Big in Japan: Hello Kitty goes macho

Easily one of the Japan’s most recognizable cartoon characters, Harō Kiti (Hello Kitty, ハローキティ) is known and loved the world over.

Created in 1974 by Sanrio, the very first Hello Kitty product was a clear vinyl coin purse bearing the face of the smiling feline, which sold for 240 yen or approximately two dollars.

Originally, Hello Kitty was intended to be named ‘Kitty White’ after one of Alice’s cats in the Lewis Carroll classic ‘Through the Looking-Glass.’

At the time, British culture was the height of fashion amongst Japanese girls, and Hello Kitty was never intended to have any appeal beyond the pre-adolescent female market.

Of course, the designers at Sanrio failed to fully appreciate the Japanese obsession with all things cute.

More than thirty years later, graying salarymen think nothing of dangling a hot pint Hello Kitty strap from their cell phone, while middle-aged housewives swear that the Hello Kitty toaster is the best on the market.

(And, truth be told, I’ve been known to rock out some Hello Kitty chopsticks from time to time).

Of course, all of this is about to change as Hello Kitty is getting an image change and going macho.

This week, Sanrio announced that the face of Hello Kitty will soon be stamped on T-shirts, bags, watches and other products targeting young men.

According to a company spokesperson, “Young men these days grew up with character goods. That generation feels no embarrassment about wearing Hello Kitty.”

The for-men products will go on sale in Japan next month, and will likely be sold soon in the United States, Europe and other Asian nations assuming the new line is a success.

So what exactly will the new face of Hello Kitty look like?

The new line of man-focused Hello Kitty products will have a “rugged, cool look” to appeal to men in their teens and early twenties.

One of the first products will be the face of the famous feline on a black T-shirt with the words, “hello kitty”, instead of the usual dots for the eyes and nose.

But, no matter how much Hello Kitty changes over the coming years, one thing is for certain – she’s here to stay.

Today, Hello Kitty is a global trademark that is appeals to virtually all age groups and both sexes. According to estimates, Hello Kitty adorns over 22,000 products worldwide, and earns almost a billion dollars a year in revenue for the Sanrio Company of Japan.

Since 1983, she’s held the position as the US Children’s Ambassador for UNICEF, and has been sported by celebrities as diverse as Mariah Carey, Cameron Diaz and Paris Hilton.

Sanrio stores can be found across the globe, and the face of Hello Kitty adorns everything from clothing and stationary to jewelry and electronics.

Despite her syrupy sweet image, Hello Kitty has even appeared on adult underwear, wedding dresses and even a signature line of sex toys.

Hello Kitty – she’s not just for little girls anymore.