Saturday, March 24, 2018

Exploring the Garment District

The neighborhood of Shum Shui Po could be different things to different people – to computer and electonics geeks, this is the place where they fetch the latest gadgets inside the legendary Golden Arcade, or at one of the outdoor stalls on the block of Ap Liu Street; there’s also a street dedicated to toys, dai pai dong/street food, Chinese dessert soups and many more. And on the other side of this old commercial/residential mixed neighborhood, there were a few blocks of shops for fabrics and all garment accessories – there were specialty shops for everything from buttons to ribbons to threads and needles and more, carrying down from the days when this is where all the garment factories were.

Then recently there were a new generation of trendy shops and cafes opening up to bring new life to this aging neighborhood, somewhat befitting to this area being our “Garment District”, and that’s what I was eager to explore when I dropped by one afternoon. As I found out, while it may not be as fashionable as the one in New York City, but with just as much character and history.

My first stop was Common Room & Co on Tai Nam Street – which is a bookstore, retail shop, café, art gallery and workshop all within this 2-level premise. The décor reminded me more of those hipster coffee shops in Central or K-town with the same minimalist/industrial chic style, with the bookshelves near the front of the shop, and at the back, the open kitchen, a long communal table, some workshop space with benches and tools with art gallery/event space on the upper level through the narrow staircase.

They got an amazing coffee menu with a collection of single-origin beans on offer prepared in a variety of methods (hand-drip, ice-drip, French-press or on the espresso machine). They even have the option of you making your own with all the tools you are free to use in case you wanted to be your own barista. There’s also a small food menu with house-made cakes and pastries – the lemon pound cake I had was soft and spongy and delicious with the enticing aroma of the citrus zest. It worked particularly well with my glass of hand-dripped Sumatra Mandheling with a mild acidity and tropical fruit notes. At the shopfront they got a limited selection of books and designer goods, but many were unique and hard to find elsewhere as they source direct from independent designers and writers, or one-of-a-kind products made in-house at the workshop using the 3D printer. This time I was particularly fascinated by the series of goods by Toby Ng named “Parable of Jesus” with cool illustration and inspirational quotes from The Bible.

Where? Common Room & Co, 198 Tai Nam Street, Shum Shui Po, Kowloon

Not far from Common Room was another shop I love called Midway just round the corner. I have been following their online journal and social media channels for a while, which covered everything from travel to design to lifestyle, and this shop was essentially an extension of it, featuring goods they came across and procured through their journeys. Think of it as Monocole but in Chinese and more Japan-focused. The shop was tiny with just a small sign, but inside was packed with all the amazing goods, many of them from famous Japanese zakka designers and brands including Claska and Nakagawa Masashichi - I don't think there's a more complete selection in Hong Kong than at this little shop in the middle of nowhere. You know, it’s really tempting to just go buy everything they have on display, which I almost did.

Where? Midway Shop, G/F 132B Ki Lung Street, Shum Shui Po, Kowloon

My last stop was not exactly in Shum Shui Po but within walking distance of it. “a Beautiful store” started its life at a small house in the rural village in Taipo and now moved to the current location near the Flower Market in Mongkok, inside a remodeled old building. Its founder/owner Wallis has excellent taste in fashion and design, and managed to introduce a number of new and unique products from artisan manufacturers and designers around the world. Enamelware by Falcon, or candles and ceramics from Astier de Villatte have been on her shop shelves since forever, before they made way to mainstream luxury shops elsewhere in town. She also collaborated with local artists with exhibitions and goods on display in the store.

I have been making my long trip to her old Tai Po store occasionally in the past and glad that it’s now nearer and bigger, which means she’s able to carry more product and to showcase them in a more spacious environment. Walking in to a beautiful store is almost like walking into the cover of Kinfolk magazine with the same minimalist style, simple yet elegant, lined with long wooden benches and antique shelves where all the goods were neatly displayed, and with high ceiling and bright sunshine from the huge window overlooking the street lighting up the entire store naturally.

It’s a pity that the store no longer offers drinks and snacks menu like they did in the past (Wallis mentioned she wanted to focus on this being a lifestyle shop, not just another café people found it cool to hang out and check in on Instagram), but she treated me to a cup of lovely tea from a Brooklyn-based tea atelier called Bellocq which she sourced direct. This fireside chai has a milder flavor (than the usual chai) but infused with smoke and pine needle taste and a hint of spices. It was very soothing and perfect for a lazy afternoon like this, just sitting, reading, walking, browsing, and talking to all the wonderful people which have the collective vision to introduce something different to this city already filled with way too many chain stores and industrial products already.

Where? a beautiful store, 3/F 194 Prince Edward Road West

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