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My Hong Kong Story: Arnault Castel

By Arnault Castel, Founder, kapokfor HongKongEcho #100.

Photography by Peter Parks and Anthony Wallace (Agence France-Presse)


“To be successful in retail, you just have to remember three rules: location, location, and location.” I could still remember my teacher’s voice while I was waiting for the first customer to step into my store. It was almost 8pm and time to close for the day.

A few weeks earlier, I had suddenly decided to open this small select store in a dead-end street in the residential district of Tin Hau, amongst a bunch of garages. A decision out of pure impulse. It was 2006 – I had just started a distribution business for the Italian notebook brand Moleskine and I was looking for a showroom.

One of my friends had recommended this location. I loved the quiet feeling, the big windows, and the beautiful banyan tree right in front of the shop. The space was far too big for just a showroom and an office for my assistant and myself, so I made up my mind: I will open a store!


Photography by Peter Parks and Anthony Wallace (Agence France-Presse)


My friend helped me with the store decoration, clean and minimal, based on our tastes and also the equally minimal budget. I had a good feeling about the store, it really gave me a similar vibe to a few of my favourite stores I had stumbled upon during my trips to Paris and Tokyo.

Once the excitement of the opening party had passed, there I was, desperately waiting for customers during those very long days. I was really starting to doubt myself and my rash idea to open a store without any kind of retail background.

After a few days spent whining, I tried to focus on the few positive aspects of my supposedly horrible location. The rent was dirt cheap, the location was a welcome escape from the normal hectic retail environments of Hong Kong, and I actually had space.

It also turned out that those neighbourhood garages were servicing some pretty fancy cars with owners who had time to kill while they waited. I set up my coffee machine and those people became some of my first customers.


If I go over my Hong Kong story, I can see that it comes back to luck.”


Then, because we had the room to do so, my artist friends started organising shows in the shop. The first exhibition was a really amazing show organised by my friends Samantha and Adrian. On the opening night people were overflowing into the empty street like a block party. It was the first time I felt I was doing the right thing with the store.

This was the first of many events which became synonymous with kapok and which really put us on the ‘cool map’. I learned to make the most of that strange location and, in the end, people got a kind of satisfaction from going somewhere a little out of the way.

Everything seemed to go well and kapok in Tin Hau was slowly starting to get better and better. Until I picked up an envelope under my door one morning. I opened it without paying attention until I found a notice asking me to leave the location within a month. The beautiful walk-up building I had grown to love was going to be demolished soon…

Some time has passed since then, and yes, we found a new location – several in fact! But if I go over my Hong Kong story, I can see that it comes back to luck, and I feel lucky to have found a profession I enjoy and a city to live in that I enjoy also. Just like the garage clients becoming my first customers over a cup of coffee as they waited or my friend recommending the location for my first shop – a lot of it was unplanned. Even my original decision to come to Hong Kong in the first place was something in the spur of the moment.

Ultimately, I feel lucky to be where I am today.