Business - Issue 89 - Magazine | Monocle

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Ideas to toy with

Paris [RETAIL]

Parisian toy shop Au Nain Bleu has survived almost 180 years of activity, bouncing between several locations in affluent Parisian arrondissements. It is now poised to keep defying the onslaught of cheap made-in-China toys with a new outpost on Rue de Bac in the 7th, set to open on 1 December.

Now managed by the eighth generation of the founding Chauvière family, the shop stocks nostalgic toys that could easily be lifted straight out of the era when Au Nain Bleu opened in 1836. Fifty new products are released each year but Au Nain Bleu’s stuffed toys continue to be an enduring staple.

Boxing day

Japan [CRAFT]

In Japan the light-coloured timber from paulownia trees has traditionally been used to make chests of drawers and boxes for shoes and musical instruments. It was such a commonly used material that the government put it on the country’s official crest. While demand has dropped since the 1960s, Hirofumi Fujii’s family business, Masuda Kiribako, is thriving. Based in Koga city in Fukuoka prefecture, the 86-year-old company produces boxes from wood harvested in Japan, China and the US.

Its most prized boxes are handmade by three artisans who produce just 20 a day between them, mainly for museums that use them as storage for works of art. Using the fast-growing trees has other advantages too: the wood is lightweight, absorbs water and is even resistant to fire.

A growing portion of Masuda Kiribako’s annual sales of ¥420mn (€3m) comes from its less pricey, mass-produced boxes. “Companies have been ordering packaging for sake, ceramics, glassware and even marinated pollock roe, which is a favourite in Fukuoka,” says the 28-year-old Fujii.

Baggage reclaim

Portland [LUGGAGE]

Where others might see rubbish, Scott Hamlin sees opportunity. His Portland-based company Looptworks gladly accepts waste from other firms: old leather seats from airplanes, neoprene (the material found in athletic clothing) from outdoor companies and even piles of fabric. From these leftovers he then creates cases and backpacks.

When Southwest Airlines, for example, said it was refurbishing its plane cabins, it offered Looptworks the seats that were made into duffle bags. Looptworks says that it has saved 340,000 metres of cotton, polyester, nylon and neoprene from landfills. And in the process, it’s making a profit.

Urban pulse

Portland [HEALTH]

Over the past six months, the bright blue-and-white shopfronts of Zoom+ have multiplied across Portland, Oregon. Since 2006 the brand has provided drop-in medical services to treat colds, aches and pains when clients can’t wait to see their regular GP. The company either bills clients’ insurance companies or they pay a flat fee at point of use.

Now rapid expansion backed by venture capital – 28 Portland locations, each in a small-scale, high street-oriented retail property – reveals bigger ambitions. “There’s a direct correlation between access and health,” says creative director Steve McCallion. “People are engaged by retail experiences. Our small-format locations put us right in the flow of city life.”

A Zoom+ insurance programme works as a membership pass to all locations with scheduling handled via mobile. It’s a model aimed at dense city locations and is set to roll out beyond Portland.


Winfred Hutabarat

The Union Group


Winfred Hutabarat’s retail brand Aksara gave Jakarta its first quality international book-and-magazine shop and helped him become a respected entrepreneur in his home city. Now, as co-owner of The Union Group, he is building a Jakartan hospitality scene of an international standard. From cosy wine bar Cork & Screw to cosmopolitan cocktail venue Loewy, his 11 restaurants and bars have hit a sweet spot in Jakarta.

Why do you cater to such a diverse clientele?
We try to please the market but we also like to inject originality, creativity and a good dose of ourselves into our plans because the market is very open to new ideas.

The key is to attract a mix of people with diverse backgrounds and a variety of purchasing powers, so we translate that through our concepts. We aim to provide quality offerings to suit an affordable price point but with options to splurge too.

Jakarta is buzzing with new restaurants. How fierce is the competition?
The competition is intense but it’s also a supportive business environment. The market is growing at such a rate that it’s never a zero-sum game. In the past five years more independent restaurants have popped up than the previous 15 before them. Because of the way that the market is growing there is always a feeling that even if we compete with each other, we can still co-exist peacefully.


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