MADE OF STORIES #1 : ARNAULT CASTEL

To open our Made of Stories series, we had a coffee with Arnault Castel, founder of Kapok, a multi brand concept store in Asia.Arnault talks about how quickly kapok started, shares his vision on the importance of retail shops and why he claims February 16th, 2006 as his independence day.

To open our  Made of Stories series, we had a coffee with Arnault Castel, founder of Kapok, a multi brand concept store in Asia.

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Arnault talks about how quickly kapok started, shares his vision on the importance of retail shops and why he claims February 16th, 2006 as his independence day.

kapok shops are located in Hong Kong & Singapore.
www.ka-pok.com

“I have always tend to share my love for the poetry and stories behind each object we sell.”

The date you chose is February 16th, 2006…
It is really hard to choose a date but this one is very special, very important to me. It is when it all started: Kapok.
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How did this all go?
It may be a mix of chance and destiny. 
On one hand, it started randomly: a friend of mine found a place in Tin Hau district — I recall it was a florist at the moment — and asked if I wanted to start a boutique.
 And I said yes. Without second thinking.
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It sounds very impulsive!
It was! Then, it all went very quickly. We went to Thailand to buy furnitures, we painted the walls… and we opened. There were not many products at start, only products I had found and brought back from my trips. It was just hobby at that time, I did not plan it as a full time job.
On the other hand, it may not have been that impulsive. It was a part of me that I just let go. My parents told me that when I was a child, I was constantly talking about opening a shop : first it was a candy shop, then it was a library, then a music shop….each time I had a passion, I wanted to open a shop about it.

“For the shopkeeper, a shop is also a great way to share his passion.
It is not just a business.”

Kids are more dreaming of mastering their passion and becoming a superstar usually…What is so special for you in having a shop?
Shops are exceptional places. When you have always lived in big cities, you may not realise how important they are for the society. But from where I come from , a small city of 6,000 inhabitants, shops are where people meet, chat, share….

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Whether they are libraries, bakeries, groceries… shops structure the city. Indirectly, they force people interactions. They are key social elements. And this is what I love about them .
A shop is also for the shopkeeper a great way to share his passion. It is not just a business.

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Have you always developed kapok in this way – a place where people can meet, share, discover new things?

I have always tend to share my love for the poetry and stories behind each object we sell. This is why there is not much of a guideline for Kapok. It is more about what I like and how I feel at the moment, what i want to share…
Someone who has not come to the shop for a while came back recently and said : “ all is different here , but I can feel it still kapok “.

“It is more about what I like and how I feel at the moment, what I want to share…”

So there is a strong kapok identity. and it is largely based on yours.
Yes. This is why I choose this date: It was the moment when I did not have a job anymore. When I think about dates…for countries, we often talk about the date they become independent. To me, the day I created kapok is my independence day. There was no investor, no bank loans….it was me and my team. That’s it.
 Today, we are still free and independent.
 There has never been a day when I woke up and said to myself : “ I do not want to go today”. I feel super lucky. I always think about kapok. Here and there. It is always here and fully integrated in my private life. It is an extension of myself.

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…and it is now going on for 11 years
It is. And I do not wanna do anything else ! I won’t stop now!

“The most important is that we all remain free and independent.”

As the first concept store to open in HK, do you think Kapok has acted as a source of inspiration, a center of creation, a trendy must-go place ?
I cannot really comment on this but what I am very proud of is to help brands to develop in Hong Kong and Asia. For many brands, I was their first reseller. While Kapok reputation was growing, new doors opened to them too. 
I am super proud of all the brands we carry and have carried at Kapok so far.
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Have you faced downsides in 11 years ?
When you set up a company or shop, you know it is not gonna be a confortable situation all along. You will have to constantly fight for it, negotiate your rent, pay your bills, bring traffic…But it is a choice and in 2006, unconsciously, I felt ready to face them. 
We had tough moments, when the continuation of Kapok as a shop was questioned.
 Though, time has taught me one thing : 
when I first faced critical situations, I was anxious and very stressed. But after several times, despite it may seem arrogant, I have developed a strong and irrational confidence, that makes me think “ we have been through this 10 times already, we will go through this one too”.

Were you less confident before kapok ?
For sure. Everything that stressed me before does not anymore. Kapok made me stronger and more self-confident. Kapok is not only me, it is a team, a family I am proud of. Some are still here today, some have started their own business. We all learn from each other. And the most important is that we all remain free and independent.

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What are the plans for the future?
Kapok will remain Kapok but may evolve in different ways… They are so many ideas and projects that I want to realise! 
We have already started our own clothing brand, future classics, which 3rd collection is out now. Creating our brand will allow us to express ourselves in other lifestyle products in the future, to collaborate with various brands etc… 
Someday, I would like to open a concept related to food and beverages too. And it may not necessarily be a restaurant or a café!