Cover clean november MMATB 25-09-2021

Cynthia Lok, 28, and Bryan Lok, 30, are the brother-sister duo behind Hong Kong’s new sustainable café, Clean, a coffee bar and launderette that opened this autumn in Sheung Wan

Were you always in the food and beverage space?

Cynthia: No, quite far from it, actually. By day, I’m the regional head of strategy, brand and communications for an international insurance company. Bryan has been in banking for the last nine years and recently moved over to insurance too. Starting Clean has definitely opened our eyes. The F&B world is very different—it’s much more human than finance. We’ve realised the importance of being authentic and engaging with our customers. It’s really taught us to look at things from 100 million different angles.

How did you come up with the idea for this coffee and laundry bar?

Bryan: It’s not a new concept in Hong Kong, but for us it’s been four years in the making. I’m a coffee geek and Cynthia has always had this strange addiction to the smell of clean clothes. When we both moved back to Hong Kong after working in the UK, we noticed how difficult it was to do laundry in this city if your apartment didn’t have a washer or dryer. The two things came together quite naturally.

What role do each of you play in the business?

Bryan: Cynthia is a bit of a workaholic who can’t sleep until her to-do list is complete. She loves taking on the operational and marketing side of the business. I look after our finances.

Cynthia: We wanted to create something that we could look back on when we are old and grey and be proud of. It’s actually been a great combination of our skills and personalities. I’m the doer who wants to give everything a try and Bryan is the analytical thinker who makes sure things make sense.

In what ways is your shop sustainable?

Cynthia: Our brand is about making small steps towards sustainability. We only source quality beans that are either Rainforest Alliance Certified or Direct Trade. This has limited our choices massively, but we are grateful to have found others who share similar beliefs. Our default milk option is oat milk. We do offer dairy milk as an option but at an additional cost. We also use the Astoria Storm espresso machine as it is more water- and energy efficient, without compromising on quality. Most of our takeaway packaging is either home compostable or fully recyclable. The only item that is industrial compostable is our cold cup, and for that, we have partnered with NGO Eco Community Promotion Association that sends them to an industrial composting facility. Our machines are preset to automatically dispense natural, toxic-free laundry detergent and run cold water cycles to reduce energy consumption by up to 90 per cent. We are also actively promoting a cashless and paperless community, which has been controversial in our neighbourhood, but we are getting there. 

 

How are you demystifying the concept of sustainability?

Bryan: Sustainability has become an overused word. It comprises not only environmental issues, but also social and economic conditions, and we often forget about that. If everyone can do a little bit better every day, the impact can be much bigger. With Clean, we’re taking daily habits and making small changes in the process, to slowly shift towards better ways of doing things.

Tell us about your coffees.

Bryan: Our menu is simple. Our signature is hand-drip coffee which uses single-origin beans that we carefully curate each season. Other favourites are House Grey, which is a charcoal-infused latte; Going CoCo, an iced Americano made with coconut water; and the Sesame Latte, which has won so many hearts since we opened.

Launderettes are usually mundane places. How are you making Clean inviting for customers?

Cynthia: Doing laundry [is] such a chore, so we want to change that. Clean is a fun, happy place. Our washing machines are pastel green and our shop has accents of pink with mismatched tiles. From the [menu] icons, which are inspired by washing labels, to our typography, we want to spark joy when our customers see our branding and content. The intention behind Clean is to make laundry and the concept of sustainability more fun. Now you can grab your friends and enjoy a cup of coffee while you sit back and wait for your laundry— and with every wash, you know you’re doing something good for our environment.

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