Catch a Whiff of Oaken Lab

by Ihsan Rafdianto & Hilda Raina
26th July 2021
Cementing its mark on Indonesia’s body-care industry, local lifestyle brand Oaken Lab aims to elevate your daily rituals with their signature scents which are quickly making its way to homes, each with a story to tell.

What originally started off as a men’s grooming label in 2018, with staples such as shaving razors and shaving soaps, Oaken Lab has expanded the niche it fostered into a more universal offering of line-up, one that includes perfumes, lotions, and incense. Headed by husband and wife Chris Kerrigan and Cynthia Wirjono, the label has since steadily gained popularity in the local skincare industry, collecting a following of avid customers and loyal buyers.

“It started out of necessity. Back then, Chris couldn’t find quality natural deodorant in Jakarta, so he started making it himself,” Cynthia expressed. Experimenting with different scents led him into a rabbit hole of finding ways to incorporate scents into different mediums, and this DIY spirit is integral to how Oaken Lab operates. Here, scents take up to six months to produce, each individually crafted from scratch using quality natural ingredients sourced from all over Indonesia.

At the heart of Oaken Lab is their determination to deliver stories and experiences, inspired by their own, through crafting scents. This intent is embedded deeply in the brand’s DNA and rolls through every single product and fragrance, such as Far Afield, Batavia Barber, and Earth of Mankind, each informed by the pair’s wanderings, narrating their own unique stories.

For the Batavia Barber line, Chris traces back to the developing process. “I wanted to create the sense of being in an old-school, funky barbershop. The goal was to capture the essence of this second-generation barbershop that we found in a little alley in Glodok, which people say is the oldest barbershop in Jakarta. Worn leather chairs, rustling fans, the heat of Jakarta, all these elements come together to create that atmosphere,” he recounted. At Oaken Lab, it’s all about turning mundane tasks like shaving into more pleasurable experiences. 

Not to be missed are Oaken Lab’s efforts to push sustainability forward, evident in their choice of materials and packaging, down to their very own refill system. “While we can’t do everything sustainably, we try as much as we can, wherever we can,” Chris emphasized. To package their scents, they opt for 100% recyclable plastic and glass bottles, and they teamed up with ceramicist Ayu Larasati to produce hand crafted bowls for their shaving kit, delivering a more indulgent morning ritual. “Being environmentally conscious, supporting something that’s more ethical, I feel like that’s the new luxury,” Cynthia added.

On top of producing their own selection of goods, Oaken Lab also boasts a long list of collaborations with local creatives, ranging from fashion labels Sejauh Mata Memandang and Locus, creative agency Thinking Room, to artisan tea label Tema Tea to produce soap bars, incense holders, and scent tags, to name just a few. “We’ve been collaborating with local brands since we got here in Indonesia. We love sharing the creative process,” they both expressed. “Each collaboration presents new limitations for me to work with, and I really enjoy that process. It pushes me to try new things,” Chris added.  

The kind of passion that runs in the label transcends borders as well. “Our goal from day one was never to be an Indonesian-only brand,” Chris noted. Aligning with this vision, Oaken Lab is also making waves internationally with products selling in countries such as the US and UK. With the quality of artisanship they demonstrate, it’s no surprise to see their line up of products find their spot in the essentials shelves of male and female beauty enthusiasts, reviewed and revered for their memorable identity and unique scents. 

Although products like hand soap, hand sanitizers and candles have become more relevant throughout the pandemic, without a physical store, the challenge for them now is to promote experiences through online platforms. “You can’t smell scents over the internet,” Chris chuckled. In an attempt to remedy this, Oaken Lab looks for alternative ways to describe experiences online through vivid visuals and audio that best embody the brand’s identity, and this is where their curated playlists step in. Each made to represent the mood of their signature scents, the selection of ambient tunes adds a meditative sensibility, enabling the experience to be enjoyed across multiple senses. 

A new addition to the mix is their Sanctum line, developed during the pandemic, the line features a mix of perfumes and home goods such as candles, each with a scent to represent a blank slate, a time of solace and introspection. Staying optimistic, the creative duo continues to find different ways to find inspirations. Cynthia recalled a time when she walked in on Chris smelling a big book, “he pushed it to his face and he just sniffed!” Cynthia teased. Rest assured, it seems like for the pair, inspiration can be found even in uninspiring times.