Unbeknownst to many is the intriguing tale of how one man flew to Hong Kong on a chance opportunity, moving from banking, to the pre-trendy Lomography company, to the founding of his own concept store; KAPOK – Hong Kong’s top pick for Scandinavian and French products.
Quietly tucked away behind a unexpected square garden in busy Hong Kong, is the Kapok Sun Street store, which HausMag had the pleasure to visit. Here, you’ll be welcomed in to a slower, relaxed pace, contrasting to the hustle and bustle of Asia’s financial hub. Arnault Castel first founded Kapok in 2006, after realising he himself could rarely find products that aligned with his philosophies and aesthetics. The aim – to bring Asia the “future classics”. Quality pieces, modern in design but true to natural materials or production.
The Sun Street store was warm and inviting. Mainly wooden shelving and carefully intentional haphazard placing gives the store a homely feel. The HausMag team was welcomed and discovered the kind humility of the Kapok team, as well as Arnault’s sense of humour. Browsing leisurely, customers will find an array of categories; from clothing, jewellery, watches, accessories, candles, stationary – all in the Kapok style. Of which, can be described as carefully curated, both new and rustic, and authentic design.
“Welcomed. I just want them to feel really at ease, and comfortable. And a bit surprised! Some stores, they look nice, but they’re intimidating – I want people to have this feeling that they can touch the products, asks questions.”
Arnault Castel, 2016
Founder Arnault Castel grew up in the south of France, and studied in Paris. The life changing move to Asia came to fruition when cornered with the duty to enlist into the military – a norm of the time. Not wanting this for his life, Arnault had the opportunity to work overseas, and chose Hong Kong on a wanderlust whim. Four years of banking, five years at Lomography (and helping them launch their Asia branch) later – retail was on his mind: “Every time I go travelling, I try to find a cool store, not just fashion, like anything. I just realised, I never shop in Hong Kong. What I enjoy in shopping is discovering, and finding unique things. And here, it was just not happening. It was just… the malls, luxury brands, mass brands.” Kapok was created on the foundations of this idea, although Arnault jokingly mentions how of course he himself escapes the humidity of Hong Kong via malls as every one does.
The first Kapok store opened in Tin Hau; a mix of residential and industrial building area of Hong Kong. The concept store lends it’s name to its roots – in figurative and literal sense. A kapok tree stood in front of the Tin Hau store; inspiring Arnault. Speaking to HausMag, he said that “the tree, also matches my taste – I don’t like everything very high tech- plastic. I like wood, metal, ceramic. More organic. It really matches.” Arnault joked how he wanted to make a Kapok brand candle scent, however his plans felled short upon discovering how awful the kapok tree smell was.
After 2 years at the Tin Hau store, redevelopment firms forced Kapok to move. However since then, Kapok has enjoyed the expansion of eight stores, three of which are in Singapore. Just this July, Kapok launched it’s in house brand after ten years of business. “Future Classics” is a clothing line for the minimalist, the Scandinavian in us all. Speaking about how this project came about, Arnault said; “Our customers love it [the Scandinavian/ French style]. But the lifestyles are so different. The fitting will not work, or the fabric – you know, I like it but I’m gonna die because its so heavy – it’s a very hectic life over here. So we wanted it to have the same feeling – clean, nice, every day clothes, but then with everything is done for the Hong Kong life.”
A concept store is the alliance of so many different elements, from the right products, to the design of the store, to create a blissful, retail experience. At Kapok, you will find an orchestra of lifestyle products to your liking, in the cosy, polished wood, organic cotton aesthetic. Arnault owes much of the harmony down to the Kapok team:
“90% comes down to the people who work in the shop. They are the people who will really create the mood. Not just by hard selling, but playing nice music, and knowing some things.”
With special thanks to Arnault Castel for his artistic insight and personal comments. Many thanks for Sook Tan for her hospitality.
Kapok is presenting much-loved Hong Kong brand MISCHA in their pop-up event next week, Tuesday 15th November, 4pm – 6pm, at the PMQ store: Visit at Former Hollywood Road Police Married Quarters, 35 Aberdeen St, Central