Meet Miffy and Marja Kerkhof

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Talk about honoured! Today I spoke to Marja Kerkhof, managing director of Mercis, publisher of Miffy!

Marja lives in Utrecht having moved here to study when she was nineteen and travels to Amsterdam to work. She has spent over 20 years with Mercis, but knew Dick Bruna for over forty years. Indeed, at University in Utrecht she was in the same class as his eldest son.

Miffy she feels “…is part of Dutch heritage.” It is iconic and even today still seems original. The books are square and small, the artwork bright, bold and colourful.

In Utrecht you can’t escape Miffy. There are statues, the Museum and the Dick Bruna studio and she feels that Utrechters are proud of her. But she doesn’t just belong to Utrecht. Miffy travels the world, particularly it seems to Asia, where she is incredibly popular.

Marja regularly travels to Japan on business and Miffy has been popular there for over fifty years. There is a very strong relationship with Japan, indeed Marjas favourite city in the world is Tokyo where she feels at home and gets a great deal of inspiration from.

Marjas favourite city in the world is Tokyo where she feels at home and gets a great deal of inspiration from.

Coming home to Utrecht after her travels means she is returning to her haven, a quiet, pleasant place where her friends and family are. She sees Utrecht as “… an historic no-nonsense city.” Where things are said in a straightforward manner and everyone knows where they stand. A typical Dutch city in other words, but still “special” to her.

Her favourite place in Utrecht is Pieterskerkhof, to her “… a beautiful, silent place.” That though in the centre of the city, very few people know about or visit.

Miffy continues to be popular because of the understated way she is promoted. There is none of the brash marketeering we see with so many other brands that flare up in popularity and then disappear. Miffy has been taken care of and everything produced by Mercis has to follow the Dick Bruna philosophy. For example, “…all toys must facilitate and enhance play and must not elicit any violence.”

They monitor the quality of all illustrations that are reproduced, as well as the quality of the products themselves. All designs must be approved before they are taken into production. This attention to care and detail make Miffy what she is and the public can see this in the end product.

Marja told me that this lack of hype promotes the idea of Miffy as a “…slow builder.” And is what helps her popularity.

She sees the legacy of Dick Bruna as on-going. It crosses all countries as it is made for little children and then remains with them for life. As I told Marja all my book marks are Dick Bruna postcards! His work is with me every day and I think this is the same for many “grown-ups” and is what makes him special.

The Mercis web site tells us, “We know that Dick Bruna’s work is based on respect for the world of the child. They acknowledge that every child sees the world in a unique way. Mercis aims to encourage and support this unique perspective on the world. They have several guiding principles: no aggression, reliable quality, timelessness and no controversy. Their mission is to encourage children to develop and value their own identity and to express themselves in their own way. Miffy and her friends encourage children to do just this and help them to express what they see, hear, feel and experience. Above all, they uphold Dick Bruna’s principle of allowing scope for every child’s own imagination.”

A mission statement with high standards indeed, but one adhered to throughout the Miffy world.

As Marja says, it is because Miffy appears in “…nice, day to day stories that could happen to them.” That children love her so much.

Dick Bruna according to Marja, “… builds pictures that are not over the top and are simple.”

It is the simplicity that makes Miffy perfect, for all ages.

Thank you Marja for this wonderful story and we wish you the very best with your future ventures.

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Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.

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