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If you’re thinking “not another candle brand,” just wait. Otherland is different — and it’s all because of the brilliant mind behind the company.
At just 29 years old, Abigail Cook Stone launched Otherland in 2017. She left her career in art acquisition at Ralph Lauren to pursue a business concept that would fuse both of her passions: art and candles.
Otherland is a candle brand that’s redefining “affordable luxury.” Yes, luxurious candle companies you see all over Instagram are saturating the market. But Otherland offers that same luxurious vibe at a more attainable, direct-to-consumer price point.
While Otherland now has a reputation for stealing the spotlight with its package and label designs, it’s the story behind the design that’s most important to Cook Stone.
To create the vision — and ultimately the underlying story for each new line — Cook Stone collaborates with a different artist (who she, of course, finds on Instagram). The result isn’t just a pretty candle, but elevated packaging and special scent story inspired by Cook Stone’s personal memories.
As part of honoring women-founded companies during Women’s History Month, In The Know spoke Cook Stone to find out what it takes to turn your passion into a full-blown business.
Abigail Cook Stone on the inspiration behind the design of Otherland’s labels and packaging: “Instagram has been essential for our growth because we believe the future of home fragrance needs to be visual-first. Art is really at the core for Otherland, and is the starting point for all that we do. With our very first investors, I was trying to pitch them a home fragrance brand that uses art and design to tell the story of the fragrance, not only to create an emotional connection with customers and prospective customers, but to help them to overcome that hurdle of not being able to smell the product beforehand.
With each artist we work with, it’s really all about telling that narrative of the collection and having it come to life through color, pattern and expression. We decided to take more of an approach of complex scents that would lend themselves to storytelling — really having the candle be this consumable experience like art, not just one scent in a jar.”
Shop: Otherland Core Collection, $36 each
On where the name “Otherland” originated: “We really see candles as these consumable, experiential objets d’art — and the name Otherland really encapsulates that. So think “cozyland,” “cocktail partyland,” or “greenland.” It’s all about these different vibes you can create in your space. And I just loved the idea of the “land” part of Otherland. We’re really talking about home as a place, a space and a vibe — all the potential places you can escape to with scent and these different consumable experiences.
We are really seeing a lot of focus from our customers on home rituals since [candles] are a feel-good product. [They are] a great thing for creating a mood and inspiring everything, from wellness to focus and productivity to self-love, which is so important to us.”
On what kept her motivated until investors gave her a “yes:” “Part of being an entrepreneur is becoming so obsessed with your vision that you have this deep and unshakable conviction that this wild idea of yours will work. When I graduated from Columbia Business School, I began raising my first round of funding, but it was a challenging summer of rejection. There I was, living in a sixth-floor walkup, and I would fill a suitcase with 25 pounds of candles from all over the market and carry it up and down the stairs several times a day for pitch meetings, which all ended up with rejection.
I had learned how to make candles myself, but I didn’t have the brand or the design locked in. I really used the rejection to ‘fuel my fire,’ as they say. I was also lucky enough to have the encouragement of friends, family and other founders. Nadia Boujarwah and Lydia Gilbert of Dia & Co really helped me keep my head in the game until that first person said ‘yes,’ and then things started to change.”
On forming mentor-mentee relationships when trying to start a business: “It helps to find your ‘founder tribe.’ So much of what you do as a founder is unknown and uncharted, and there’s complete uncertainty — a startup is unpredictable. One of the most important things you can do as a founder is build a founder network and keep in touch with your peers, so you can talk, vent or bounce ideas off of them to see what’s working or not working for them. They can give you advice when it comes to fundraising, and keep your head in the game during a challenging time.”
The best first step for those looking to turn their passion into a business: “You have to make sure it’s something you’re absolutely passionate about, obsessed with almost. And you have to make sure it’s a category right for you, and that it is a concept that really speaks to you as a person — something that keeps you jumping out of bed each morning because that means you’re doing what you love.
The one piece of advice that’s stuck with her: “It’s hard to pick one, but I think a major one is to never settle. I’ve changed careers now several times, and each change has been daunting as the last, but do not lose your motivation in that. It’s totally fine for your first, second or even third job out of college to not be the right role. You just have to let that inspire your curiosity. I remember my first job right out of college was in merchandising, and I just wasn’t passionate about it. It just wasn’t the right fit. But it was so hard to let go of that dream. So keep searching and looking for the right fit for you because you’ll find it.”
On her favorite self-care practice after a long work day: “I really love having daily and weekly feel-good rituals. One would be having a meditation nook. In our old apartment, I didn’t have much space at all, but I set up a meditation nook in a windowsill with some coffee table books, some different plants, crystals, and candles to create a vignette on a window. Lighting the candles and setting my intentions has really been a fun practice for me.”
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