Over eight million tonnes of flowers used in temples are discarded in rivers every year in South Asia, carrying pesticide and chemicals with them. Ankit Agarwal founded Phool in 2015, to address this problem by recycling floral waste.
An idea that was first met with disbelief, Phool has successfully demonstrated “the world’s first profitable solution” to flower-cycling. Women working with Phool collect used flowers from temples everyday. Hailing from marginalised families, many of them were previously employed in menial or daily wage jobs.
The waste is then up-cycled to produce a range of beautifully packaged, incense-based products that have turned several stereotypes on their head.
A Digital-first Incense Brand
When you think of incense, you conjure up an image of prayers in a traditional household. Apurv Misal, Head of Marketing and Sales at Phool says that this is a misconception.
Phool’s target audience is the 25-40 year demographic who typically live away from their homes. Burning incense during prayers is a familiar ritual that many still practice, but they are just as likely to light up a tea-tree and lemongrass cone while doing yoga, meditating or just relaxing. Phool also hopes to help older audiences move away from non-organic incenses.
Most incense products in the market have overpowering heavy scents, which are necessary to mask the charcoal they contain. Phool products, on the other hand, are completely organic and dipped in natural essential oils that range from citronella and eucalyptus, to the more traditional rose and nargis.
Phool’s objective is to introduce a sensorial aspect into their customer’s wellness practices, creating multiple usage moments that embrace spirituality, but also go beyond.
Given this positioning and audience, small wonder that Phool founder Ankit Agarwal says that they are the first incense-brand to take a digital-first approach to brand-building.
Bending Visual Codes
The visual identity of organic, recycled products has come to be identified with certain codes like quiet colours and a minimal, type-driven aesthetic. Breaking with this tradition, Phool has embraced a vibrant, colourful identity that is manifested through their packaging and website.
Given that Phool products retail at a significant premium to traditional incense, the look and feel of the brand also needed to support its upmarket positioning.
The Phool logo pays homage to the women it employs, with the second ‘O’ letterform representing a bindi. In addition to the minimalist logotype, the Phool visual identity initially started off with three illustrated components:
- The female image, which represents the women who gather flowers to be recycled from temples
- The river, which Phool seeks to protect
- A cityscape depicting the temples from which flowers are gathered
As the brand’s product range has grown, staying within these confines has become difficult. The distinctive illustration style continues, but the image toolkit has expanded to allow for other graphic elements and even cityscapes that link to the origin of the fragrance.
While Phool has taken help from external designers and agencies from time-to-time, the core identity and packaging design has been developed in-house. When asked about the strategy behind the visual identity, Misal says honestly that it was dictated by the practical need to find a scalable solution within a limited budget. In fact, it was only recently that Phool completed their first photo shoot with creative studio, The Open Art Project.
Developing a high-quality visual identity with constraints, is a problem that many young companies face. Too often, they follow a generic illustration-based approach that is indistinguishable from stock imagery, defeating the very purpose of investing in visual identity. Phool’s striking design scores high on both differentiation and brand storytelling.
Getting the Word Out
Like most D2C brands, Phool focused on its Instagram account to get the word out and acquire customers.
With 46,000+ followers and a fairly high rate of engagement, Phool’s account steers clear of the cardinal social media sin of only pushing products. Instead, they post images from visually rich themes from Indian heritage, which range from the benefits of herbs and essential oils, to a series on festivals and performing arts.
Phool sells primarily from its own website and is currently expanding its online and offline distribution. There are many lessons in the offing as the brand moves past a controlled environment.
An experiment on Amazon for instance, led to the understanding that products were best sold in bundles, so the customer could sample more than just one variant.
A Sustainable Premium
The company is experimenting with other products that can be created from floral waste and has announced Fleather, an animal leather alternative made from floral and farm waste, as well as Florafoam, a completely biodegradable packaging material that can replace the ubiquitous, toxic Thermacol. It also announced a fund-raise of US$ 1.4 million in August, 2020.
Perhaps what is most interesting about Phool is that it is one of the few for-profit social impact firms that is staunchly committed to the circular economy. It creates environmental and societal impact and it does so while marketing a premium range of exquisitely-packaged products. We hope it shows the way for many other similar enterprises.