As an international destination, Shanghai is a shopping mecca for the savviest of China’s Chinese and western inhabitants alike. While there are a bevy of shops and markets to explore in the southern China metropolis, where does one uncover the city’s most unique antiques, garments and knick-knacks? WildChina consulted Francine Martin, founder of East of the Sun, a personalized shopping service for both visitors to and residents of Shanghai.
WildChina: Tell us about East of the Sun. When did you start your company?
Francine Martin: In 2006.
WC: What services do you offer?
FM: I customize outings to fit each client’s shopping wish list and/or walks to take in unique local neighborhood highlights. Before the outing I try to get the pulse of each shopper in terms of price range, taste, and pace, and choose the shops accordingly. If a client is looking for something unique, such as the fellow who wanted an electric folding bike with very specific wheel diameter and gears, I do the necessary research before the outing to see if it’s available in Shanghai. If a client’s unsure of what to shop for, I’m happy to put together an outing of the best of shopping and rambling that Shanghai has to offer.
WC: What inspired you to found East of the Sun?
FM: I wanted a change of pace after a 25-year career as a financial editor, and decided to put my 30 years in Asia of enjoying taking family and friends to buy the best of what each of the foreign cities I’ve lived in had to offer, and integrating that with exploring unique local color—and make a business out of it. Shanghai, with its rich architectural history and variety of energetic creative designers, fits my two main criterion of a fun city outing.
WC: How do your services enable clients to experiences the ‘real’ Shanghai?
FM: I derive great satisfaction from seeking out and then promoting unique local shops and products. Consequently, many places I take clients to are off the beaten track and not in guidebooks or on concierge lists. I’m still fascinated by unusual local sights, and love to share those with visitors. Since I filter what’s in Shanghai through a foreigner’s eyes, I believe I’m able to gauge what most excites visitors to this great city.
WC: What has been your best shopping discovery in Shanghai? Why?
FM: My most exciting shopping finds have been by chance or by following slim leads thru many twists and turns and being rewarded by discovering something marvelous and unexpected. One is a high-quality, very creative handbag shop; another is modern ceramicist who decorates his pieces with primitive, beautifully executed images. I love the challenge and satisfaction of helping boost a local talented designer or craftsman’s career.
WC: What has been memorable about this career?
FM: I love and chatting with my clients, and communicating the thrill of being in Shanghai. I’ve been amazed at the number of small-world coincidences I’ve had with clients. Running East of the Sun has opened unique, exciting doors for me: I model for one of the clothing brands I discovered, and the Aman Resort group has hired me to source for their boutique at the new Aman Fayun in Hangzhou.
WC: What advice can you offer travelers coming to Shanghai, and China, for the first time?
FM: Try to do some reading before you come to China. Guidebooks give you a historical, geographical and contextual framework within which to travel, and historical fiction or non-fiction books put you in the mood of where you are. Give yourself opportunities to wander; you never know what you’ll see. In the older areas of Shanghai, such as the French Concession, look up at the buildings. Uninteresting shop fronts camouflage many fabulous buildings. Smile.
Photo credit: CNN Go
For more information about East of the Sun, contact Francine or check out their website here.
Interested in visiting Shanghai? Check out WildChina’s journey “Shanghai Highlife”.