To keep 40-year-old Hello Kitty hip and cool, Sanrio has announced a few tricks up its pretty pink sleeve. Next year, the company will launch a brand called Hello Kitty Men, revamp its licensed U.S. stores and introduce a Hello Kitty cafe in Southern California.
The first-ever official Hello Kitty Convention kicked off Thursday, and thousands of fans from all over the globe gathered in downtown Los Angeles during the weekend to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Sanrio’s mega-brand.
“For future growth, we are bringing more experience and entertainment initiatives that will keep the brand evolving,” said Janet Hsu, president and chief operating officer of Sanrio’s North American arm, based in Torrance.
For years, Hello Kitty ruled the charts as Japan’s top-grossing character. She is now third, behind No. 2 Mickey Mouse and No. 1 Anpanman, an anime superhero whose head is a jam-filled bun, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t think this can go on forever,” said Tom Looser, an associate professor of East Asian studies at New York University. “The fact there is nostalgia among fans indicates you are already seeing some of the limits, that she is dated.”
Although the sensationally cute and innocent-looking icon appears to be just for kids, many Hello Kitty fans have grown up with the kittenish character. Adult pop stars Lady Gaga and Katy Perry are purported Hello Kitty fanatics. In anticipation of an audience significantly older than the usual cartoon crowd, activities at Hello Kitty Con 2014 include the opportunity to get a permanent tattoo of the iconic mouthless character who dons a pink bow, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Hello Kitty began life as a coin purse in 1974 in Japan, three decades after World War II when the previously war-ravaged country was on an upswing and children had some money to spend. She quickly moved into the hearts and collections of countless youngsters and grown-ups around the world. In fact, Hello Kitty is licensed to appear on more than 50,000 products in 130 countries and territories. Sanrio’s Hello Kitty and other characters sell $8 billion worth of merchandise per year, Hsu told the Los Angeles Times.
Christine Yano, an American anthropologist whose research focuses on Hello Kitty, said the character’s blankness is partly why the icon is so successful. “People see the possibility of a range of expressions,” Yano told the Los Angeles Times. “You can give her a guitar, you can put her on stage, you can portray her as is. The blankness gives her an appeal to so many types of people.”
Hello Kitty has had her fair share of critics, too. The New Inquiry devoted an entire article -- in addition to inspiring a book written by an anthropologist -- to taking on feminist critiques of the feminized cat with no mouth and, as the argument goes, no voice. The blog Hello Kitty Hell devotes itself to cataloging the profusion of often ridiculous Hello Kitty products, including Hello Kitty braces, which the blogger notes is an ironic product for the mouthless design. And recent revelations Hello Kitty is not actually a cat, but rather a girl from London, sent shock waves through the Twittersphere.