population is college educated, compared with just 27 percent of American-born Ohioans. About 43 percent of the foreign-born population is from Asia, far more than the 20 percent from Latin America.

The same can be true in states with large immigrant populations. About 15 percent of the population of Maryland last year was foreign-born. Of those people, 42 percent had college degrees, compared with 39 percent of American-born Marylanders.

Chao Wu, a data scientist in Columbia, Maryland, who came from China in 2003, said he had long known about Asian graduate students in the United States, because he had been one. But it wasn’t until he started running for a seat on his county’s board of education that he noticed the richness and variation in the population.

“I increased my outreach and I realized there was a big Asian-American business community, with restaurants and grocery stores,” he said. He said he recently helped organize a ceremony in his town with a sister city in China. A portion of Route 40 was renamed Korean Way.

But the rising levels of education are not lifting everyone. Asian-Americans are now the most economically divided racial or ethnic group in the country, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. Income inequality among Asian-Americans nearly doubled from 1970 to 2016.

While people from Asia make up the largest share of recent newcomers, a majority of the country’s total foreign-born population is still from Latin America — 50 percent, compared to 31 percent from Asia.

North Dakota had the single largest percentage increase in foreign-born residents since 2010, Mr. Frey said, with the number going up by 87 percent. Dr. Fadel E. Nammour, a gastroenterologist in Fargo, N.D., who moved to the United States from Lebanon in 1996, said he has noticed more immigrant-owned restaurants since he moved to North Dakota in 2002. In recent years, the state has settled refugees from countries including Iraq, Somalia and Congo. In all, foreign-born people in North Dakota rose to 31,000 in 2017 from just 16,600 in 2010, Mr. Frey found.

“There is more diversity now,” Dr. Nammour said. “You can tell by food. There are Indian places that opened up. We have an African place now. Little things that are a little bit different.”

Source: Immigrants, Many from Asia, Reach Highest Share of U.S. Population Since 1910Immigrants, Many from Asia, Reach Highest Share of U.S. Population Since 1910The Census Bureau’s figures for 2017 confirm a major shift in who is coming to the United States.The new arrivals are more likely to come from Asia and to have college degrees than those who arrived in past decades.

In An Era Of Colorlines, Are East Asians ‘Brown’? : NPR

Interesting discussion on “yellow” vs “brown” identities:

It’s time for another Ask Code Switch. This week, we’re getting into the gray area between yellow and brown.

Amy Tran, from Minneapolis, asks:

Can light-skinned Asians (East Asian) call themselves “brown”? I am East Asian, and have a friend who is South Asian. She is much darker than me, and told me that because of my skin color, I cannot identify as brown. I acknowledge that even though I am not technically brown, I do face similar challenges that people under the “brown” umbrella face – gentrification, unfair labor conditions, xenophobia, not to mention micro-aggressions and stereotypes, etc. – and that to exclude me from this “group” is excluding all light-skinned Asians from the oppression we face. What’s your take?

Hi Amy,

I think there are actually two different questions — both very important — that we have to parse out here. One of them is about skin color, and the other is about political identity. And in the conversation about who gets to claim the term “brown,” those are very different things.

So, to begin with, let’s get one thing straight — the colors that people use to differentiate people of different races have never really been about skin color. Black, white, brown, yellow, red? Those terms bear little resemblance to the actual spectrum of coloring found in humans, not to mention they create false distinctions between groups of people who have always overlapped.

And, of course, there are plenty of East Asians who have very brown skin, just as there are tons of South Asians who have very light skin. This cuts across racial groups. Some black people have skin the color of a chestnut, and others have skin the color of pink sand. In the U.S., Latinos with all different coloring refer to themselves as brown.

The racial categories we use today were largely the brainchild of eighteenth and nineteenth century European “racialist anthropologists,” who used things like skull measurements and hair texture to divide people into racial groups. For years, many of these anthropologists referred to four races: red, yellow, black and white. Then in 1795, Johann Blumenbach, a German naturalist, wrote about a fifth brown race (the “Malays”,) consisting of Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders.

All that is to say, the way someone identifies racially has never been strictly about physical appearance and always about drawing (arbitrary) lines between groups of people.

So, the idea that you shouldn’t refer to yourself as brown because of your literal skin color, I think, is a bit misguided.

Having said that, Amy, there is a pretty compelling reason not to call yourself brown.

As you’ve rightly pointed out, identifying as “brown” (or black, or white, or yellow) is a political statement. To you, and many others, being brown is about a set of shared experiences, that include things like being subjected to discrimination and stereotyping.

But there’s some important history here, and it goes back to the Yellow Power Movement of the 1960s and ’70s. The Yellow Power Movement was instrumental in fighting for the civil rights of Asian-Americans. But not all Asian-Americans felt represented by the movement. And that’s where the East Asian/”Brown Asian” divide comes in.

The brown Asian movement was a response to the fact that “brown Asians are still really forgotten and marginalized within the Asian American umbrella, to this day,” says E.J.R. David. He’s a professor at the University of Alaska, Anchorage who studies the mental health consequences of colonialism. He also wrote Brown Skin, White Minds, a book about the psychological experiences of Filipino Americans.

David says that when people in the United States talk about Asian-Americans, they’re almost always referring to people of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean descent. But today, those groups only make up about half of all Asian-Americans. And those East Asians, David says, have different educational outcomes, income levels, immigration histories, health outcomes, access to resources and refugee status than brown Asians. (Brown Asians include Filipinos and South Asians, David has written.)

So while there certainly may be similarities between the experiences of East Asians and other Asian Americans, David says that the term brown Asians is meant to differentiate people who have felt invisible. It makes sense, he says, that some people might be offended if the term is taken on by someone of East Asian descent.

“To me, there are terms that only, because of the history of it, and because of the current reality of our situation, I think are best reserved for some people to be able to use, especially if they’re using it for their own empowerment, and for their own group’s empowerment,” David says. And for those people who are not part of it, he adds, “We cannot appropriate that if it’s not ours.”

via In An Era Of Colorlines, Are East Asians ‘Brown’? : Code Switch : NPR