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Beauty in the mundane: Hong Kong's zakka shops
The owners of Hong Kong's most popular zakka shops tell us about finding meaning in the most ordinary, cute, kitsch, retro objects
Zakka means "various things" in Japanese and it refers to an attitude in life where one tries to find beauty in the mundane. Part of the philosophy of zakka is an aesthetic sensibility towards kitsch, retro, cute objects that are also full of hidden meaning for the owner.
Hong Kong has a handful of popular zakka stores striving to bring freshness and curiosity to the city.
Mary Cheung (left) and Billie Ng from La Belle Epoque
La Belle Époque sells handmade crafts and is also a hub for Hong Kong's crafts community, dispensing news about upcoming crafts events.
Ng: Something that seems unpractical but is much needed as it brings us joy. It is not expensive but whenever you see it, you can be happy for the whole day.
Cheung: It is the dessert for life.
Ng: A middle-aged man joined our handicraft workshop one day for his seventh wedding anniversary with his wife. He quit his high-paying job and started his own business so he could no longer spend as much and decided to make his own gift. A few days later, the couple visited the store with a hand-made ring proudly crowned on the wife's finger. I was very touched.
When I make a sale...
Cheung: Sometimes you will see the customers coming back with our work. It is good to know how the sold item is doing. They are like your puppies or children.
La Bell Epoque is...
Ng: Uniqueness. They buy zakka hoping they would be special, and they truly are.
La Belle Époque, G/F, 62 Tung Lo Wan Road, Tai Hang, tel +852 6301 8893, belle-epoque-hk.blogspot.com
Arnault Castel from Kapok
Kapok in Wanchai collects high-end, luxurious zakka items.
It brings surprises with personal style. It must be attractive to make me think, "I must have it." Besides, I will also talk to the makers rather than just looking at the product to see what will make them happy.
When we were going to throw a launch party for this store, I was so worried that no one would come. And on that night, the store was full and the people had to stand on the street outside the store. I was very happy that night.
When I make a sale...
Sometimes I secretly think, "If this item is not popular in store, I'll keep one for myself." Then, the items are sold out usually. Then I am a bit… (makes a sad face). But mostly I am happy that people like my things.
Playful and full of surprises. After a tough day, when you come to this store, the things will make you happy. It is like a gift store, but for yourself.
Kapok, G/F, 5 St Francis Yard, Wanchai, tel +852 2549 9254, www.ka-pok.com
Ruby Leung from Gallery de Vie
A mulit-functional fish tank sitting in the middle of her store filled with moody fish, is former fashion buyer Ruby Leung's favorite item in the store. Apt, as Leung gives off a feeling of being very relaxed and dreamy, perhaps like someone who has been staring at a fish tanks all day.
Not a necessity, but it is fun. It should also be special; you cannot find it elsewhere.
Besides celebrities, there are some very fashionable elder customers who always amazed me with their choice.
Gallery de Vie is...
I would use the word "fresh" to describe the shop and the shopper would find it fun, unique and be curious when shopping here.
Gallery De Vie, G/F, 45 Gough Street, Central, tel +852 28511848, www.gallerydevie.com
Pan Tang from OutofStock
Not just about fun and pretty, but also functional and useful. It makes your daily life fun and special by emphasizing on the details of life. Zakka is not very popular among Hong Kong people yet. Most of the people invest more on fashion rather than home decoration. I hope there will be more and more people that understand the importance of little details at home and life.
There was a young man who is a big fan of Red-A products (commonly known for its red water buckets) and he has collected almost everything that they have produced. And do you know that Red-A also produces furnitures besides water buckets? I am very impressed about his passion and threw an exhibition for him once. We became friends and when I visited his home the first time, I was shocked by the size of his collection.
Outofstock Design House Ltd., G/F, Shop B, No. 12, On Wo Lane, Central, tel +852 2369 6008, www.outofstock.com.hk
Boris Wong from Bunkaya Zakkaten
Not every zakka shopkeeper starts as a zakka lover. Bunkaya Zakkaten modestly means cultural and variety store, and is a big hit in Japan as a place to get all sorts of knickknacks. The Hong Kong store's shopkeeper, Boris Wong, was never a zakka fan before heading the store. Wong used to be an electric technician.
Zakka can be anything and can satisfy the needs of every customer. A good zakka should be unique enough to make an impression. It inspires us to ask questions.
The change from an electric technician to a zakka shopkeeper was a big one. My work used to be very technical so I didn't know how to deal with the customers at first. My horizons have widened from meeting different people and bonding with some customers.
Zakka is occupying every inch, from floor to ceiling, of the shop. It is where the fun is, to explore and find your own treasures within this mess and then, you feel like, "I did it! I found it!" You can walk around the store three times and still be able to discover something new. It is fun.
Bunkaya Zakkaten (HK), G/F, 18 Hamilton Street, Mongkok, tel +852 2332 3145