Mak's experience with Chocolate Rain, best known for its doll character called Fatina, shows how great products are often not enough to guarantee success, and how collaborations—even with surprising partners—can help overcome some of the challenges smaller brands face.
Chocolate Rain's new flagship store is located in the PMQ, formerly the Police Married Quarters building, in Hong Kong's Central district. With around 130 studio units, shops and restaurants, Mak said, the PMQ will be an art and creative hub like 798 in Beijing. The facility is a Hong Kong Government effort to support local brands and the creative industry. Other companies in the PMQ include G.O.D., Vivienne Tam and several Michelin-Starred restaurants.
Chocolate Rain's shop features a gallery space, which is now hosting a pop-up exhibition in partnership with local apparel retailer Giordano.
Mak told Campaign Asia-Pacific that running a restaurant associated with her brand has long been her dream. In fact, she opened a restaurant in the SoHo area of Central more than 10 years ago, but faced a common challenge for businesses in Hong Kong when rent hikes forced her to close after three years.
For a time after that, her brand collaborated with Japanese-Italian restaurant Italian Tomato on desserts. But Mak said she found that restaurant's fare more traditional than what she wanted to associate with her brand.
The new restaurant, which will open in April, will focus on progressive cuisine—fun snacks and desserts from tea time to dinner. “Molecular gastronomy is out already," Mak said. "Whereas progressive cuisine is like Picasso’s deconstruction painting style, giving food and food ingredients more respect and consideration in the cooking process, and not sticking to pan-fried or deep-fried.”
According to the brand’s website, Chocolate Rain's design work has been exhibited and distributed internationally, including the MoMA, Tate Modern, British Museum and Guggenheim Museum, and its collection and illustration were commissioned projects for brands such as Clinique, Stella McCartney and Swarovski. "Everything we did made of patchworks, which symbolized up-cycling old treasures," said Mak, who added that customers range from eight to 80 years old.
The pop-up exhibition represents the second time the brand has collaborated with Giordano. Last year, Giordano collaborated with 20 local designers, both 'legendary' and up-and-coming, for its 'Pass the Torch, Play it Forward' campaign.
Mak, who graduated from Central St Martin in London, said that brands and creative people in Europe can enjoy lots of space for exhibitions and creative work. With rents in Hong Kong too high for anything but international brands, she hopes the new space at PMQ, with the government support, will help give local brands a more stable environment for growth.