Fashion meets coffee: how boutiques sell gourmet brews to woo Hong Kong shoppers
How a gimmick to enhance the fashion shopping experience became an attraction in itself
If you’re looking for a good cup of coffee, then head to your nearest fashion or lifestyle boutique. Following in the footsteps of cities such as New York and Tokyo, where hip fashion label Rag & Bone recently unveiled a new retail coffee concept with Verve Coffee Roasters, Hong Kong’s fashion and lifestyle retailers continue to launch in-house or stand-alone coffee spots that add a fresh element to the shopping experience.
“We want to create a lifestyle experience so customers can take their time to enjoy a cup of coffee while browsing our collection as if viewing paintings in an art gallery. We also offer a bespoke eyewear service so being able to offer a selection of specialty coffee completes the whole experience,” says Leona Leung, director of Khromis, a hip eyewear boutique that recently opened its doors in the city’s SoHo nightlife neighbourhood.
While fashion-branded food and beverage concepts aren’t new – over the years we’ve witnessed everything from Armani and Vogue cafes to, in 2017, Chanel’s pop-up Coco Cafe – this wave of coffee counters have evolved from experiments in experiential retailing to destinations in themselves.
“Sometimes retail stores can give a certain ‘pressure to buy’ feeling, but with the cafe the whole experience is more casual and cosy. Customers can sit longer and take their time. We’ve also started to run monthly parties at the store and our coffee bar turned easily into a nice cocktail bar,” says Arnault Castel, founder of multi-brand boutique Kapok, which boasts a coffee bar at its store in Sun Street, Wan Chai.
In some cases, these coffee counters have been so successful they have spawned new brands, as in the case of Ralph Lauren’s Ralph’s Coffee in New York. In Hong Kong, local coffee shop chain Elephant Grounds opened its first outlet as part of lifestyle boutique Woaw in Gough Street, Sheung Wan. It now has six shops, although the original is still the most popular.
“We decided to launch Elephant Grounds as a part of Woaw store because we always loved the idea of being able to have a refreshment while shopping and looking for cool things. From there we grew organically because of a simple need to provide our customers something different,” says Kevin Poon, co-founder of Elephant Grounds.
Where to get a fashionable coffee fix in Hong Kong
Elephant Grounds at Woaw Store
Elephant Grounds first made its appearance in 2013 with a mission to produce the best cup of coffee in Hong Kong. Since then it has drawn the crowds with its own blend of coffee, roasted locally, as well as specialty drinks including Bulletproof coffee and Smoke Milk Affogato.
Elephant Grounds is also known for its signature ice cream sandwiches, featuring fun and innovative flavours such as Hokkaido Milk Honeycomb and Earl Grey Cookie. Just get there early, as they sell out quickly.
11 Gough Street, Central, tel: 2253 1313
Kapok was also an early adopter of the coffee/fashion retail concept and opened its first and only coffee bar in 2009. It’s still manned by the charming store manager Willy, who previously worked as a specialist barista in Taiwan.
Kapok serves arabica coffee from South America, although all the beans are roasted in Hong Kong. There are a few seats outside the store so you can enjoy your cup of joe while watching the world go by.
3 Sun Street, Star Street Precinct, Wan Chai, tel: 2520 0114
Khromis’ sleek boutique resembles an art gallery, with eyewear gracing the walls like paintings. At the back of the store you’ll find an intimate coffee bar, which is operated in collaboration with independent local roaster Hazel & Hershey (founder Birdie Chiu is a competition trainer and a regular judge at coffee competitions around the world). Its current blend consists of fresh 2017/18 crops from Ethiopia and Indonesia, although there are plans to introduce an exclusive Khromis blend in the future.
1 Tai Ping Shan Street, Sheung Wan, tel: 2772 2373.
Ralph’s Coffee is already a household name in cities such as London, Paris and Chicago and is the brainchild of fashion designer Ralph Lauren. Its first Asian outpost is adjacent to one of the brand’s Kowloon retail stores, and boasts a retro-inspired white and green interior.
It serves an exclusive organic blend crafted by La Colombe for Ralph Lauren, alongside a selection of mouth-watering cakes, artisan chocolate by Brooklyn-based Fine & Raw and branded merchandise.
Level 3, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2376 3936