My New Favorite V-Commerce Brand: Otherland

A case study for fellow direct-to-consumer enthusiasts

Photo courtesy of Otherland

If you stepped off the elevator at the 17th floor of the Freehand New York between April 6th and 8th, you’d notice an unexpectedly pleasant scent.

Not cloying, not overpowering. Subtle, but decidedly luxe.

A constant chorus of what is that, because it smells amazing came from the mouth of many a woman as we made our way to suite 1712 to pick up our Hotel Man Repeller swag bags.

The amazing scent was an Otherland candle in Rattan. And yes, to the delight of everyone, the swag bag included a candle.

Association Matters in a Crowded Market

Scent is a powerful trigger for memory. The aroma of mown grass gives me a flash of running delightedly through a sprinkler during a childhood summer, while Australian Gold sunscreen will forever be intertwined with memories of happy days on my family’s boat.

Scent does not always boast such pleasant associations (see: Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue + my ex). But when it is linked with something happy, scent has the power to transform my mood.

Otherland quite brilliantly harnessed that power in their partnership with Man Repeller — specifically, via Hotel Man Repeller.

Hotel Man Repeller brought together 250 women (and a few men) for a weekend of friendship and community. We stayed in bunk beds at the Freehand in Flatiron, took a bus tour together, drank rum swizzles at a party hosted by the island of Bermuda, watched movies at Roxy Cinema, and ate donuts at Man Repeller HQ.

All of us read Man Repeller on a daily basis. We can tell you more about Haley and Harling — writers we’d never met — than about many of our IRL acquaintances. Our individual styles range from vintage-forward print mixing to all Everlane everything and we’ll gush over both. It’s a Millennial-leaning community with fashion, female empowerment, and intellectual discussion at the forefront.

Defining Man Repeller is tough, even for Man Repeller, but just know that it’s a cool-as-hell community of stylish women who are whip smart, thank you very much.

And Hotel Man Repeller was kind of like the comments section IRL. Or a summer camp for adults, if summer camp lasted for a weekend and took place in a hotel in NYC.

I wax poetic about Hotel Man Repeller to give you a little context here. Hotel Man Repeller wasn’t just a fun event. It was meaningful in a deeper way. It spoke to the human need for community and intrinsic understanding.

And for the entirety of that fun-but-also-poignant weekend, Otherland’s Rattan candle burned, permeating our memories and building a strong psychological association. Rattan is now the scent of friendship, of belonging, of feeling at home amongst a powerful community.

Hey, that’s me! Second from left. When I smell an Otherland candle, I think of this moment and these people. Photo via Man Repeller / Bart Blonski.

Candles are Luxuries to Enjoy and to Flaunt

There’s probably a candle in your Instagram feed right now. Or, possibly, an empty candle jar full of makeup brushes.

In a world of an ever-present highlight reel, aspirational brands have permeated every once-commoditized vertical. It’s no longer enough to have an “it” handbag or covetable pair of shoes. There are now it lattes (Cha Cha Matcha), it exercise classes (Bari and Physique57), it milk alternatives (Malk, Califa, and Oatly), it skincare (Drunk Elephant), and yes — it candles.

The it candles right now are Diptyque and Le Labo (and maybe others?). They’re status symbols to flaunt on Instagram as much as they are luxuries to be enjoyed. Otherland needs to be just as covetable and just as high-quality to compete.

And Otherland needs something else going for them — some additional force to drive intent. Something that convinces their audience to buy an Otherland candle instead of a competitor’s version.

They have to be better, more enviable, or cheaper. Or maybe all three.

On paper, Otherland is considerably cheaper, just as good, and enviable-enough-for-now. Brand associations (like Man Repeller), influencers, and partnerships will help them increase the envy factor. Because when you’re a luxury brand, association is everything.

I can see Otherland candles burning at a goop event, at a celebrity book signing, in the mingling area of an industry conference like Glossy Forum, during an Equinox yoga class, at popups in Soho, and at fashion week parties.

Why another candle company hasn’t yet made themselves the signature scent of your favorite events, I don’t know. I hope Otherland keeps powering ahead with that strategy. It’s compelling.

Photo courtesy of Otherland

Loyalty is Delight + Efficacy

That language is courtesy of Katia Beauchamp, co-founder of Birchbox. Let’s apply Katia’s formula to Otherland, shall we?

Delight: The packaging is gorgeous in a modern, feminine, Instagram-friendly way. You lift open an flap adorned with, frankly, a piece of art to see candle (or three) nestled with an adorable matchbox.

I love that they included a matchbox. What a fun little addition. It’s more than obvious that Otherland has focused on delight. CHECK.

Efficacy: The scent is luxe. The burn time is impressive. There’s enough variety to allow for personal choice, but the suite of fragrances is curated and cohesive. A scented candle is a self-care experience, really, and Otherland captured that nuance beautifully in their range of product.

Efficacy is there in spades. CHECK.

I’d say they’re on to something.

Can I Talk About Otherland’s Website For A Sec?

A bit of background: every few months, I become more than a little obsessed with a direct-to-consumer brand. I deep dive into every touchpoint with their audience, from on-page copywriting to visuals to social media etc. I tease out nuances and analyze tactics ad nauseum to my colleagues and friends.

Instead of annoying my coworkers with another ad hoc brand analysis (they graciously put up with enough of that when I discovered Vrai and Oro), I’m going to start putting that stuff on Medium.

Because if you’re still reading this post, obviously you’re into this topic, too.

SO. Otherland. Let’s dig in.

(sidenote: an Otherland candle burning at Dig Inn would also make sense.)

I really love the core collection page. Otherland eschewed the typical grid in favor of full-width spotlights for each candle. Each section gives a little TL;DR via fragrance notes and a mood-setting background.

I love that approach. It hints at luxury, not commodity. It’s an emotional purchase, not a reasoned one. It’s personal, not logical, and the website reflects that nuance.

I’m a huge fan of this hover detail on the homepage:

The candle lights on hover! And a background appears, again, that sets the mood of the fragrance. Those are the delightful little details that set a brand apart. It’s the website version of the matchbox inside the package.

That’s the kind of website that makes Otherland feel expensive, covetable.

My one pedantic quip: every variant’s fragrance notes closes with an adjective (floral, earthy, fresh, smoky) except Chandelier. That one closes with a noun, which feels incongruous. I like parity in copy. It’s bugging me.

In Closing

Otherland, founded in 2017, is a newcomer to the market. These days, there’s a v-commerce brand for everything:

  • Toothbrushes: Quip
  • Razors: Harry’s
  • Travel backpacks: Tortuga
  • Smart luggage: Away
  • Clothes you can’t get laid in: Everlane
  • Clothes you can get laid in: Reformation

And the list goes on.

As consumers continue to move away from retail conglomerates towards niche, often DTC brands, the market for companies like Otherland continues to grow. Even in a world where Le Labo and Diptyque reign supreme.

Otherland is obviously focusing on brand, partnerships, and PR and has a solid product to boast — which makes me think they’ll be a “brand to watch” on many a list as time goes on.

They’re certainly on mine. You heard it here first.

Probably.

Now excuse me while I put Canopy, Kindling, and Daybed in my cart.