The shop-house-lined entrance of Ari Soi 2 is where small businesses flourish. Here you can find establishments like Dice, a five-storey board game café, the famous Kenn’s Coffee and Croissant, as well as Korean and Japanese restaurants snuggling just a few steps away from each other. Not to mention that this area used to house a cool bike shop like Tokyo Bike, an indicator that Ari is one of the hippest places in Bangkok.
For those who have been to Ari Soi 2 and noticed this lovely clothes shop with a white neon sign but still haven’t taken a look inside, I’ll have you know that the shop owner is such a darling! Let’s take a detour from your usual stroll today and chat with the charming Japanese lady, “Fumiko” of Fumikii Tokyo, in her little fashion shop in Ari.
Konnichi Wa! (こんにちは)
The small businesses in Ari are already known for their friendly service. Still, I have yet to see a clothes shop that welcomes its customers as gleefully as Fumikii Tokyo. This is Fumiko’s words:
“I don’t want to pressure customers into buying something when they visit my shop. Feel free to look around or strike a conversation. Some people even stay for an hour chatting away after they have bought the clothes.”
This is probably why Fumiko’s checkout is a small coffee table where customers can relax while she bags her goods, to encourage customers to spend more time in the shop, and to give an atmosphere of a friend’s house where you’re simply here to borrow clothes. Looking around, you can admire the collection of clothes and jewelry, both new and second-hand, imported from Japan from big and small brands, each hand-picked by Fumiko. She also contacts all the brand owners personally.
After a few visits, we became familiar enough that Fumiko insisted on calling me “Hamichu-chan”. Today, Hamichu-chan is gladly sitting down for a nice, long conversation with Fumiko about the identity and the history of this shop and the lady herself.
“I came from Tokyo. I was born in the Adachi district. It was not much to talk about, but that made me a Tokyoite-born. Tokyo is very different from Thailand; everything is just so well-organized it’s hard to explain and the people are more serious than in Bangkok.”
When asked about her childhood, Fumiko responded, somewhat shyly, with:
“I would argue with my mom a lot about clothes because she decided what I should wear outside. She would always choose girlish clothes that I was so sick and tired of…”
“Why didn’t you like the girlish clothes from your mom?”
“I was into roller-skating at the time. I and my friends would also ride… those one-wheeled-thingy that you pedal like bicycles. What is it called in English?”
I didn’t know the word for that. A later Google search told me that it’s “unicycle”. Not sure how it had become a popular activity for Japanese people in the early 1990s.
“Right, so I preferred active clothing, like shorts. Becoming a teenager, I wasn’t much into the study, but was more interested in fashion instead. Back then Nylon magazine was all the rage, and Tokyo teens were very fashion conscious. We would stop by the bathroom after school to roll up our skirts, change our socks and then ride to Shibuya for a stroll through the malls. I think that was when my interest in fashion began.”
Tokyo fashion by Fumiikii Tokyo
Fast-forwarding to the present, Fumiko had moved to Thailand for quite a few years. She opened a small clothes shop in Ari Soi 2 as she wished. It hasn’t been a year since she moved to the current location. This shophouse used to be Gloc, a selective clothing shop much like Fumiko’s that was equally chic.
If you see Fumiko outside, the way she dresses will probably give away the fact that she works in fashion. Her style and that of the collection in her shop are pretty much alike. One can see a palette of light brown, off-white, and green that feels comfortable for the wearers and soothing for the lookers, laced with subtly sexy twists.
“Fumiikii is my username from when I was young (laughs). It’s a blend between Fumiko and a bit of geek. Just right for me.”
Talking about geeks, Fumiko is quite passionate about each fashion brand in her collection. She can talk endlessly about fabrics, colors, styles, the history of each brand, as well as each piece’s production year. Her collection consists of either second-hand or brand-new, women’s and men’s, from brands that are sold only in Japan such as 6Roku, Shinezone, todayful; foreign brands imported from Japan such as Steven Alan, Isabel Marant, Engineered Garments; European and American secondhand garments (that are popular among Japanese people) some are from the 1980s; as well as Thai indie brands, such as Glare Glare and fufu. Most of which are handpicked by Fumiko herself.
Flight Attendant Turned Fashion Dealer
Fumiko told me that after finishing her study in language major, she got a regular office job. It was, however, not her dream job, since she wanted to be a flight attendant. By the time she turned 34, she was filled with the idea that it was too late for her to pursue this career.
Among Japanese, changing her career midway like this is frowned upon, let alone becoming a cabin crew which was recognized as a job for young people. The impulse was not supported by most of her friends, not even herself at the time. Until this one time when she was at Pudong airport with her luggage stuck in an x-ray machine, a chit-chat with the random Japanese airport staff. She told her that one of her seniors became a cabin crew when they were 34.
“Just give it a try. It’s better now than never.”
She applied and actually landed the job. With this job, she had more opportunities to visit and make more friends in Thailand. This led to another decision: she wanted to move to Thailand and apply for a job with a Thai airline instead.
“I like Thailand, and I wanted to live here. One day Thai Air Asia was recruiting on the same day I was scheduled to Thailand, so I took the few hours I had there to attend the interview and had to fly back on the same day.”
As it happened, she was accepted and was then based in Thailand. Without the first step, it would be hard to imagine how she has come this far.
The Story of “Ama-san”
After the conversation, Fumiko asked me to listen to another story about why she is emotionally tied to Ari. I decided to pay her another visit.
“When I was looking for a place to rent for my clothing store business in Ari. It was not long ago. There was a shophouse that was looking for a new tenant. I heard that the owner had quite a few candidates and her standard for tenants was pretty high.”
“A Japanese friend helped me make an appointment but then couldn’t come with me on the visit, so I had to come alone. I was really nervous because I spoke basically no Thai at all.”
“I got to talk with Ama, who was the landlady. Ama had a walking stick and a stern look that made me even more nervous. And of course, Ama spoke neither English nor Japanese. Our communication was a complete failure on that day (laughs).”
Fumiko said that had half given up at that moment. But in the end, she was contacted by a relative of the landlady and told that she would be the next tenant. She also learned that there were many candidates to choose from, but Ama ended up choosing Fumiko because she took a liking to her.
After that, Fumiikii Tokyo was opened here with “Ama-san” living upstairs. Fumiko rarely had a chance to meet Ama as elderly people don’t come downstairs without a reason. It was Ama-san’s family that was very supportive of the shop. The whole big family looked through the clothes she had and bought one and said “Kaidee” (Good business for you) and that’s how she learned the word. Until one day an ambulance turned up, and Fumiko raced upstairs. She said that she felt honored to meet Ama again in the very intimate moment of the family and to be among the people who were there with Ama in her last moments.
Hajimemashite (はじめまして), nice to meet you.
Since the day I had an interview with Fumiko, every time I walk by her store, I have a warm feeling that makes me want to stop by and have a nice chat, or just to cheer her up from the covid-19 situation. All of Fumiko’s customers can take a picture with her. She treats every customer like a guest visiting her house, and that feeling never changed no matter how many times I stopped by.
Feel free to give Fumiko a visit.