”Selahatin will define the future of oral luxury and what Apple did for personal computing we will do for this domain”, entrepreneur Kristoffer Vural tells.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
February 18, 2022
Kristoffer Vural grew up with a Turkish father and a Swedish mother with three brothers in the northern part of Sweden. He spent his summers in Turkey with his family and relatives and was brought up in two contrasting cultures: Sweden, the home of quiet peacekeepers, and Turkey, a country of noisy troublemakers.
— I guess I grew up in a bohemian family. I still belong nowhere and everywhere, he says. I was exposed to two extremes of cultures, which was particularly obvious when it came to smell and scent. Turkey is vivid and colourful, and Sweden is still and restrained.
He began a successful professional career in the media industry, which was about to take an abrupt change.
— Having a stroke before 30 turned my life upside down.
It left him paralysed on the left side of his body and he was confined to a wheelchair.
— From one second to another I was trapped in my worst nightmare: I couldn’t move my body. I knew it was bad when I saw fear in my mother’s eyes for the first time in my life, he tells, adding,
– I spent a year in the hospital learning to move and walk again.
The stroke rendered his senses fragile.
– My brain couldn’t filter stimuli and my perception of scent and taste changed. I started seeing them as vivid colours in my head so I started paying more attention to them.
It also made him see things differently.
– Overall I think I became more creative by having a stroke. When your brain works in a less controlled manner you’re not inhibited by structure and I think it makes it easier to connect things and detect patterns. That’s not to say I’m glad it happened. I really don’t recommend having a stroke.
On a bad day, brushing his teeth made it worse.
— I just hated the synthetic and chemical taste. It felt soul-crushing. I began asking myself why it has to suck to use these products. It didn’t make any sense to me. Still doesn’t.
— To this day brushing my teeth with standard toothpaste brings back the dread of being in a hospital and having everything in your life falling apart. I don’t ever want to go there again.
— I realised I would have wanted products that you could look forward to using. The idea wouldn’t leave me alone and it developed into a vision of ceremony centred oral care. I wanted to do whitening toothpaste that are akin to perfume — complex and dynamic in taste and texture and seductive in aesthetics. If I could elevate the emotional experiences of this everyday routine and transform it into a ceremony, I decided that was an idea worth pursuing.
When you suffer, Vural continues, you pay attention to what’s beautiful.
— I realised the small things add up. The sum of all your routines is 50% of your life. So you need to fix the things in life that you do every day. They are not trivial, they are not mundane and you should pay attention to them. They are the most important things you do.
His cultural heritage informed the flavours he created.
— Selahatin is named after my Ottoman Empire born grandfather because I knew that the aromas I would create would be a distillation of my oriental and Nordic roots. The name sounds both poetic and clinical and that’s the essence of the brand really.
However, given his then medical condition, both his own and the brand’s rise was improbable.
— The doctor’s told me I would likely never be able to work again. It was pretty bleak. I mean starting a company is stupid. 99% of them fail and you’ll walk through life never knowing about any of them. Starting a company after you’ve had a stroke is stupidity squared. Most people never recover and they spend the remainder of their lives piecing back the shards. Starting a company that challenges an industry that is dominated by four major companies… It’s probably insane.
Yet, here we are. The brand has been up and running for several years, backed by names like Johan Bäcke, who co-founded Byredo, Andreas Palm and Christian Larsson, founders of CDLP, and Jens Lapidus, one of Sweden’s most successful authors. It’s focusing on what Vural describes as ”elevating everyday ceremonies”.
— We have a collection of whitening toothpaste, mouthwashes, and accessories that are focused on emotions, but that still provides all functions, he tells. I create and develop these in our Stockholm studio. It’s a very visual process. It’s like painting with aromas. They are my colours and Selahatin is my canvas. I know that the aroma is finished once I taste it and I see the full picture.
Challenging an industry that is dominated by four global giants who have been telling people that oral care should be a very specific thing for 80 years is not easy.
— We’re pioneering oral luxury and since no one else is doing what we’re doing there were no manufacturers on the supply side. They were all adapted for mass production and industry while we’re informed by craftsmanship and the curated.
— I met with several manufacturers and most of them laughed me out of the room. They were like: ”So you want to do several complicated aromas, which we can’t provide, you want to use aluminium tubes, which our production lines are not equipped to handle and you want to order a fraction of what Colgate does? Good luck.” One supplier was so provoked by what I was proposing that he threw me out of his office, Vural shares. He continues:
— In the beginning, I worked with a Swedish supplier for a year and I had managed to pitch the idea and the products to & Other Stories who wanted to roll the brand out in 50 of their stores in Europe. When we got close to launch, the manufacturer dropped us and the launch was dead. That could have propelled our brand instantly and I had to let them know it wasn’t going to happen and I was back to square one.
— And it’s been hell solving the aromas for our toothpaste. I wanted to make artisanal aromas and I couldn’t even get a meeting with any of the aroma suppliers. I spoke to Pierre Wulff, the perfumer who was involved in making Byredo’s perfumes, and even though he was really helpful and friendly he told me: ”Forget that any aroma developer’s going to do this, they work with major companies like Coca-Cola and they won’t spend time on it. Your only chance of pulling this off is to write a one-word brief with a word like ’fresh’ and hope for the best.” He wasn’t wrong about the difficulty but we’ve managed to solve it. I found a manufacturer in Switzerland who believed in my vision. They helped us to source aromas and now I have access to some of the most high-grade aromas in the world in our Stockholm studio, where I create the concepts and make the actual compositions.
Why do your products retail for €20, instead of 3 or 4?
— Why is BMW more expensive than Fiat? Quality. Our paste is richer and more long-lasting — 2-3 times longer than your standard option. I even had a prospect investor saying: I’ve used it for 3 months now and it would be better for business if it would only last one month. I told him that no, we’re not going to do that.
— We’re producing in Switzerland using the best raw materials, we use high-quality aromas sourced from all over the world, we’re using high-quality materials in aluminium and glass, and we produce in boutique quantities and not en masse. If you compare what beauty consumers are paying for a hand cream, hand wash, or fragrance, I’d say it’s very reasonable.
— I think the real question is why is anyone at all paying €3 for Colgate? It’s like flushing down your money.
What insights have you gained from the oral industry? And how do you believe that you’ve disrupted it?
— My take is that the oral care industry is just that: an industry. When a small group of companies control 96% of the market consumers sees a lack of diversity and innovation. It also means that there are very high barriers of entry into this field and I’ve had to fight tooth and nail to exist in this realm.
— Change never come from the inside. As an outsider, I can approach oral care with a different perspective, not weighed down by legacy or status quo. I have poured my heart and soul into making these products. They are not designed by a committee, Vural states. He continues:
— What’s strange to me is that there isn’t any other beauty or bathroom category that has been this stale. Fragrance, hand soap, hand cream, and makeup are centred around ceremony and it’s just lunacy that you have one option for flavour for toothpaste in junk design. 15 years ago everyone was using standard soap. Today, most people have switched to niche soaps.
— Selahatin has brought this category to the most discerned stockists. Selfridges, Andreas Murkudis, and Dover Street Market have never carried oral care before. And you have probably never before heard Rick Owens say he loves a toothpaste… But the change is here and unless civilisation collapses the change is here to stay.
— As long as we make great products, of course. You can’t be a pioneer and make products that are a bit better than what already exists. It has to be 10 times better than anything else. And if you try Selahatin I promise there’s no going back…, Vural states.
A few weeks ago, the brand added new aromas to their range of whitening toothpaste as well as a mouthwash in two aromas.
— The releases expand my vision to elevate everyday ceremonies into a new category with mouthwashes. The new collection is called Meditations In An Emergency and I wanted to make a collection that is centred around nostalgia and transcendence. Blue Forever, the whitening toothpaste, is inspired by one of my most childhood memories when I and my family were on a wooden boat in Turkey and the Mediterranean.
— Of Course I Still Luv You is the aroma I’m most proud of. Of Course… is one of our most ambitious aromas with citrusy verbena and bergamot, cardamom, and exotic juniper and pine. It reframes your expectation of what oral care is and to me, it paints a scene of young love in springtime.
— Oral products are by definition intimate so the romantic and poetic is in our brand DNA and it comes out in the aromas and our approach.
— The mouthwash is also centred around the ceremonial. We have translated the aromas and functionality-wise we have approached it like skincare for your mouth. I’d say it’s progressive and combines the best of science — like fluoride — with the best of alternative medicine, like aloe vera and chamomile extract. Also, it doesn’t look like something you’d use to clean your toilet with.
Where are you five years from now?
— I’d say that Selahatin will define the future of oral luxury and we will do for this domain what Apple did for personal computing by combining art and science. We will have a product portfolio that covers everything in the domain and I have a number of ideas on how we can physically manifest this category in a new way. And, I want to make oral luxury at the forefront of department stores globally, Vural concludes.
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