A Random Spark of Life on the Buda Side
Lövőház utca, behind the Mammut shopping mall on the Buda side of the river, doesn’t look like much. But, on a freezing cold, gloomy Saturday afternoon in late January, it was a welcome oasis of warmth, color and inspiration.
Several of the bars on Lövőház were open for the sale of forralt bor, the Hungarian version of glühwein or mulled wine, and sweet rumos tea. We stopped for a drink outside the appropriately named Random bar.
There were three high tables and heaters outside. Despite the freezing weather, they were all occupied with people warming themselves with forralt bor, which my companions pronounced delicious.
The air of camaraderie was also heartwarming, with people exchanging glances that said we were all in this together.
It was also splendid to know I could use the Random bar restroom whenever I wished. One of the unforeseen consequences of not being able to sit and eat and drink in cafes, bars and restaurants is having to be creative when it comes to planning restroom visits.
Now, although forralt bor is moreish, there’s only so much rumos tea a man can drink before his head starts to feel like one of those Mexican sugar skulls. While my companions tucked into their third mulled wine, my attention was drawn to a bright, lime green neon sign barely visible in a tiny store across the street.
When I stepped down into the store, I saw that the sign read sparklemonde.com. I was intrigued.
Spark Le Monde is tiny and filled with products that have clearly been carefully chosen or, as they say, curated. My attention was immediately drawn to one of those face roller things that are très desirable right now.
Curious as to what Spark Le Monde was doing lighting up a street in an out of the way part of Budapest, I had a chat with Krisztina, one of the founders, who was behind the counter. Her business partner, Zsófia followed up with answers to questions I emailed.
Spark Le Monde was founded in 2018 by Zsófia, from Budapest, her husband Márton, Krisztina and Amanda. All four founders have day jobs. Spark Le Monde is a “love-project.”
Zsófia has a fashion and business background, working with multinationals and small start-ups. It was her dream to “open an influential fashion space online and then physically bring it to Budapest, my hometown.”
Today, she’s mostly responsible for buying and defining the vision of Spark Le Monde, with her co-founders providing financial, technical and practical support.
Zsófia’s vision is to “bring to life a creative on and offline space where the most talented, independent designers creating sustainable products can meet highly design-sensitive customers. In time, we want to build up so much trust that this space can also become an incubator for fresh talent. We are on a continuous search for brands. With travel restricted, we’ve been scouting for new brands and keeping up with the scene online.”
I was intrigued as to why Spark Le Monde, the kind of store you might expect to find in District VII, is tucked away on Lövőház.
“At the moment, the store is mostly visited by locals, but our customers are diverse. What they have in common is their inquisitiveness and sense of design quality. We aim to attract those people who put energy into discovering things that are a bit hidden, a little secret, who then share our location with their friends so we remain rather underground,” Zsófia told me.
“This is in line with our own approach to sourcing, where we do lots of research to find the smallest, not so obvious but extremely high-quality brands and makers. Online, our customers come from all over the world, as well as Hungary,” she adds.
Having just come from the city center, which has been turned into somewhat of a ghost town by the pandemic, I wondered how the situation was affecting Spark Le Monde.
“We’re a young company that’s far away from reaching our full potential. Our physical space opened just three months before the first lockdown and what’s been painfully clear is how few customers have visited, which is a shame,” Zsófia admits.
“But our business still grew in 2020 because of people shopping online. What’s also interesting is the way sales in different areas of what we offer have been affected. For example, because people don’t leave their homes as much to go to weddings or other social events they don’t need party clothes.”
Zsófia also explained the significance of the “above the keyboard” trend to me. This is causing products visible on camera, such as tops, jewelry, glasses, and hair accessories, to sell extremely well.
But, as she points out, “The sunglasses market, a particular favorite of ours, has sadly been badly affected by face masks. It’s impossible to wear a mask properly without your glasses steaming up. You also look like you’re about to rob a bank.”
Looking to the future, Zsófia and her co-founders are filled with welcome optimism. “We’re keen to introduce new designers, brands and categories. We aim to become an influential destination retailer. We’d also like to open more locations when it’s practical. We have many plans and not much patience.”
After my companions had finished their forralt bor, we walked to the metro via Millenáris Park (a block over from Lövőház), which has had a futuristic makeover. We stood by an iced-over lake surrounded by large, permanent wooden sunbeds dusted with snow and I knew we were all thinking the same thing.
Roll on the spring and, something or other willing, the relaxation of the restrictions we’ve all been living with these past months.
If you’re in Budapest, visit the bricks and mortar Spark Le Monde store at Lövőház utca 29. If you would rather shop online, go to www.sparklemonde.com.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of January 29, 2021.
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