In the occasion of the opening of its 5th store in Hong Kong, and the largest on Kowloon side, Retail in Asia met Arnault Castel, founder of kapok, the lifestyle shopping destination in Hong Kong and Singapore.
RiA : What are the specific design features for kapok store in K11?
Arnault : Kapok stores in HK are usually small, on the first floor, and organized as a treasure hunt discovery, where people can enjoy their customer journey through different categories: apparel, accessories, home, some food. I wanted to do something very different.
Our stores are so full that when we get special projects, we just have no space. Since, we have also another store in K11, for this new location, brands will rotate more often and we will host special collaborations with our brands. In this way, each brand will get more space, so a selection of 4/5 brands will have a deep encounter with the consumers.
The brands for this store will have their own universe, and one of the criteria to be here is also having a very strong brand and retail concept. The design of the store is indeed thought as a blank canvas to leave brands the opportunity to have their branded corner.
This retail space will work as a flag tag area for the brands. Rivieras, for example, a French loafer brand, very creative, very fun, and with a very strong brand concept just opened its branded corner, for example.
I want to make this retail space an exciting place where to walk around and have fun with the brands. Our customers visit our stores very often because they know every week we will have something new.
In May, because of the French May, we particularly focus on French brands to push the Made in France in Hong Kong, and we are part of a bigger French event that gives us visibility. Our store is at the end more of an exhibition space, an art gallery.
I have been running kapok for 12 years, and me, myself, I need something new and refreshing from time to time.
RiA : Why did you choose K11 for this store, since you have a store in the same mall already?
Arnault : We usually prefer to be consistent and two stores in the same location is nothing new for us. We have two in Wan Chai. Our stores are different and showcase different brands so it is not repetitive to visit us in both locations.
Actually, I always prefer general street shops, even if it is sometimes difficult, but I still feel that you have a little bit more character, and maybe it is my Europe side that prefers shopping on the street. So, I was looking for space at TST, and it is more difficult, I didn’t find the street that has this character and sometimes neighborhood in shop can be very touchy. K11 makes the difference. I had other experiences with malls, but it has never worked it out and I had to close the stores.
RiA : Anything specific related to the art concept which characterizes K11?
Arnault : The first kapok store was in this mall, so I was part of the first round of tenants. The beginning was not easy here, because everything was new. It was quiet and it matched with our concept.
We often choose locations that enable our customers to walk around and enjoy their shopping experience. When something works, I do not want to change it, I was really running out of space in the first store as it is the smallest I have in HK, and here it is the second one to support.
I think at kapok we have a certain niche, a certain group of customers, and we do not need a shop in each shopping mall in HK.
We have a kapok in PMQ, more focused on Hong Kong brands and a bit more touristic. In HK Island we also have two stores in wan Chai, and now two on Kowloon side.
RiA : As you are running a multibrand concept, can you share with our readers how do you choose you brands?
Arnault : Our mission is to scout young and small brands. This is why we created the first store. We wanted to offer customers the opportunity to find what the big players ignore. Our brands are not luxury, they are lifestyle brands with a strong fashion component.
They all follow the elegant and casual style, which recalls French outfits. On top of that, small brands often do not have the budget to expand in Asia alone and we wanted to catch momentum on the proliferation of those trends. Then the style is really well made, casual, elegant a bit fun, not too serious as well, but not too “fashion-fashion”, not too extravagant. Something you can wear every day, to look good, without being a fashion victim. After that, it is also the fit with the designer of the brand. Sometimes you see one collection and you need to be sure that it is going to work for several, not just for one, and for a long time.
At the same time, we wanted to offer our customers a niche curation of brands that they could not find elsewhere. Among the small ones, of course, there some more established such as Maison Kitsuné, Common Project, they grew with us, they started with us.
After years, we also launched our own line Future Classics. The pillars of this brand is to offer a basic and classic style that can be used for many seasons without never going out of style. The concept behind Future Classics is to fill the gap in the market based on our customers’ requests and adapt designs to fabrics which are more suitable for Asian climate.
RiA : To follow up on Future Classics. How did it start?
Arnault : We started 2 years ago. While going on buying trips, we see what’s missing in the market and our customers are looking for, so we wanted to fill this gap and try to meet their demands.
I think our curation of brands is already unique, French and Scandinavian brands, that we carry have nice design and casual wear. What we have been trying to do with Future Classics is to recreate kapok mood, and focus on fabrics which are suitable for HK and Singapore, where we have our stores and where sometimes is not possible to wear fabrics thought to satisfy Scandinavian customers.
RiA : Since you mentioned the trends, which one do you follow right now, and how long do they last, in your experience?
Arnault : Athleisure is a huge trend, it is not going to stop. Athleisure has gained popularity as people find sportswear comfortable, they have been wearing this style forever, and they love the idea of going to work, and out, while wearing comfortable clothes. However, it does not really suit our concept. We do not have sportswear, we have casual wear. We tried to have a wide range of products in our portfolio, but our customers come to us to look for very specific things. We have more of sporty shoes that you can match with a more elegant outfit to make it more casual.
Another trend is the growing interest for home design. When I started I only had homewear and design objects, but HK people were spending on themselves more than their place, so I changed the merchandise, but now it is coming back.
RiA : How about the concept of the rotation of brands. How often do you usually rotate your brands?
Arnault : How annoying could be going to a multibrand store and find the same curation of brands throughout the season? I would feel bored, and I believe most of my customers as well.
At kapok, for fashion and accessories, every season we would from 20 to 25 of the brands, even though we have also been carrying brands for 12 years, but trying to refresh our store continuously.
Usually, we keep brands that are able to represent a classic and evergreen style. We work with a brand from Denmark, for example, that produces nice canvas and leather bags, it keeps the same style, but it is all about light weight bags. I think this is also something people are striving for: simplicity, comfort, less weight.
People now can have both, easiness and fashion together. For bags, for instance, people look for nice styles, true leather or luxury brands, but others may want to check the weight, how to match with any outfit, how to arrange things inside. People have different concepts of luxury.
Among brands we have been carrying there were brands it was really hard to say bye to. Sometimes, it is hard to tell them, but some other times it is even a brand that HK customers are no longer interested in the brand.
RiA : as you have shops in Hong Kong and Singapore, do you see any relevant difference in terms of taste?
Arnault : I think the climate plays a huge role here.
Singapore weather does not allow so much variety. What would you wear in such a humid place? Shirts, shorts, t-shirts. But, people travel and then we also some jackets and sweaters.
In Singapore, apartments are bigger than in HK, so in our stores you see much more balance between fashion and homewear. Singapore people in general are more pragmatics and their concern is often on material and how to wash it.
Hong Kong customers instead do more research online, so they go to the store, they explore, and then they go home, do research and eventually come back, without engaging much with our staff.
Hong Kong customers are very sophisticated and knowledgeable about fashion, they know what they want. Running a shop in Hong Kong is a little bit of a bet, you need to try and see what it works.
In Paris, it can be even more difficult, people are very fashion-conscious and they dress quite safe. In Asia, people dare more.