Eastern promise for Edinburgh entrepreneur

It was a cold, wintry day in January 2011 and Andrew McRae was behind the counter of his heritage-themed and Harry Potter curios shop in Cockburn Street in Edinburgh's Old Town when a 'distinctive- looking gentleman' walked in and began examining the items very closely.

Andrew McRae in his Modern Context shop in Victoria Street, Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna
Andrew McRae in his Modern Context shop in Victoria Street, Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna

“He started asking questions about my plans for the future. I said my wife Alice and myself had a dream of opening shops all over the UK. He then gave me his business card, said ‘thank you’ and before he left said we should go out and open a business in Hong Kong.”

McRae, a chartered architect who specialised in conservation projects including the Signet Library in the Royal Mile before branching out in to retail, took a leap of faith and emailed Hong-Kong-based designer Terry Waterhouse – the customer in the shop – a business plan, and got a positive reply within 48 hours saying the idea was a “goer”.

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McRae who started with a pop-up shop in the former colony, now has three shops in Hong Kong’s busiest shopping districts at Taikoo Shing and Harbour City and Causeway Bay and plans to expand into China and Asia.

Andrew McRae's pop-up shop in the former colony

“I went to Hong Kong in April 2011. I couldn’t move quickly enough to get into this.”

“Hong Kong has a very strong ‘gift culture’. With many people having small flats they’re looking for unusual, hand-sourced good with a real story showcasing our history and culture.

“It’s not just the high-tech sector which does well overseas. Scottish businesses can have an international footprint if we get our pioneering spirit back.”

McRae has four shops in Edinburgh – his flagship Modern Context store in Victoria Street, famed as the birthplace of JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley where wizarding students buy supplies, his Cockburn Street store and also two John Kay’s Shops, (named after the 18th century caricaturist and engraver) in Victoria Street and in the Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile.

He sources much stock for Edinburgh and Hong Kong from Scottish artisans, ranging from Hogwart’s jumpers and scarves from Lochaven knitwear in Stewarton, in Ayrshire, who dressed the stars of the Harry Potter Hollywood movies; Isle of Skye Candle Company products and artwork by Iain Mackintosh, illustrator for author Alexander McCall Smith’s novels.