PORTLAND — Two first-of-their-kind stores are bringing an international feel to the Old Port.
Land of Treasure, at 2 Wharf St., and Fatface, at 34 Exchange St., each celebrated openings March 10.
Fatface is the first American store in a British chain of apparel stores founded in 1988.
“We love the community, we feel people are very friendly and have the sense they want us to succeed,” Steve Berry, Fatface’s head of international operations, said March 10.
Land of Treasure, which specializes in Burmese clothing, jewelry and handicrafts, is a longtime dream for owners Aye Mie Mie and U Shwe Tun.
“It is here. First it was like a puzzle,” Aye Mie Mie said March 11. “Almost for a month, I have been sleeping three or four hours a night.”
Aye Mie and Tun took a long journey to open Land of Treasure. Both of them left Burma, then called Myanmar by its ruling military junta, in search of better economic futures. They met in New York City in 2001 and married soon after.
They earned their exit papers in a lottery, Aye Mie said.
“It depends on your luck,” she said of the process that took her about eight months.
Tun’s work operating an independent sushi franchise at the Yarmouth Hannaford Bros. store brought him to Maine first. Aye Mie soon followed and the couple began raising a family.
Since 2011, government power in their homeland has shifted from the military, and with it has come the easing of trade sanctions that allow Aye Mie and Tun to stock Burmese goods.
Jewelry and art made of multi-colored jade stones show the complexity and color of the mineral, Aye Mie said.
“When you say jade, people think of green,” she said while showing orange minerals that are also combined with native rubies, sapphire, peridot and shells.
Also prominent are lacquer items, the organically grown lacquer extracted from thit-say trees. The lacquer is shaped by hand into cups, teapots, coasters and layered with bamboo, horse hair, straw or eggshells from ducks and chickens.
The process can take four to six months, and the lacquer ware is made by Tun’s relatives in Burma, Aye Mie said.
After arriving in New York, Aye Mie scrimped on her own wages to send $500 each month to her family. Now the couple intends to donate store proceeds to help impoverished Burmese citizens receive educations and close the wealth gap.
Aye Mie said the donations will go to temples that have also served as foster homes and schools.
“I will try to bring new items in every month,” she said of the store inventory. Smoking pipes will soon be available, followed by carvings made from coconut shells.
Fatface began in the back of a van in France, as founders Tim Slade and Jules Leaver began selling imprinted T-shirts and sweatshirts at Val d’Isere, their favorite Alpine ski resort in France, according to the company website.
The store name is taken from their favorite resort slope, La Face, and the company has expanded to about 200 stores in England and Ireland. It took a road trip with the founders and CEO Anthony Thompson across the U.S. and Canada to determine Portland was the best place for the first American store.
“What is not to love?” Berry asked, adding the abundance of locally made ice cream was a huge draw for staff.
The stores specialize in casual wear and accessories, including shoes, belts and some jewelry.
“It is important to have something for everyone,” Berry said.
A Fatface trait is to have each store take on elements of its locale. In the Old Port, the store accentuates the brick and hardwood floors, and Berry praised Portland Architectural Salvage for providing fixtures and fittings from area barns.
Store manager Tricia Kidwell said she was also drawn by the company philosophy.
“They value the balance between work and home life,” Kidwell said.
Land of Treasure owner Aye Mie Mie shows a lacquerware vessel for carrying hot meals. The store offers goods from throughout her native country of Burma.
Aye Mie Mie displays a lacquer teapot layered with poultry egg shells March 11, a day before she and husband U Shwe Tun opened Land of Treasure in the Old Port.