Thursday, July 7, 2016

Hla Day - how I see it!

Hla Day is a wordplay of Myanmar and English words meaning Beautiful Day. Hla De translates as beautiful from the Myanmar language. Hla Day is a new social enterprise which, in the coming days, will open a shop selling Myanmar souvenirs with a contemporary design. Their clients are mainly the tourists and the expat community in Yangon. 

Unfortunately behind the creation of Hla Day lies a sad story. Much has been written and commented about the reasons why the founder together with the lead designer of Pomelo were literally pushed out of their business. These reasons are still not totally clear to me. I keep my opinion, when an enterprise, even a social one, becomes too successful nasty things have a higher chance to happen. Like Myanmar Times rightly said the people involved in running the business had different views on "how it should develop in the future".

In brief, the Hla Day founders created several years ago the popular Pomelo shop. I remember my short visit back in 2013, being on a mission of a few days in Myanmar. I popped up in the shop at around 9pm to buy some souvenirs for the family back home. I spent more money than I planned but I could not hold back from such beautiful designs like the beads and recycled jewellery, the hand-made scarves, the table cloths and the traditional paper toys. The products had that modern twist one still cannot find anywhere else in Yangon.  Back in 2013, you could only chose between Bogyoke market and Pomelo to buy souvenirs. There was this great opportunity to develop the highly productive sector given the influx of tourists eager to spend their money on hand-made, unique and not mass produced gifts. Pomelo did a great job by employing producer groups, artisans, and disadvantaged people. They took contact, discussed, taught and trained the talented locals and finally through the selling of products helped them to become financially stable and to grow their business. More than two years ago, when we finally arrived in Myanmar, I immediately visited the shop. I was amazed by the impressive array of products compared with the previous year. Pomelo grew rapidly and together with them also the producers. I started to buy more gifts for me, the family back home and friends. I took my family and friends there. I wrote an article on my blog. With other words, I became a fan. 

After the split, Pomelo became Pomelo for Myanmar and recently has undergone a shop redesign. They thirst for a new identity. Understandably.  I went recently to check out the new shop. The first thing it struck me was the security guard present at the door. The new design is a modern one bringing more colours to the place. But for me something is still missing. From one of the corners I looked at the whole concept: layout and products together. The new management did not succeed, in my opinion, to successfully reinvent the shop. There are only a few new products but which did not prove to me the same ingenuity I was used to from the old Pomelo.

The Hla Day shop has an amazing venue. It is located in the same building and on the same floor with Rangoon Tea House (RTH). I can already imagine some beautiful events both enterprises will come up with. The RTH is a well-known restaurant which serves delicious reinvented local food and which boosts an impressive tea selection. Today, while visiting Hla Day, I could not help but think at the tourists I saw in the dry season visiting Pomelo after having lunch at the next door Monsoon restaurant. Between the two restaurants I prefer the cosiness of RTH. I believe Monsoon became too popular (and a place to have a lunch set menu for large groups of tourists) to keep the standards of quality food. It happened twice that my food at Monsoon came after a very long waiting time and on top of it was already cold.

I very much look forward to the Hla Day shop. I look forward to the new products which I know only people who lived for many years in the country can design. I saw today some of the new designs. One word: hla de! Their designs and materials come from the deep understanding of the country's culture. The more you live in the country the more you understand the people and you win their confidence and enthusiasm for new projects.

New products: a new fashion line!
New products: ceramics, and many more...

As regards the producers I have some good news confirmed from seeing some products both in the Pomelo and the Hla Day shops: some will sell to both stores. Some will only produce for one of the shops. I wish both social enterprises good luck, because I am interested in the well-being of the Myanmar producers, but if I were to bet on a success story I would chose the Beautiful Day! Because entering the shop today, which is still work in progress, I was welcomed with smiles and hope and a designer who was motivated to show the visitors that she does not lack new ideas. But we need to have patience she told me. True but I am sure they will have some beautiful days ahead.

Good luck!
An already impressive website here.
Address: 81 Pansodan Street, 1st Floor, Lower Middle Block, Yangon, Myanmar

(on the same floor with Rangoon Tea House) 

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