Hello Kitty is a global marketing phenomenon with the famous Japanese character appearing on more than 50,000 products in more than 70 countries. The brand reportedly is worth $7 billion.

The character, a human girl who looks like a cat, originally was designed to appeal to kindergartners in Japan, but the fan base has expanded far beyond them. Included among the most devoted collectors of Hello Kitty merchandise is a local 31-year-old academic.

“It brings me so much joy,” said Keith Nishida, an assistant professor in fashion marketing at Burbank’s Woodbury University, who seeks out rare Hello Kitty items and connects with fellow fans worldwide. Nishida was the key consultant for the recent Hello Kitty exhibit at Seattle’s EMP Museum that originated from the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.

He says there are business lessons to be learned from the 41-year-old, red bow-wearing feline girl and the Japanese firm that holds the copyright to it, Sanrio Co. Ltd.

“They’ve done a fabulous job of being able to acquire new customers while catering to the needs of the current market,” he said. “Teens who grew up with Hello Kitty are now in their 30s and 40s, and while their needs have changed, there’s still products on which to spend their money.”

Earlier this year, the Japanese museum held a special exhibition devoted to the history and influence of the character, whose famous fans include Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, and whose image can be found on everything from guitars to underwear.

– Olga Grigoryants

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