For a majority of people, the pursuit of life flows in tandem with the pursuit of wellness. It is a soon-to-be $7 trillion business, after all. Combating on a daily basis with the buzzing whirl of news headlines, endless scroll feeds that algorithms have selected for us, and motivational advertisements telling us we can do more, better, and more successfully, we come to desire considered moments of peaceful respite. The boom in meditation apps and aromatherapy-focused personal care are testament to that.
From whole-body wellness accessed through our olfactory system to appealing to our nature-rooted selves and the creation of scent meditations, the industry’s pursuit of solutions continues. For Keelan Doyle, a former DJ and music producer who turned his love of all things music into a successful sonic branding business, there was something audible missing from that wellness equation.
His well-being enterprise Øthers is a powerful call to arms for those seeking to improve their daily lives through sensory mindfulness practices, asking users to think for themselves and radicalize their well-being. Together with entrepreneur and mentor Chris Pugh and wellness industry veteran Ros Simmons, Doyle built the brand over the course of the pandemic.
Øthers brings together fine fragrance, neuroscience, philosophical thought, soundscapes, and breathwork with an in-app experience. The visual identity that permeates Øthers’ physical and digital offerings is of striking modernity and an elevated, chic, and futuristic take on wellness.
The brand debuts with two scents, Red Skies and Mystic Zingaro, created in partnership with Givaudan. Red Skies is designed to improve focus, scented with uplifting pink peppercorn, red mandarin zest, fresh spice, and red resin. Mystic Zingaro, its calming counterpart, contains notes of cut grass, frankincense, mushroom, and hinoki wood. Each eau de parfum is packaged in a test tube–like transparent vial: a rich ruby red for Red Skies and deep forest green for Mystic Zingaro. Consider it a meeting point between a streamlined scientific object and chromatic invigoration/relaxation.
Rather than merely rely on traditional aromatherapeutic approaches, Doyle felt it was imperative to have the scientific data to back up their fragrance claims. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), physiological monitoring, and electroencephalography (EEG), the team measured the impact of smelling each scent across 20 participants. Upon smelling Red Skies, 85% of the participants were able to get into a more focused state, increasing EEG frontal beta activity, which is associated with an awakened state. Olfactory stimulation with Mystic Zingaro resulted in a slower heart rate for 90% of participants and an equal amount reporting a meditative state. Theta brainwave activity, associated with relaxed states such as dreaming, also increased.
Once users download the app—accessed via a barcode available only in the fragrance box at the present moment, although there are plans to roll out a stand-alone version—they can access three different pillars: Ponder, Immerse, and Breathe. Ponder is a collection of audio recordings featuring philosopher and Golden Globe-winning composer Alex Ebert, who waxes lyrical about themes such as status and meaning. Internationally renowned audiovisual artist Max Cooper worked on creating the immersive soundtrack to said spoken word. In the Immerse section one will find “sonic interventions” in the form of curated playlists to help with issues such as creative blocks or burnout. Breathe is divided into a Tune In and Tune Out section, using the breath to help invigorate or calm the mind and body, led by breathwork alchemist Rodo Escalante.
Indeed, Øthers is a powerful testament to the potential of cross-industry collaboration. In addition to the aforementioned talents, the brand was also molded by work with strategic partner Ramy Najjar of White Mirror Studios, who assisted in the designing of the app, and neuroscientist Francisco Teixeira, who asisted in the company’s olfactory research.
BeautyMatter sat down with Doyle to delve into the power of collaboration, the vast potential of sound whether in personal or professional spheres, and why wellness is a growth cycle, not a destination.
Your background is in music and sonic branding, but I wanted to start at the very beginning in terms of where your interest in sound and music really grew from.
My dad was always in a rock band growing up. He was always singing around the house and playing music. And I kind of grew up with that, which was a kind of very ’80s rock world. As I got older, that lent itself to this correlation between the idea of music and imagination. I started relating moments of my life to music and always turned to music to get you through difficult times or celebrating happy times.
When I was 16 or 17, I started getting into music production. I had the music bug and started playing around with music software. I like the idea of being able to sit with an idea, with no musical language training, and learning how you can communicate that idea. Music is a communication tool. Over time, doing about 10,000 hours, I got to a level where I could actually create stuff that I was happy with. I started DJing and taking the music I was making live. Creating something that’s in your head and then making it sonically tangible and seeing the reactions of people and how you could create the mood of the space and environment—that’s what the bug was.
I carried on producing and writing library music for TV, then got involved in sonic branding. That was the climax of the music career that I was in, but it got very corporate and it steered away from what I got into it for in the first place.
The world has opened up to sonic branding. What do you think is the key to being able to sonically embody a client's vision or ethos through sound?
It was always music in itself being an artistic expression [that] is always something that is quite subjective, so the biggest challenge was conveying something that everybody would understand. A big brand invests a lot of money into having a one-size-fits-all approach because obviously that's their role. Trying to turn something that's so artistic and individual into something that can be received by as many people as possible was probably the biggest challenge.
The process was always around diving into a brand, learning everything about them, and pulling apart or finding nuggets of inspiration that you're able to translate [into something with] substance or meaning about that brand or company to try and quantify their values, or the idea of honesty and transparency. How you can you solidify that? Is it leaning into acoustic instruments? Is it piano driven? It's a fun game because you can really put it apart and it becomes quite abstract. But the hardest thing is to really nail something that really fits and communicates with everyone.
Øthers was born out of your own personal and professional journey. I'd love to hear a bit more about the initial spark and inspiration.
[It started with] my fascination with sound. I could go into a very deep conversation very quickly as to how important sound is in life itself as everything is built from vibration and energy. That fascination with how sound can communicate things without language, the idea that watching a film on mute is never going to have the same impact, sound being such a powerful tool was something that led me in the direction of creating Øthers.
In my own personal journey of battling with lots of different things like anxiety, stress, and a racing mind, I always turned to sound as a medicine that could help me through not only dark times, but also celebrate the good times. When I'm DJing at party and everyone's all together, if I'm alone and going through a tough time mentally, I use sound as a facilitator to express, not suppress, emotion.
That led me into looking into other senses, such as smell, and seeing the correlation between how it affects the mood and what roles it has. We live in a world where everything is so heavily tech orientated, so technologically advanced, and there's a pill for everything—tapping back into your senses can actually be the simplest way.
Looking back into my own routine, I've always found it quite hard, funnily enough, to meditate. I tried using other apps that are out there and they didn't really resonate. I don't know if that's because I always felt like I had to sacrifice the quality of music to go and listen to a YouTube meditation. That's what made me think: in the morning, every day, if I woke up 10 minutes earlier, I can adopt that window of time to do something productive that I was already doing anyway, which was this idea of spraying scent leaving the house or putting my headphones on getting ready to leave the house. That music and scent combination occurred to me, and surely if we put them together in some way, that will amplify the effect. That's what took us down that route.
When you were in that journey of using scent and sound to help you, were there any specific scents or sounds that you were drawn to during that time?
I started getting into ambient music seven or eight years ago. The point at which we kicked off this idea was a few months prior to COVID. I just had my first child, I was at this point in my life where I was taken over from working in the music industry for a long time, listening to so much noise and different things all the time, traveling around. I started getting into more abstract ambient music for different settings. Whether I'm on a plane or in a long queue, I'd have a playlist for different moments to try and help me balance those experiences of the sensory overload.
As for the scent part, I just loved exploring the different scents. I'd always buy testers of everything, it's like being a foodie and wanting to eat at every restaurant just to experience as much as they can. I do that with sound and fragrances because they all tell stories, and the more stories you can absorb, the more aware you become about different situations.
When it came to developing the fragrances, I’m curious about the names that you chose for them and the process of developing them. To what point in functional fragrance is it aesthetics versus the actual ingredients that have these scientifically proven mental health benefits? How do you balance making sure those are in there while still making a beautiful fragrance?
The process was the first time I'd ever been involved in developing a scent, which again, is also a bit like sonic branding, it becomes quite subjective. I was lucky to be working with Givaudan because they're so great at what they do. They'd spent 30+ years in aromachology and developed such a wide spectrum of scent profiles that we knew were going to be functional for what we needed. We had these two functions in mind, which was one scent to focus and sharpen and the other one to relax.
We tried to build a different understanding of what the scent was, rather than just focus on the notes. This idea of Red Skies came about listening to an ambient track called Red Sky. I started thinking about the concept of a red sky and you only really see one after a storm has passed, or after a really hot day before a storm. It's that idea of the tipping point, surrendering to something outside of your control, but in the end, it becomes a beautiful piece, a fresh perspective for the next day. That’s where we wanted to tie in the idea of Red Skies and then were were smelling more ozonic and woody scents to reflect the earth with the sky. It was a natural and organic progression of the concept.
With Mystic Zingaro, that scent came from the idea of walking in nature listening to ambient music and how you can try and focus on what's around you, which is this sacred land and wilderness around us. Both scents tied into this philosophy of a deeper meaning.
The app is an experience within itself, including philosophical recordings discussing matters such as independence and identity, but also complements the fragrances. What's the challenge of creating a harmonious interaction between sound and scent?
Scent and sound opens up a Pandora's box of exploration. Whether you listen to a piece of music and you want to feel more focused or more relaxed, the effect of our fragrances and the music together will give you what you need. We went on to do our own study in a neuroscience lab, and found that the focus fragrance still had quite a profound effect to make you feel relaxed.
The most fun exciting thing about trying something new that hasn't been done before is that it opens up doors to new formats of how you can create things. We took that approach with every aspect of the brand, down to the photography and the aesthetic approach of the packaging design. It was all about trying to redefine the way in which we see, hear, interact with what we call “wellness.” I use the term loosely, but every single element was created with that in mind, which brought it all cohesively together.
The scent and the sound part is the heart of what we did: it’s dual sensory, which we believe is the simplest and most intriguing way to get yourself in that frame of mind to actually prime you for the most amplified way of experiencing the experience of the app and the product, but they can be used independently. The scent is that trigger point, to have the physical and the digital meet each other and remind you to actively practice mindfulness. Having that object, after a time you build an association with it, it’s like Pavlov's theory.
Øthers is described as “an antidote to the radical decay of mindless living.” Those are quite strong fighting words, but also very necessary. It hits a nerve with where we find ourselves at this point in time. People are questioning the rat race a bit more.
Ponder is the hub of the expression behind the brand. It's this jumping-off point of what we're going through collectively. The world is changing exponentially. Anxiety and stress have always existed, but now seems, for some reason, very amplified. Even though we're more digitally connected than ever, we're probably more alone in our own thoughts than ever.
Mental health is very serious, but sometimes when it becomes overly serious, it has a reverse effect. Taking a bit more of a candid approach with care, it's quite refreshing to let people know that everyone has these battles in different shapes and forms all the time. It's this idea of alone together, which was going to be our slogan, but we settled on this idea of think for yourself.
This is what we want to provide: the opportunity for people to think for themselves, not to be reliant on yet another brand coming out saying that they're going to do all the work for them, to keep you hooked on the idea of perfect health. Perfect health doesn't exist. It's not not even a destination, it's just a constant growth cycle. That's where the app comes into it, and with every product we make, it will always have that synergy between the app and the product. It's a supporting mechanism to the longevity of the offering.
It's all about fostering a community of like-minded people raging against the decay of mindless living. We all need to be mindful but in different ways—emotional resilience is what we will try to get to because the world is relentless.
In terms of the design and the visual aspect, are there any specific inspirations?
Our approach to the art direction was a fine balance. Sometimes you see across the wellness market this kind of glamorous, unattainable, beautiful lifestyle, selling the dream of this idea of life. How do we create some of that captivating imagery without it being perceived as that? We centered it around this ethereal expression of the relatable moments, whether that is imposter syndrome or depression. How we can collectively come together to share the stories of these things through beautiful pieces of photography or video film.
Our brand video is very abstract, the product is not really featured in the video, which some people think might be crazy, but again, it's that one layer deeper in regards to the storytelling behind the collective situation that we're all in mentally across the globe and how that can be not made to feel like a really big problem that we all have to buy things to fix. It's more an artistic version of showing it in a different light.
For the development of the packaging, we worked closely with brand identity agency Two Times Elliot, and we both aligned on the vision of trying to step outside of what is expected of typical beauty or wellness packaging to help bring home the point of there is a different way we can approach things. Everyone is carrying the same message, but where's the other aspects to that message? We made it very functional but also unique to the other products on the market.
On the subject of that community, I thought it was interesting that the app is only accessible through this barcode in the fragrance box versus being a stand-alone app. When it comes to building that community or even choosing the collaborators that you worked with, what did you look for?
The way in which we went about working with these collaborators, it was a very serendipity-type flow that we had since we started this project. It’s like a moth to a flame, if the intention behind what you're doing is strong enough and relevant enough. There's people out there doing amazing things that we're really proud to work with on, whether it be with Max Cooper or Alex Ebert.
There's so many moving parts: an e-commerce store, a challenger brand, an app, a product. We wanted to not run before we can walk, to test if the content we're making is resonating with people. But we will be looking to release the app as a stand-alone because it's quickly become evident that people want to access it, and maybe we shouldn't tie it exclusively to the product. But hopefully through opening the doors and allowing people to try the app, they will then want to go in and experience the scent part because that's where we believe you'll get the best results.
In regards to the rollout of this brand and where you potentially see space for activations or even retail partners, what is the business plan?
There's a lot of ideas on the roadmap, which is what happens when you get a lot of creative people together, but the current plan is to focus on continuing to create really impactful content on the app and short films for social media content. We're speaking to a couple of big social media platforms about potential partnerships to do more of the storytelling. Then we'll look at a couple of online retailers to potentially partner with as well. The vision is to bring this brand into the experience space, whether that's a retail store, something where we can bring all the other elements from the app into that experience, whether that's festivals, immersive space takeovers—it's all in the cards, it's just a case of lining them up and executing one by one.
In terms of funding and building of the brand, are you looking for outside investment? What are the logistics of building the business?
It's a very tight-knit business setup. Chris [Pugh] is a long-term friend and I've chatted about lots of ideas with him over the years. This is the one that we felt resonated the most and was something that he and I were passionate about, even though we come from completely different walks of life. It’s good because if you get two people doing something like this that are the same, maybe you don't have as good of a result. We're self-funded, with Chris being the predominant investor at the moment. Right now we're just staying as we are, but we have another B2B aspect and a couple of product ideas in the background. As we start branching out into other areas, we’re hopefully able get to those to where we need to be for the foreseeable future for that kind of setup.
What would you say had been the most challenging part of building the brand?
The app, because it goes back to one of your earlier questions of how do you keep everything holistically moving. What we're doing is very different in terms of the philosophy behind behind it, the approach behind the music creation, every detail.
Looking back on the whole thing collectively, there is so much to it. It was a big thing that we set out to do, but hopefully now we're at that point where we can just provide it to the world and get some feedback.
Øthers is the product of working with people at the forefront of their own domains, whether it's neuroscience [with Francisco Teixeira]; whether it's Ramy [Najjar] with White Mirror Studios’ approach to developing and consulting with tech brands and helping them in the wellness space; to Max Cooper who is the leading immersive arts electronic music producer. When you get these people together, really interesting things happen and good ideas come from it.
What are the most exciting discoveries you've made since delving into independent research around scent and sound?
The research side of things is something that we will constantly be diving into as we continue to develop and try new things. For each product we bring to market, we have sworn to ourselves that it has to be something that we dive into as well. Even though Givaudan was fully backed with a lot of research, it was still something on our minds: how do we justify what we're saying? That's why we carried out the neuroscience study.
Next up, we'd like to see what the long-term effects are, which obviously will take a bit of time to have it in people's hands for say, six months, and combine that with the approach we've got to our content.
How would you define wellness in 2023?
There's no straight answer to it, but for me, wellness is the ability to have awareness, accountability, and be in earnest with yourself to accept growth and change. Understand that wellness isn't a destination, it's a constant growth cycle. The sooner you accept that life isn't just a good vibe only—there's ups and downs, peaks and troughs, just like a sound wave—then you'll start to build that emotional resilience and understand that when you have difficult times, it's just the flow of life. If you can digest that, learn to process it, and have the right tools, you're on your way to living a more well life.
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