Opening the door to the Merci Milo shop feels like opening the portal to a secret kingdom of fantasy and play. A world that Caroline Kim-Rodrigues has been cultivating since 2016. Walls filled with the kind of toys you see in French kids' fashion magazines, handmade garlands by artist friends, and pens and stationery from Japan. It's a very "global boutique" take on a children's toy store. Caroline herself is from a Korean-American family, and you can find incredible treasures from her trips to Korea, one of the main inspirations behind the shop she started out of her Los Angeles apartment in 2016- which now has two locations, Los Angeles and Portland.
Inspiration and encouragement gifted by family.
Raised in a family of retailers, Caroline always envisioned herself having a store of some kind, but not necessarily a toy store. The birth of her second daughter created a shift in perspective. "Milo changed everything for me. At that time, I was actually going through a very difficult period in my life, and it was my daughter who pulled me out of it. She gave me a completely new perspective and restored hope and inspiration in my soul," she recalls. Caroline was inspired to create a space where all children could enjoy a safe and happy childhood filled with imagination and creativity. “ I was cultivating a magical space where everyone could feel a sense of wonder and simply grow up happily. For that, it had to be a place where everyone could feel safe, which also meant being kind to the planet, so a focus on environmentally friendly and consciously made products."
What Asian American immigrants inherit/pass on.
Caroline has a talent for finding unique toys and objects, sourcing from local artists, many of them personal friends like Herikita, a Mexican-born illustrator that makes paper goods exclusively for Merci Milo, or traditional makers like Merrythoughts from the UK, that have been making their mohair dolls since the 1930s. In addition to these, a new collection of Korean toys have also been a huge hit, sourced on a recent trip to Korea. As a child of Asian American immigrants, creating a place where everyone is equally safe and peaceful is an important ethos for her to express and communicate through the medium of a toy store.
“My family immigrated to the United States from Seoul, Korea, and have been small business owners all their lives. I learned about work ethic and how to run a small business from my loving family, especially my Grandfather. To me, the store is family and community. My mission as an Asian American was passed down from my Grandfather, an Engineer, a survivor of war, and also a retailer himself, and will proudly pass on these important values to my own children.
My lucky charm
As a working mom who must seamlessly transition from work to home life, Caroline's Randoseru has everything she needs in a day for both work and her personal life - including her very important lucky charm.
"We collect clovers as lucky charms," she says." My daughter chose this charm, and is one of the things I always keep close to me, so I have one hooked to my bag so I can always see it. I love this detail of my Randoseru! "
Having encountered Tsuchiya's Randoseru on a previous trip to Tokyo, she fell in love with it at first sight. For Caroline, it hit all the right notes: Japanese-made, a brand with a special heritage story, and a chic style. “I'm not someone who follows trends," she says. “Rather, I prefer anything classic, with a bit of nostalgia. When I acquire an item, I always make sure I will wear it for the next 10 years. In that respect, I love the items from Tsuchiya because they are all classic, versatile, and the quality is incredible. And since I typically dress in neutrals, I love this primary red leather, it instantly elevates my look in a fun yet chic way." Caroline has always valued legacy, " Our hope is that the toys and books we select will be loved by children, grow with them, and then be passed on to someone else to treasure” Some day, Milo may inherit her mother's red Randoseru and continue in her footsteps, like her family before her...