After 40 years of hard work, Japan’s precious Hello Kitty character (affectionately known as Kitty-chan in Japan), has brought Japanese “kawaii” to all corners of the globe. It hasn’t been all fun and games for her though; she has had to work really hard to keep her parent company, Sanrio, afloat.

But now, thanks to Kitty-chan’s popularity overseas and her success branching into other markets, Sanrio isn’t just floating, it’s positively surfing on waves of international profit.

Way back in 1974, Hello Kitty was introduced on a vinyl coin purse. Originally, Kitty-chan and her Sanrio friends such as Little Twin Stars, My Melody, and more recently Jewelpets, were aimed at elementary school-aged Japanese girls. For years it remained so, as the characters were only popular as kids’ toys and accessories.

In 2009, Sanrio found itself in a predicament of dropping sales, slipping further and further into debt. That is, until Hello Kitty really blossomed abroad. Previously, Sanrio products were not very popular and still stuck in the pre-adolescent scene, but in the last five years the company has seen an extreme spike in overseas licensing, most notably in the US, with recent figures showing that 90% of profit is made from licensing products outside Japan.

A lot of this new money is coming from apparel, in part thanks to American idols such as Lady Gaga, Avril Lavigne, and Ariana Grande who feature Hello Kitty in photos, songs and music videos. Fashion labels such as Diesel and Forever 21 have also helped grow the trend releasing Hello Kitty lines in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

▼ Forever 21 brings Hello Kitty to adult apparel.


Opening the door to the apparel world also opened the door to whole new demographics: all ages of women (and some men). Hello Kitty isn’t just a thing for little girls anymore; she’s a teenager thing, a young mother thing, even a professional woman thing now. While smaller, there is even a market in menswear for our feline friend.

▼Kitty-chan fits right in on this trendy men’s shirt.


While clothes make a huge difference in the profits, Kitty-chan is not limited to apparel or toys. Remember that hard work I mentioned before? She’s been on airplanes, food, and even has three theme parks (two in Japan, one in China) and international cafes dedicated to her.

Part of Kitty’s magic is that she is adaptable and doesn’t necessary have one set form like many other popular characters; she can be dressed as a member of KISS one minute, then when you turn around she’ll be in a teddy bear outfit. She can be cute as a princess, or tough as a skull and bones; Kitty’s options are limited only by the world around her.

▼One minute she’s a cute teddy bear…


▼..and then Steve Jobs.


Hello Kitty has turned from a cutesy little girls’ character to an international powerhouse accepted by all ages and genders. Only time will tell what lies ahead for her, but personally, I wouldn’t mind if some of her cute friends made it into the international spotlight as well.

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Source: JinASCII
Top Image: Hello Kitty Junkie
Insert Images: Forever 21, moomoo, Facebook (Hello Kitty)