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Jimi - Products That Make Sense
Jimi - Products That Make Sense
New York Times Magazine
Consumed: By Rob Walker - 4/16/06  
  Pocket Change An Ideology-infused plastic box sells itself as an anti-, or an extra, wallet.  
Jimi Wallet
Jimi Wallet As a veteran of the marketing business, Mike O'Neill figured that some people would question the slogan he chose to promote the first product he created himself. The product is called the Jimi, and the slogan is "The Wallet for People Who Hate Wallets." And in fact a lot of people even a guy at the factory where Jimis are made suggested to him that it was a bad idea to associate a consumer good with, you know, hatred. But O'Neill stuck with the slogan, because while the Jimi looks like a chipper and cheery little plastic box, it is actually a thing with an ideology and a mission.
   O'Neill, who lives in San Francisco and worked for several advertising agencies in England and the United States before starting his Jimi project, professes to have hated wallets for a long time. He found them ridiculous, and to avoid them he would resort to strategies like keeping his credit cards in a little box meant for a computer video card. "Every third or fourth time I took it out," he says, "people were like, 'That's a great idea."' Although he had no particular experience as an industrial designer, he was a design fan (admiring the products of Apple and the Japanese brand Muji, for instance) and decided that perhaps there were others like him looking for a wallet alternative.
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   This is is where the ideology and mission come into it: the Jimi (which sells for about $16) does not hold as much stuff as a traditional wallet, and that is by intent. It's a bit slimmer than a regular wallet and unfolds to reveal two compartments, one with a money clip, the other to hold credit cards. "Do Not Overload," the instruction sheet warns, "Jimi holds five cards. . .plus three folded bills." And since it's made of hard plastic, you can't simply fatten it up by stuffing more cards and receipts and other things into it, as you can with a normal wallet. Basically, if you want to use a Jimi, you will have to play by Jimi's rules, and that probably means you have to pare down. As O'Neill says, this is a borderline anti-American notion. "It's funny how many people write us and say, 'If I could just get one more card in there.. .
   He was also influenced by "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things," the book by the sustainability advocates William McDonough and Michael Braungart, and thus the Jimi is made of recycled plastic, in a "sweatshop free" factory in Massachusetts, and 1 percent of sales revenue is donated to environmental organizations. The anti-wallet wallet, available in a variety of colors, arrived in 2005, quickly finding its way into boutiques like Flight 001 in New York and the MoMA Design Store and winning praise on blogs like Cool Hunting and TreeHugger, which focuses on hip-looking, ecofriendly products. There are now about 30,000 Jimis in circulation.
   But an interesting thing happened to the Jimi as it took its mission into the marketplace. About a month after its debut, O'Neill heard from Outside magazine, which included the Jimi in a feature on handy outdoor gizmos. Since it was designed to be durable and water-resistant and could be attached to a lanyard, the Jimi made sense as a sports wallet useful while cycling or skiing or other great-outdoors activities. Suddenly, O'Neill remarks, Jimi was a "lightweight tool." There's a certain logic to this: it's hard to imagine masses of American consumers willing to cut up enough credit cards to comply with Jimi's demands as a full-on wallet replacement, but it's easy to imagine lots of people deciding that they can get by with only a few cards while snowboarding. Jimi had met the consumer with a message of paring down, and the consumer had said, "Yeah, I'll take one of those."
   This sounds like an ideological defeat, but O'Neill says that he regularly hears anecdotes about people who started out using the Jimi as an extra wallet and eventually became full converts they have "crossed over," as he puts it. Besides, even if the product is selling to some people who don't actually hate wallets, it is also selling better than he expected it to. Which is, of course, another part of the Jimi's mission.