Our new retail stockist: Anthropologie


 The facade of Anthropologie store on Kings Road


We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with Anthropologie, one of America’s most popular retailers this autumn/winter. The company is our first major retail outlet, which is a big step forward for us. It is exciting to see Gongjang‘s eco balance monthly planners in Anthropologie’s inspiring and visually appealing stores across London, and we look forward to working with them again in the near future.

I used to shop at Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters when I was living in New York, and so I was familiar with the lifestyle and fashion brand before they opened their first London store on Regent Street in 2009. I just never thought that I would do business with the company one day!


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Kings Road’s Anthropologie store


Anthropolgie has four stores in central London including one in Westfield shopping mall. Their 10,000 square foot flagship store on Regent Street has three floors and an impressive 2,000 square foot vertical garden featuring 11,000 plants. The store is one of a kind on Regent Street, and I love the playful and quirky visual merchandising throughout the store. However, my favourite is their store on Kings Road located inside a beautifully restored Grade II listed former Antiquarius Antiques Centre. The 10,000 square ft space was originally a billiards hall in the 1830s offering an alternative to the pub for working men before it was turned into an antiques centre. I love exquisite original features like stained-glass windows and tile work on the facade, as well as the intricate ironwork inside the building. I think what differs Anthropologie from other high street stores are their unusual and eclectic pick of products (i.e. mixing vintage with contemporary designs and crafty products), and their efforts in creating unique shopping experiences in every store through their carefully planned layouts and highly creative visual merchandising.

Many high street stores complain about businesses being hit by shoppers buying more online, but if they are willing to invest more on visual merchandising and better services to enhance shoppers’ in-store experiences, then shoppers would still choose brick-and-mortar stores over the internet. We live in a highly competitive world today, and if stores/companies don’t step up their games and evolve with changing times, then it is inevitable that they will be pushed out of the market one day.


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Regent Street’s Anthropologie store


Gongjang’s Eco Balance monthly planner (in wine and grey) is available to purchase in Anthropologie’s London stores and online via the link here. The store has just opened a new branch in Marylebone, I shall look forward to visiting it soon.


Design shopping at London design festival

My last entry on the London design festival is related to shopping… As someone who is involved in the retail business, shamefully, I don’t think I am out and about enough, and so the design festival was gave me an opportunity to see what is happening in the design retail world.


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The Saturday Market Project


While I was in East London, I made my way to Shoreditch, where many shops, galleries took part at The Shoreditch Design Triangle, an event in conjunction with the design festival. I first visited The Saturday Market Project‘s pop-up store on Leonard Street, which is all about making and experimenting. On their website, there is a marketplace where you can find high quality supplies, tools and raw materials. There are also instructions on how to make crafts at home.

At the temporary space, there were masterclasses, material experimentation, demonstrations, workshops and a temporary shop. The most eye-catching though was the Himmeli installation at the back. Himmeli is wheat straw that has been used for centuries as the material for traditional Scandinavian harvest decorations. At the event, visitors were invited to create their own himmeli creation using traditional methods and technology.

I love the concept of the project and what it aims to achieve. Ironically, after seeing so many ‘polished, thoughtful and beautiful’ designed objects at the festival, I felt slightly ‘anti-design’. This project reminds us that design does not have to be that way, and everyone has the ability to create. All you really need is some good tools, materials, instructions and passion!


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Top right & 2nd row middle: ‘The Formal Beauty Of Type’ exhibition; 2nd row left: Glyphics shop display; 2nd right & bottom: The Goodhood Store; 3rd row: The art of skateboarding exhibition


On the same street, I also visited The Book Club where I saw the typographic exhibition ‘The Formal Beauty Of Type’ (until 16th Nov) by Susanna Foppoli. The exhibition is comprised of a series of typographic abstract compositions, designed using a restricted colour palette of black, white and red. I like the simplicity and boldness of the work, and in our image-driven world today, it is refreshing to see typography being the only focus here. Long live typography!

My next stop was The Goodhood Store, one of the coolest independent fashion and lifestyle shopping destinations in East London. The shop recently moved from Coronet Road to this new 3000 square foot site on Curtain Road (151) that spans over two floors. The ground floor is dedicated to fashion and accessories, and in the basement, you would find beauty and grooming products, stationery, homeware and a small cafe. There is also a small exhibition area at the front, and ‘The art of skateboarding‘ was the exhibition during the design festival. The exhibition payed homage to this subculture by asking leading artists and designers, including Jake & Dinos Chapman, Will Sweeney, James Jarvis etc, to contribute to the creation of skateboards. The designs were then auctioned off and the proceeds were donated to the Long Live South Bank charity.


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Top left: Material shop; Top right: Tokyo Bike; Main & bottom: Tord Boontje’s shop


There are many cool design and lifestyle shops in Shoreditch, and one of them is Material (3 Rivington Street), where you can find interesting design led prints, books and stationery. Another one is Tokyo Bike (87-89 Tabernacle Street), where not only you can find minimalistic bikes and bike accessories, but also Momosan‘s wonderful pop up shop (I think the shop may have moved to Serpentine Sackler Gallery for the time being).

Dutch designer Tord Boontje‘s shop (23 Charlotte Road) is also a popular destination for design lovers. After the success of his iconic Garland light for Habitat in 2003, the designer launched Bouquet light at the design festival as a successor to the Garland for Habitat’s Design Reunion, a collection to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary. At his shop, you will find the designer’s signature romantic and delicate lighting, as well as tableware and other home accessories.


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Top left: Luna & Curious; Top midde: O’dell’s; Top right: Leila’s shop window: Main: Maison Trois garcons‘ fun window display; Bottom left: Charlene Mullen; Bottom right: Larache.


On the other side of Shoreditch, I visited the cute lifestyle and fashion shop Luna & Curious (24-26 Calvert Ave), where daily extrusions and firings took placed at their open ceramic workshop. The shop is connected to O’Dell’s, which stocks a a range of minimalistic menswear, lifestyle accessories and homewares.

If minimalistic style is not your cup of tea, then walk down a little you will find the exotic Larache,where owner Hassan Hajjaj sources  and colourful and well-made home furnishings from Pakistan, Morocco and India. Or cross the street where you will find Soboye, an African-inspired shop full of colourful yet contemporary fashion, accessories and lifestyle items.


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The RIBA Regent Street Shop Windows Project: Mobile Studio for Jack Spade


Back in the city centre, RIBA’s Regent Street Windows Project matched RIBA architects with flagship retailers to create stunning architectural installations in the windows of shops, restaurants and cafes around Regent Street for 3 weeks to coincide with London Fashion week and The London design festival. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to see all the shop windows, but you can find the photos of these installations via the weblink above.


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Top left: Skandium; Top right, 2nd row: Mint shop; 3rd row: 4th left: Han Jungeun‘s ceramic stools; 4th row right: Alcarol’s Fisheye stools; 5th row: Squint; Bottom: The shop at Bluebird on Kings Road


After spending hours at the V & A museum in South Kensington, I had a bit of spare time to check out the shops nearby including the institute for cool Scandinavian designs, Skandium on Bromptpn Road (245-249 Brompton Road), followed by Mint (2 North Terrace, Alexander Square). For more information for design shopping in the area, you can also check out Brompton design district.

In order to compete in the highly competitive retail sector, independent retail shops need to have quite distinctive characteristics. And I think high-end design shop Mint has always been one of its kind. While many retailers prefer to play safe or stock according to trends, Mint has always been willing to take risks. Aside from supporting emerging designers, their eclectic selection of furniture, lighting and interior objects often showcase skilled craftsmanship, and many can even be viewed as functional art objects rather than design objects. If you visit their store, you will see that the boundary between art, craft and design is almost not distinguishable. And this is what makes them stand out. During the design festival, shop owner Lina Kanafani curated an exhibition focusing on the influence of craft in design. The shop was filled with classic pieces from the 70s & 80s, together with over 40 established and emerging designers to create a visual harmony of contrasts. I was particularly intrigued by Italian design studio Alcarol‘s FishEye stools, featuring sections of timber poles dredged up from Venice’s canals. By filling the gaps of the wood left by shipworms with a transparent resin, the log was given a new life and function. Cool.

For the more eccentric types, Squint next door (1 North Terrace) is ideal if you want something rich, decorative and bespoke. Most pieces are made to order by long-established independent workshops in the UK. My final stop in the area was The Bluebird shop on Kings Road (350). It has been a few years since I visited to ‘this end’ of Kings Road, so it was interesting to see how much Bluebird has changed since. Aside from stocking many cool fashion brands, the 10,000 sq ft space also offers design-related books, stationery, beauty products, interior/ home accessories and it even has a spa. This design-led concept/lifestyle store injects a younger and ‘hipper’ vibe in a rather grown-up and sophisticated neighbourhood, which is quite welcoming.


Paris: The art of visual merchandising

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For years I have wanted to be a visual merchaniser. I even tried to apply for a job, but without previous experiences in the field, it would be hard to land a job in this field unless you are a newly-graduate or willing to work for peanuts.

Visual merchandising is an art yet it is also related to the psychology of selling. Its ultimate goal is to attract potential customers, entice them into the shops to make purchases. It can be highly creative because you are given a confined space, props and merchandise to work with, these limitations provide the best environments for creative experimentations. On my book shelf, I have a book called “Confessions of a Window Dresser” by Simon Doonan, the creative genius behind the most controversial window displays at New York’s Barneys. Simon is probably one of the most famous shop dressers in the world. When I was living in New York many years ago, I used to love going to Barneys (and the now closed Takashimaya), partly to check out their inspiring window displays.


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As one of the most artistic cities in the world, Paris’ visual merchandising is truly inspirational ( Sorry but London simply cannot match). No matter where you look, from department stores to big fashion houses to boutique shops selling homeware, stationery, antiques and even food, every shop has its own distinctive characters that would differentiate itself from others. Artistic flair is like second nature to the French, it’s not something that can be learned or copied.


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I love window shopping in Paris, I don’t necessary need to go inside the shops because sometimes it’s more pleasurable to simply enjoy the ‘theatrical’ aspect of the window displays.




Some of the most creative and ‘dramatic’ displays are often found at the artisan chocolatiers and pâtisseries stores. Honestly, just looking at the display would make your mouth water… and it makes you wonder why French women can stay slim all the time?


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Here are only some snap shots that I took during my short stays in the city, so they don’t really do them justice. Pre-Christmas is the period when you will find stunning displays everywhere…

The two photos below demonstrate why the French are such creative visual merchandisers… The first one was taken outside a small cobblers shop and second one was the window of a real estate agency. I have never seen a real estate agency in London that has seashells, balloons with descriptions written on chalkboards as their window display! Yet why aren’t they doing it? That is the question that I want to know. Do all windows displays of estate agencies have to look so proper and dull? If you want to stand out from the crowd, don’t follow others, do something different. Be creative and have fun with it, it might even bring some unexpected surprises!



A cobbler’s shop window



A refreshing window display of a real estate agency



The joy of (window) shopping in Andalusia

The reason why I don’t write much about shopping in London is partly because I don’t enjoy it these days and do most of my shopping online. I avoid Oxford street and Tottenham Court Road like the plague, and I find shopping in central London extremely uninspiring. Specialists and independent shops are hard to find and even areas like Notting Hill and Islington are becoming more mainstream, and so we are left with Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, Stoke Newington, Brixton, Dalston or Lamb Conduit Street for something different.

High streets in London or Britain are now dominated by chains (with a few exceptions), they are becoming homogeneous with no distinctive characters nor individuality. And we wonder why the British high streets are dying whilst e-commerce is booming? A friend from abroad visited London last summer and we went to Richmond for the day… I was horrified by its high street because despite the historical facade, the shops are no different from the ones in Westfield or Tunbridge Wells. Do the public want the same shops in every city and town? I doubt it.



Top left: Ale hop shop; Top right: Design in Andalusia products; Bottom left: Maspapeles stationery shop: Bottom right: Camden shop in Seville


In Andalusia, however, I was thrilled to see traditional and specialist shops next to secondhand or trendy designer boutiques. Yes, there are some chained shops and touristy souvenirs but they are not in every corner, independent/specialists shops co-exist with chained ones and the balance is just right. There are shops selling flamenco outfits, fans, fabrics, crafts, hair accessories, hats and ceramics etc. Also, the art of visual merchandising is celebrated here, even a hardware store would take the time to make their window display ‘appealing’ to passerby. If only shops in the U.K. could understand the impact of display aesthetics on their shops, then perhaps our high streets could still be ‘saved’.


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Top left and midde: La Libelula; Top right and 2nd row right: Maria Gavira; Bottom left: A shopping street in Granada; Bottom right: A espadrille/ shoe shop in Cordoba


Here are some shops that I stumbled upon during my trip, as a bigger city, Seville offers a lot more in terms of shopping but the other two cities also offer some traditional and specialists shops:


La Libelula (Calle Cuna, 45, Alfalfa) – A multi-storey fashion and home furnishings shop with an airy courtyard, florist, exhibition area and cafe. The shop stocks from many new/ up and coming Spanish designers, so it is a good place to check out the names from the local fashion scene.

Wabi Sabi shop and gallery (Viriato, 9, La Macarena) – Located north of the city centre, although the shop uses the Japanese term, ‘wabi sabi’ ( aesthetics or beauty that is imperfect or impermanent), its shop theme is not actually Japanese. It is a lifestyle shop that specialises in contemporary art and design, covering fashion, home furnishings, recycled antique furniture, books, art and crafts, and it also has an online shop, gallery and workshop space for various events to take place.

Maria Gavira (Calle Mateos Gago 29, Santa Cruz) – I came across this small fashion/ accessories shop in Santa Cruz and was greeted by the lovely owner, Maria. She doesn’t speak much English, but we ended up communicating in French ( it turns out that my rustic French can be useful in certain circumstances). Maria uses textiles to create beautiful fashion accessories and home furnishings ( you can see her handmade shower caps and decorations in the photos above), but she also stocks an interesting range from other craftsmen and fashion brands. After making my purchase, Maria was keen to recommend some tapas and flamenco places and she marked them all down for me on my map! Her hospitality really touched me, but best of all, she is a passionate designer/maker and I felt like we bonded very quickly. This proves that language and culture is never a barrier when you share similar values and passion.



Top left, right and 2nd row middle: Galerias Madrid; 2nd row left: Raquel Terán; 3rd row: Ashop near Plaza de Jesús de la Pasión selling hair accessories for Catholics; 4th row right: Traditional fans at Dizal; Last row right: Enrique Sanchis


Galerias Madrid (Calle Cuna, 42, Alfalfa) – If you love fabric, you will love this multi-storey store that sells fabrics and textiles for upholstery and apparel including all the trimmings for a flamenco dress!

Raquel Terán (Calle Francos, 6, Alfalfa) – if you are looking for flamboyant, vintage-like and feminine flamenco fashion, you will it here! The style is rich, colourful and full of trimmings, and they even have a children’s collection.

Dizal (Calle Sierpes 48, Alfalfa) – Traditional fans can be found here and at Diza (no.75) at affordable prices.

Maspapeles (Calle Zaragoza, 17) – A stationery shop that sells a range of quality notebooks, pens, wrapping paper and boxes etc.

Enrique Sanchis (Calle Sierpes 19, Alfalfa) – It’s hard to miss this century-old watchmaker’s shop front ( see photo above), it is especially known for its array of antique timepieces.


Ceramics and tiles

The district of Triana has been producing azulejos (ceramic tiles) since Roman times and it is named after the Roman Emperor Trajanus. The area was once full of ceramic workshops and potteries, unfortunately as the trade diminishes, workshops are now hard to find, and only a handful of ceramic or souvenir shops are left. However, a new Centro Ceramica Triana (ceramic musuem) is due to open soon after much delay.


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Main: Ceramica Santa Ana; 2nd row left: Ceramica La Aliaza; 2nd row middle: Emilio García Ortiz; Second row right and bottom row: Populart


Ceramica Santa Ana (Calle San Jorge, 31, Triana) – Sadly, I just found out that this famous ceramic shop has closed its doors ( I thought it was just closed on the day I visited), but the impressive facade is still worth the time if you happen to be in the area.

Populart ( Pasaje de Vila 4, Santa Cruz) – this wonderful Andalusian ceramic and tile shop is close to the Cathedral and sells a wide range of antique and contemporary tiles and potteries suitable for all budgets. A must-stop for all tile lovers!


Artisans and specialists


One of the most interesting and unique sight in Andalusia is that many craftsmen and artisans are happy to ‘show-off’ their skills and expertise publicly. Passerby can watch or peek into their open studio or workshop to see the artisans at work, which I think is a great ( and free) way to market themselves!

Ceramica Elhumo ( C/ Corregidor Luis de la Cerda 68) – Two local artists, Valle Sillero and Jesús Rey run a small studio/shop that allows passerby to admire their sculpting skills. They use a special Raku technique to make clocks, lamps, pots, human and animal figures, home decorations and paintings that are inspired by the local culture.

Sala El Potro (13 Plaza del Potro) – this small art gallery in the famous Plaza del Potro sells limited edition prints and original artwork by emerging and established Andalucian artists. The gallery also has an online shop for those who want your art to be delivered to your door without going all the way to Cordoba!


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Top row: Sombrerería Herederos de J Rusi; Bottom left: An artisan at work in his studio in Cordoba; Bottom middle: Ceramica elhumo


Sombrerería Herederos de J Rusi (Calle Conde de Cardenas 1) – Originally from Cordoba, the famous and award-winning Spanish hat-maker has a small and charming shop that keeps its family traditions and craftsmanship alive. Opened since 1903, it feels like little has changed over the years, I just love the rows of circular hat boxes neatly stacked on the shelves! Although I did not buy any hats, I felt good knowing that traditional and quality craftsmanship is still being appreciated in our disposable culture today.


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Daniel Gil de Avalle 



Daniel Gil de Avalle (Plaza del Realejo, 15) – A chance to see the guitarrero (guitar maker) at work through its large window at this longstanding music shop that specialises in handmade classical and flamenco guitars.


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Top left and middle: Artesano manuel morillo in Granada; Top right: a Marquetry shop inside the Alhambra; 2nd row left: traditional toys sold at the Palacio de Viana shop in Cordoba. Main: a local craft shop at Plaza de la Corredera in Cordoba.


Artesano Manuel Morillo (Calle Ánimas, 1) – Tarecea (marquetry) is a traditional craft originated from the Moors and is unique to Granada in Spain. Manuel Morillo Castillo is a craftsman who makes marquetry boxes, objects and chess sets, and you can watch him at work in his shop near Plaza Nueva. I bought a few boxes (under €10) as souvenir for friends and family and they all love the design and craftsmanship, and they look more expensive than what I paid for!


Vintage and collectibles

Throughout my trip I came across many vintage, retro and collectible shops which I didn’t expect before the trip. From vintage stamps to dolls, toys and books, Andalusia is great for those who love everything nostalgic!


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3rd row left: Cuevas Juguetería Técnica; 4th row right: Le Secret de Carmen in Seville; 4th row left, middle and 5th row: El Laberino in Cordoba.



Le Secret de Carmen (Candilejo 8) – a small shop dedicated to Carmen! They sell antiquities, vintage articles, books, posters, CD and records around Carmen and Seville.

F. Cuevas Jugueteria tecnica (Plaza de San Francisco, 16) – this is no ordinary toy shop, it sells cars, trains and plane models, figurines, dolls and accessories, kitchenettes etc from all eras and for all ages. You can find antique and collectible toys that are geared towards adults who have a nostalgic streak, and unfortunately they also come with rather high price tags.


El Laberino (Ronda de Isasa 4) – I love secondhand bookshops, and so I was excited when I saw this spacious riverside bookshop. Apart from many Spanish classics, there are also vintage children’s books, magazines, printed matters and books in other languages.



Design & stationery shopping in Tokyo

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Main: Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku; bottom left: Yuse’s sandwich tags; bottom right: fun fish pencil cases


With so many cool and unique design shops all over Tokyo, it is almost impossible to give a comprehensive list, so here is an overview of just some of them:


Tokyo’s Tokyo ( 4-30-3 Jingumae) – Located on the 5th floor of Tokyu Plaza, this design gift shop’s interior is inspired by manga comics. It sells very cool and fun Japanese toys, fashion accessories, stationery and other design products.

MoMA Design Store ( 5-10-1 Jingumae) – The first MoMA store outside of the US, this shop inside the Gyre building is a ‘MUST’ for all design lovers. Many classic design items can be found here, including well-known international and local names, but there are also many inspiring gift ideas that will suit all budgets.

Good Design Shop ( 5-10-1 Jingumae) – this shop below the MoMA store is a collaboration between D&Department Project ( a successful Japanese recycled/ lifestyle brand) and Comme des Garçons. An eclectic selection of Comme des Garçons’ fashion and accessories can be found at the back of the store, while the front and main part of the shop sells a wide range of timeless and functional furniture and household products.

Crayon House ( 3-8-15 Kita-Aoyama) – This wonderful multi-storey children’s shop is a gem… I especially love the simple wooden toys, beautiful illustrated children’s books and the wide range of organic beauty and food products. The basement restaurant also provides a good value vegetarian lunch buffet, it can get quite busy but it’s a steal in an expensive area.


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Main: Good Design Shop; Middle & bottom left: MoMA Design Store; Middle & middle right: Comme des Garçons at Gyre; Bottom right: Crayon House



Cibone ( 2-14-6 Kitaaoyama) – In the basement of the Aoyama Bells Common, this large lifestyle/ design shop is almost like a quirkier version of the Conran shop. It sells a range of carefully selected furniture, homeware, art, music, fashion, jewellery and books.

Spiral Market ( 5-6-23 Minami-Aoyama) – Located on the second floor inside the multipurpose Spiral building, this sophisticated shop feels more like a gallery. There are many beautifully crafted tableware, stationery, handmade soaps and incense etc.

Francfranc Village ( 3-11-13 Minami Aoyama) – Franc Franc is a well-known home-grown interior/ lifestyle brand that is very popular for its contemporary mid-range/ affordable furniture and homeware. Francfranc village is their latest venture where you will find not only their own outlets but also cafes, restaurants and shops like The Monocle shop.

Found Muji ( 1-2F Nakajima Bldg, 5-50−6 Jingumae) – I have previously blogged about Found Muji ( click here to read) before I even visited the shop, so I was very much looking forward to visiting the shop. As soon as I walked into the shop, I saw a range of dyed textiles and its products, and on the wall, a map showing the regions where textile products originate from and a free catalogue explaining the design processes and background of each manufacturer. It is very encouraging to see an established brand evolving and going back to its roots and giving support to the local craftsmen and makers.


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Found Muji in Aoyama



DB in station ( Ecute Shinagawa 2F, 3-26-27 Takanawa Mintoku) – D-Bros is one my favourite Japanese stationery brands and this is their only retail outlet inside the JR Shinagawa station. The shop sells a range of unqiue and fun stationery as well as their DIY Stamp it collection where customers can customise their own stationery or greeting cards.


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D-bros’ shop and their humourous greeting cards



Itoya ( 3-7-1 Ginza) – I was very disappointed to discover that my favourite stationery shop in Tokyo is currently closed for renovation. Although the temporary shop is just around the corner from the original site, it is much smaller and the selection is not as interesting. I can’t believe that I will have to wait two years for the shop to reopen… nightmare!

Gekkoso ( 8-7-2 Ginza) -This wonderful art supply shop has been around since 1917, not only it sells art supplies but also its own stationery and accessories. It also has a gallery and cafe, a hidden gem in Ginza.

Kyukodo (5-7-4 Ginza) – If you are looking for traditional Japanese paper and incense, then Kyukyodo is the place to visit. Opened in Kyoto in 1663, the shop moved to Tokyo in 1880 and it is still being run by the Kumagai family that founded it. This is a great place for gifts, and you can find a wide range of writing paper, washi paper and stationery.

Muji Yurakucho ( Yurakucho Building 3-8-3) – If you are a Muji fan, then you must visit this outlet, the world’s largest Muji. Aside from selling adults and children’s clothing and accessories, stationery, beauty products, food, homeware, glasses and bicycles, there is also a Found Muji section, Meal Muji cafeteria and Atelier Muji exhibition space ( see my previous blog on the exhibition).



Top left & right: Itoya and its new expansion; 2nd row middle: Itoya’s temporary store; 2nd row left: Kyukodo; 2nd row right: Gekkoso; Bottom: Muji Yurakucho



Idee shop ( 2-16-29 Jiyugaoka) – Jiyugaoka is a neighbourhood that is popular with the locals, there are many independent cafes and shops selling fashion and homeware. The three-storey Idee shop here is their largest outlet where you will find furniture, homeware, lifestyle products, a bakery and florist.


Claska Gallery & Shop “Do” & Mixroom ( 1-3-18 Chuo-cho Meguro-ku) – Claska is a design hotel in Meguro, an area where there are lots of vintage and retro furniture shops. I have stayed here once before and found the location slightly inconvenient but I thought the gallery and shop here is unique and inspiring. They stock many young and aspiring Japanese designers’ work that are hard to find elsewhere.


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Loft in Shibuya


Museum shops – There are many cool design shops inside museums or galleries and two of my favourites are Souvenir From Tokyo at The National Art Centre and Art & Design Store & A/D Gallery ( run by Mori Art Musuem shop) at Roppongi Hills.

One-stop shops – There are several mega lifestyle shops that are great for one-stop shopping ( where you could spend more than two hours), they are Loft ( there is a multi-storey branch in Shibuya) and Tokyu Hands ( my favourite is the Shinjuku branch) which I think is the world’s best department store selling almost everything you could ( or could not) imagine!


Shopping in Kyoto

My last Kyoto blog entry is on shopping…

Since I spent much of the time in the rural area exploring temples and gardens, there was barely time for shopping. The day before I left for Tokyo, I went into the city centre during the late afternoon and spent a few hours exploring the shopping district.



Traditional shops selling local crafts and souvenir on Saga-Toriimoto preserved street


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Kitsch-style shop and geisha-themed stationery



Nishiki Market, known as as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, has been trading since 1310 is a must for foodies. There are fresh seafood, vegetables, dried and pickled food, knives and cookware etc. The market is one of the cleanest markets I have been to, unfortunately, I arrived quite late and many stores were closing, otherwise, I could spend hours here…


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Nishiki market

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Beautiful food packaging and different types of Kit Kat including matcha flavour & a Kyoto edition


Stationery & paper crafts

As a city known for its strong heritage and traditional arts and crafts, it would be a waste not to visit the stationery or paper crafts shops while I was there. However, these shops are scattered in different parts of the city and due to the limited time, I was only able to visit a few of them within the same district. It is essential to do a bit of planning beforehand as some of them are not easy to find, but shops tend to open until 7.30 or 8pm, so I was able to do some last minute shopping.


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Traditional stationery shops can still be seen in the city centre


Suzuki Shofudo – this 115-year old paper craft shop not only sells colourful and graphical washi paper and stationery, it also provides paper-making workshops at its premise. If time is limited, this shop is a good place to visit if you are looking for stationery with a traditional touch. I also love the shop’s “frog” identity, it’s just too cute ( see below)…

Not far from the shop is Rokkaku, a more contemporary paper shop that designs and prints customised invitations and cards, but it also sells greeting cards and letter sets. Many of the cards are letterpressed, they are simple and yet elegant and come with very nice envelopes.


Suzuki Shofudobenridoshofudo rokkakurokkakurokkaku

Main, middle left & middle: Suzuki Shofudo. Middle right & bottom: Rokkaku


Benrido – I stumbled upon this stationery shop when I last visited Kyoto and I could still remember my excitement when I stepped into the shop. I love the art-inspired stationery and postcards. I have this odd passion for plastic folders and I have a few of them in A4 and A5 sizes. I find them particularly useful when I travel, but it’s only in Japan where I can find different graphical patterns. Here, the shop has a variety of plastic folders with traditional and contemporary motifs and patterns, which made me very happy. This shop is also a great place to find traditional-inspired stationery for friends back home.





Uragu – this tiny paper shop hidden in an alleyway was surprisingly busy when I visited. It was not an easy find, but the traffic police knew the shop as soon as I showed him the address. There are beautiful greeting cards, postcards, letter sets and notebooks neatly displayed on dark wooden shelves here. The prices are not cheap but the items are one of a kind and are hard to find elsewhere.





Opposite Benrido is the Kyoto design house, located on the ground floor of the Nikawa Building, designed by architect Tadao Ando. There are many beautiful design items on sale here from contemporary to more classic designs that showcase Japanese traditional craftsmanship.


kyoto design house

Kyoto design house



Although I love new and cool designs, I also love traditional designs that beautifully crafted by hand. And in Kyoto, I was constantly drawn by various hair combs and pins behind the glass displays while walking down the streets. Besides hair accessories, graphical tenugui ( a traditional cotton towel or cloth) and tabi socks can also be seen in many shops here.



Traditional fashion accessories

kyototabi sockskyoto

Main: sushi-inspired accessories; Bottom left: tabi socks; Bottom right: tenugui bags


From its cool shop display, it would be hard to imagine that Raak has been around since 1534. It specialises in tengunui, which can be used as a scarf, wine bottle wrapper and even bags. There are many colourful graphical patterns available and are mostly seasonal, a visit to the shop will make you realise how creative one can be with just a piece of cloth.





SOU SOU is the Japanese equivalent of Marimekko and is one of my favourite Japanese fashion brands, originally from Kyoto. I bought a pair of canvas shoes from their Tokyo shop a few years ago and I think they are cooler than Converse. In Kyoto, their main shop occupies three floors selling tabi socks, shoes, bags and their collaboration with Le coq sportif. Opposite the building, there is a womenswear shop, a menswear shop further down, as well as a few shops specialising in childrenswear, soft furnishing and textiles nearby. I love their bold graphical prints and their merge of traditional craftsmanship, techniques with modern designs. As far as I know, most items are made in Japan, so the quality is ensured.


sousousou sousousouSOU SOU




When in Kyoto, it will be hard to miss Yojiya‘s brand identity… a simple black and white sketch of a woman’s face. Founded in 1904, this cult beauty shop is famous for its “Aburatorigami” (Oil blotting Facial Paper), which is particularly useful in summers. There are several shops located in the city but my favourite is the one on Philosophy path, which has a shop and a tea house next door.


Yojiya green tea perfume

Yojiya’s window display and green tea solid perfume made and sold at Taizo-in


Kiosk & shops in NYC

Quite a few years ago, I discovered the independent concept store, Kiosk, located in Tribeca, NYC. I love the concept of showcasing and selling a range of products sourced during their travels from all over the world in a rotating exhibition format. The sourced products are mostly everyday objects that reflect the local culture and aesthetic style.

The shop has since moved to Soho, hidden from street level on the first floor with a narrow graffitied stairway entrance, it feels like a gem in the area that is more touristy and commercial than Time Square these days.

The small shop does feel more like a mini museum than a retail shop, displaying quirky and unusual finds from different countries. My only complaint is that the lighting is rather dim and sometimes it’s hard to examine all their curiosities.

If you are tired of the standard gift shops, a visit to Kiosk may be an inspirational one.


Not far from Kiosk is an unusual shop love by many locals, Pearl River Mart, which moved from its original Chinatown location to Soho in 2003. At first glance, this shop looks more like a kitsch/ tacky Chinese ‘theme’ shop, but actually there are many interesting and fun items to be found here and at reasonable prices too. The range of products are huge, from household products to stationery, clothing, food and tea etc. The space is much airier and less cramped and hectic than its previous location making the shopping much more pleasant.

Another interesting store in the area is the Evolution Store, a mini ‘Natural History Museum’ shop filled with fossils, taxidermy, animal skulls, dried bugs and many other quirky and weird finds. Even if you think it’s creepy to give an animal and even human skull to your friends or loved ones, the place is a great place for browsing and it’s easy to linger for a long time when it is not packed.


Pearl River Mart and Camper store in Soho


There are many unusual and cool shops outside of the Soho area esp. in the West Village, Lower East side and Chelsea ( while the Meatpacking district has become too ‘trendy’). In Chelsea, the Olde good things is a architectural salvage shop ( with three locations in the city) that sells vintage and refurbished furniture and furnishings. However, it wasn’t their shop windows that attracted my attention, it was their truck near Union Square that initially caught my eye. What a fun way to advertise the shop and its furniture, cool!


Olde Good things truck and ‘food’ pouches at the MoMA design store


For design items and books, there is nowhere better than the MoMA design store. Personally, I prefer their Soho location than the two next to and opposite the museum in midtown. There is a diverse selection of design objects and gifts designed by the more established designers as well as many up and coming designers from all over the world. Since Muji has yet to established their US presence, they have a store within the store for Muji fans.


Interior of Chaos and shop window of Malin & Goetz in Chelsea



Finnish graphic design

Bold graphics can be seen everywhere in Helsinki


Not many people are aware of the amount of graphics that surround us in our everyday lives. Yet walking down the streets, we are constantly absorbing messages ( consciously or not) from adverts, signage and banners, there is just no escape.

In Helsinki, it is even harder to NOT notice the graphics because they are so bold and colourful! Beautiful graphics and fonts can be seen everywhere, which reminds me of how London used to be, sadly, it’s no longer the case.



Illustrations and textiles are also prominent, thanks partly to the strong textiles industry. Apart from the iconic Marimekko, there are Johanna Gullichsen, Kauniste and Elina Helenius etc ( perhaps less well-known outside of Finland), just some of designers who are shaping the industry.



To celebrate the graphic design or typography in Helsinki, Napa Gallery has published a map, Font walk where visitors can download, explaining stories behind individual fonts and facades in the city centre. I didn’t have enough time to follow the route, but I did absorb the strong graphical environment whenever possible. If only I had more time…



Here are a few other contemporary Finnish graphics design studio/shops:

Polkka Jam – vintage-style patterned products

Muovo – graphical patterned products

Sanna Ja Olli – produces hemp textile products