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All About Experience with Kusmi Tea

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With both of her parents being artists, Alice Rival Garcia grew up surrounded by creativity, but preferred the scientific side of things. She trained as an architect at l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, combining both of these elements. Alice is now in charge of International Retail Design at Kusmi Tea, a premium tea brand founded in 1867. The company combines the tradition of its heritage with the modernity of the retail market today.

MiND had the opportunity to speak to Alice in Paris and delve into her experience at Kusmi Tea and within the retail sector.

Alice Rival Garcia

Can you tell us about your background?

During my studies, I had an amazing experience in Mexico City for 1 year and where I got to know a very artistic version of architecture. Mexican architecture is very defined for the light and the sun. When I came back to France, it was very difficult to find a job, so I decided to start to work as a project manager for buildings. As a project manager, you have to follow every job to make sure it all fits together to match the plans. It was very interesting because I learned so much more than I did during my years at school – it’s a very concrete point of view. For example when you do a drawing, the carpenter will cut what you draw, but I learned how the carpenter works before doing the drawings.

After that, I worked in traditional architecture firms for a while, but it was quite boring because I really love the practical side. I had the opportunity to work with a man from Starbucks and I loved this experience and the rhythm, because retail is very fast – you have to orchestrate every single aspect.

Kusmi Tea had around 50 stores when I arrived four years ago, they had an external architect, but the was now to have a vision for the brand and its evolution. Originally, I was asked to follow the technical architecture aspects for the stores. Sylvain Orebi, the owner of Kusmi Tea, is a very creative person; he has a lot of audacity and loves design and architecture. He took me with him to draw the shops. I think as an architect, I can be creative if I have a frame to do so. We were complementary and worked very well together.

For the last two years, I have just focused on the design and the concept. It was very interesting because during this last year, I had time to find new concepts and adapt our retail concept to new markets and new customers. Before Kusmi Tea the people I worked with were all architects, relations can often be complicated! Now it’s completely different because I’m further away from traditional architecture. I learned so much from somebody who taught me things that I didn’t really know before.

“When you feel useful, you feel more productive.”

Kusmi Tea store at Gare du Nord, Paris

Can you describe your role as International Retail Designer?

I’m in charge of the design image of Kusmi Tea. So every pop-up, every store, everything that we build, I have to draw and validate it. I work directly with Sylvain Orebi; I don’t have a team because I work directly with the expo commercial team.

We had a lot of demand for freestanding displays, but we only had wall concepts, so I said to Sylvain Orebi that we couldn’t lose the opportunity. We tried and it was very successful. I have to adapt to the clients, the markets and countries. The concept of Kusmi Tea is not the design, it’s the product itself.

What are the distinctive features of Kusmi Tea stores and how do these relate to the brand?

We choose furniture that lets the product stand out, because we have very colorful products. So light is also very important, we have a lot of light in our stores. And of course, a very strong concept was the red floor. This was very attractive; it makes people want to enter the store. I think that was very audacious and it matched very well with the brand, the colors and the visuals. The materials are not very imposing – they complement the product. Our code was red, white and black. Although now we are in a transition, we want it to be more natural, we want to have teas that are more organic. Our values for the client are wellness and pleasure, so we want them to have a real premium experience.

Kusmi Tea flagship store, Champs Elysees

I think there is also a mix of old and new, because Kusmi Tea is a very old tea brand from St Petersburg – in 2017 we celebrated the 150th anniversary. Sylvain Orebi bought the brand with its personality and its strong history, but he put his contemporary touch on it. It’s fun, original and attractive but there’s also something else – we want to take care of the people. We have a very traditional recipe, and you can find a tea that matches with your routine, your age, etc.

How do you see the future of branding and store design evolving?

We are working on a transition with technology. For example, we have a Kusmi Club where you can follow what you bought, and it suggests related products. I think for retail, the community is the most important experience because today you have online communities, but it’s very virtual. I think that we all look for the same things when we look for products on the internet – it’s about feedback and experience. That’s what is happening in our stores – when you come in, the sales people offer you a tea so you taste it and you can speak with them, etc.

Pop-up store at Galeries Lafayette

Last year we put a tasting point in every shop to create more community and more experience. From my point of view that’s the key to bring people into the store. It’s also important to learn about the traditional way of making tea, because the ritual is very important, every tea has a different brewing time. I think the future is to follow the experience, from the digital to the store, and then also after leaving the store.

"The reason you go into a store is for the experience, you can smell, taste, and discover more."

Tasting point at Kusmi Tea store

"At Kusmi Tea, we are all on the same level, everyone is young and dynamic, we love our brand and product and I think we all have the energy to make it work."

What is the most important thing you have learned during your career?

After many years looking for the right balance between what I do and the people I work with, I found that the most important thing is to enjoy and do your best with the people you work with. So for me, the most important thing is the motivation from the people.

By: Isabelle James & Lisa Zanon