“Kirei”: In Japanese culture, the word is used to describe something that is clean, well-ordered and beautiful, all at the same time. With its MyKirei personal care brand, Japan-based Kao Corp. is bringing to life its ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) strategy, the Kirei Lifestyle Plan, which includes commitments to make everyday life more beautiful, make thoughtful choices for society, and make the world cleaner.
MyKirei was introduced in 2019 and joins the company’s more well-known U.S. brands such as Ban, Bioré, Curél, Jergens, and John Frieda. MyKirei includes hair and body care products that are plant-based, biodegradable, and vegan-friendly. Driven by Kao’s ESG strategy, the brand is also the center of innovation for new sustainable packaging. In launching its first line of products—shampoo, conditioner, and hand wash—the company debuted the AIR bottle, a flexible, yet rigid package that dispenses three times more product and uses 50% less plastic than a rigid-plastic pump bottle.
With its subsequent product introductions, Kao has continued that innovation with two more thoughtfully designed packaging platforms: the Bottle for Life for hand and body wash products and the Eco-Pouch and Eco-Holder system for lotion. And, the innovation doesn’t only involve the sustainability of the packaging, but the aesthetics and functionality, as well.
Cleanliness with simplicity and fun
Given consumers’ amplified focus on creating cleaner and healthier environments for themselves in 2020, the second line of products launched by the MyKirei brand was its Yuzu Flower Foam Hand Wash and its Pampering Yuzu Foam Body Wash in April 2020, both in the Bottle for Life refillable, reusable bottle. For these products, both the formula and the packaging embody beauty, sustainability, innovation, functionality, and cleanliness, with a new delivery system for the hand wash that adds a touch of fun to what the company says is “now one of the most important self-care tasks of the day.”
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The formulas for the “richly-textured” hand wash and the “cloud-cream” body wash foam include rice water and the citrus yuzu fruit and follow the Japanese tradition of avoiding harsh cleansers for the skin and environment by eliminating parabens, phthalates, mineral oils, and dyes. The products’ advanced foam technology requires no water to lather and rinses cleanly and completely.
According to the company, the foaming body wash is inspired by the centuries-old tradition of bathing in yuzu fruit, an annual ritual that symbolizes and promotes cleanliness and good health for the year ahead.
The packaging system, designed internally by Kao in Tokyo, is intended to promote cleanliness as well—of the environment, in this case. The softly shaped, high-density polyethylene bottle, in an 8.5-oz size for the hand wash and in a 20.3-oz size for the body wash, was designed to be reused up to 100 times and is paired with a durable, reusable, one-hand pump dispenser. Refills are packaged in a 6.8- and a 16.3-oz flexible standup pouch, for the hand wash and body wash, respectively, that reduces plastic by more than 85% versus rigid packaging.
The refill pouch is advertised on the back panel as being “100% recyclable,” with an asterisk pointing consumers to the website of upcycler TerraCycle. From the site, consumers can download a prepaid shipping label from TerraCycle (linked through the Kao website) that they can use to ship the used packaging.
For the bottle structure, Marissa Vallillo, Brand Director at Kao USA, says designers opted for clean and simple shapes that fit with the MyKirei proposition. The hand wash bottle is more rounded, with a curved ridge feature along the top left side of the bottle. The container for the body wash has a more elongated, oblong shape. The bottles are both decorated with full-body shrink labels made from oriented polystyrene that are gravure-printed in five colors and offer a soft-touch feel with their matte surface.
According to Vallillo, the bottle and pump were also designed very deliberately to accommodate ease of use by children, the elderly, and the differently abled. “During a time when hand washing became so important, we wanted to make sure we were creating something that was accessible to all different groups of people,” she says. “At Kao, one of our brand standards is to create products that are accessible to all people, and we honor this commitment with each innovation.”
As mentioned, the pump for the hand wash also offers an extra surprise. Two dispenser designs, the Yuzu Flower and the Paw Print (launched in July 2021), dispense the foam product in the shape of the Japanese flower or of a dog’s paw print, the latter style created to delight younger consumers. Shares Vallillo, “We wanted to create shapes that would excite everyone and turn a mundane task into a fun experience.”
For the proprietary new dispensers, instead of using the traditional pump shape, with the dispenser pointing downward, the Yuzu Flower and Paw Print dispensers comprise a half circle that faces upward. When the consumer turns the bottle upside down and presses the dispenser against their hand, the product is pushed through a cutout design inside the pump that creates the desired foam shape.
Explains Vallillo of the design process for the pump, “We had clear objectives of what we wanted to achieve from a utility perspective and creating a moment of joy in the experience, so we had to keep working until we achieved these goals. It was important for the function of the pump to be for one-handed usage and easy to press down to create a favored shape.” She adds that one of the challenges was getting the shapes perfect with the pump design and the formula. “Both had to be adjusted to develop the perfect product,” she says.
The Yuzu Flower Foam Hand Wash and Pampering Yuzu Foam Body Wash products are available on the MyKirei website and on Amazon.com. Prices are $18 for the hand wash and body wash in the Bottle for Life; refills in the flexible pouch are $12.50 apiece.
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Says Vallillo, “We are seeing very strong sales with our refills, and many of our repeat consumers are now just buying the refills. They are less expensive, and they do an excellent job in cutting back on plastic.”
She adds that the hand wash, with its flower and paw-print pump dispensers, are also being very well received. “The Yuzu Flower Foam Hand Wash is constantly being sold out, and we’re seeing some great traction with the Paw Print Hand Wash.”
Decorative lotion holder taps into Japanese culture
With its next product, on shelves in October 2021, MyKirei took the reusable/refillable concept to another level of counter-worthiness. The packaging system is for its new Soothing Peony Milky Lotion and comprises the Eco-Holder decorative holder and the Eco-Pouch, a flexible film pouch that holds the product and is inserted into the holder for dispensing. Together, the company claims, the holder and refill help reduce plastic by 75% versus a traditional rigid lotion package.
Like the Bottle for Life, the Eco-Holder and Eco-Pouch were also developed internally in Tokyo by Kao engineers. Says Vallillo, “Our goal was to launch this new Soothing Peony Milky Lotion in very sustainable packaging that reduces the world’s plastic footprint and makes the world more kirei. Many traditional lotions are packaged in large, single-use bottles that contribute to a lot of plastic waste. Knowing that lotions were not as refillable, we designed the Eco-Pouch refill into an Eco-Holder.”
The Eco-Holder is a tall, slender, cylindrical container made from virgin polypropylene that is designed to hold a 11.5-oz flexible pouch refill. The holder is available in two designs, decorated with traditional Japanese artwork by artists Shiori Kiuchi and Kouta Matsumoto. Bottle colors and graphic designs were done by Yusuke Taguchi.
“We wanted to show how sustainability can be beautiful by creating authentic, custom Japanese prints on the eco bottle that can be transferred from refill to refill, until eternity,” says Vallillo. “The beauty of the Eco-Pouch and Holder is that you can use this package in multiple rooms in the house, whether that be at your kitchen counter, bathroom, or bedside table. In all locations, the designs look amazing, and you are significantly reducing plastic versus a big plastic lotion bottle.”
The Eco-Holder has an opening at the back where the refill, once uncapped, is clipped into the neck of the holder, and a reusable pump dispenser (sold with the pouch) is screwed into the neck of the refill pouch. When the pouch is empty, the consumer can recycle it through TerraCycle, with the same system that’s in place for the body and hand wash refill pouches.
The Eco-Holder and the Eco-Pouch for the MyKirei Soothing Peony Milky Lotion are also available on the MyKirei site and on Amazon.com. The reusable, decorative holders are sold for $18 apiece, and the refill pouch is $14.
Among the customer reviews found on the MyKirei site are a number that praise both the product and the packaging. For example, says one consumer in a review titled, “Simple. Pleasant. Peaceful.” “I like the Kirei Lifestyle philosophy. In a world of chaos, I always say, ‘Keep it simple.’ Aside from that, I love the product. What a nice way to invoke the beauty of the world with a product.” Says another, “I’ve never seen such thought go into its product and packaging. MyKirei goes the whole 9 yards to ensure sustainability. Love the holder for the refill pouch. So easy to pop on and off.”
Comments like this confirm MyKirei is accomplishing its goal of fulfilling its ESG strategy with this new brand. “MyKirei was launched to embody the Kirei Lifestyle plan that Kao promotes,” says Vallillo. “All elements of the brand are to make life more beautiful, whether that be the amazing formulas and formats or the packaging that will leave a safer footprint. Established brands can also utilize some of these packaging innovation to make the world more kirei.”