Most of us are familiar with stringent airport guidelines that allow us to carry liquids in 100ml containers on board but forgetfulness often leads to one’s water bottle, makeup and other personal effects being confiscated.
Kimberly Xavier and Niegel de Alwis are very familiar with such losses, having had to leave behind their precious fragrances and colognes. “We do love our scents — my bathroom is stocked with around 20 bottles. But one issue kept hounding me — why haven’t they made a portable option yet?” says de Alwis.
The couple saw a growing trend in solid scents on their travels. “It was something practically unexplored in Malaysia and we saw an opportunity,” adds de Alwis. They began experimenting with formulas towards the end of 2017, fashioning scents that suited their own tastes with the help of family and friends. “Some of my ex-colleagues make pomades, so I went to them to talk about their suppliers, how they got started, their formulations and all that … My three-year-old nephew would come and smell and go, ‘Ew’ or ‘Oh, that’s nice’. So that was my gauge for a while,” laughs Xavier.
It took almost a year for them to decide on their Alwis & Xavier range. “It’s not like you get a formula and you put in a scent and it’s done. Every single scent has a different formula and it changes the base,” says Xavier. Their experience in the creative industry of advertising — they have retained their full-time jobs — proved beneficial in their new endeavour. “We wanted an old-school look and feel for the packaging. Our first 10 sketches looked nothing like what we have now. A lot of our friends are freelance designers, so we worked with creative people,” explains Xavier.
De Alwis adds, “We managed to talk to friends who improved on our ideas. For each scent, we’ve come up with a personality. You see influences that are slightly urban, hipster and edgy.”
Xavier and de Alwis explain that their colognes are portable, so you can top up throughout the day. “It’s impractical to carry a bottle around — glass is fragile and bulky. Our solid cologne is easy to tuck into your pocket, bag or clutch. It’s discreet — application is an easy swipe. We also use a lot of natural ingredients,” says de Alwis. Because they do not use alcohol in their scents, the colognes are suitable for Muslims as well.
The solid colognes come in little black tins with interesting packaging. For example, Black Canyon, which has a bold and spicy scent, shows a cowboy riding his stallion in the desert on its packaging while the current best seller, Old Mandarin, is a citrusy sweet fragrance and features an old Chinese dynasty scene. Other colognes include Bulgarian Rose, Aquamarine and Theos. Xavier adds that men have shown interest in their Bulgarian Rose cologne. “Scents are definitely subjective, so we just leave it open to everyone.”
Although it is generally beneficial to be first in the market, it is hard to push products. “A big challenge we faced was that the product was still very new, so awareness was low. We were mainly educating people about solid colognes, their benefits and why they are better than your conventional perfume,” says de Alwis.
They held their first bazaar in December 2018 at Publika Shopping Gallery after setting up their company, Alwis & Xavier. “That was exciting for us because we launched at the perfect time, so the reception was great. We didn’t expect demand to be that high,” he says.
This meant that the couple had their hands full. “I would go to work at 9am, then go straight to the bazaar at 6pm. We would sell out every single day. We had to make our products from 11pm to 5am or 6am. Then, I would go back to work. We functioned like that for two weeks straight,” explains Xavier.
Every part of the cologne is meticulously handcrafted by the founders. “We mix all the scents, melt them down, pour the cologne into the tin, let it cool and stick the label on. One box has three different inserts, so the folding is a whole other story. It takes a lot of time,” she explains.
As demand increased, balancing their full-time jobs with their side business has been made possible with the help of family and friends. Even de Alwis’ mother helps to fold the boxes. “It’s not easy. We do try to put away some time each week to actually produce it together. It takes a lot of time because each tin of cologne is hand-poured individually,” he says.
For their bazaar stalls, they have a network of proactive part-timers who have been trained to represent the brand but Alwis & Xavier is a predominantly online business. The website went live around the same time as the duo’s first bazaar participation. Acknowledging that most customers want to smell their products, they attended more events and now have their colognes in almost 20 points of sale, including Robinsons, The Shoppes at Four Seasons Place and TriBeCa in Kuala Lumpur, The Warung and Nature Recipes in Penang and Naiise Iconic in Singapore.
The solid colognes are also available in zero-waste stores such as Frangipani and NUDE The Zero Waste Store. “We found that we could just eliminate the box and use the tin, which is reusable and refillable. You can return the tin to us for a refill and get a RM5 discount,” explains Xavier. The couple hope to move into more personal grooming products but for now, they are focusing on releasing more scents. After considering feedback and requests by customers, they will release three new colognes next month.
This article first appeared on July 29, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.