Images: Chris Holden
It was during visit to New York in 2017 that I met Anoria and Taylor of MAAK Lab for the first time. A Portland-based perfumer and skincare brand who over the last severn years have built an incredible company from scratch and most importantly a range of world class products made completely in their own laboratory. During my time in New York we enjoying some memorable evenings sharing stories of starting out and from that moment I was hooked on how within eight years they had risked everything and moved from Phoenix Arizona to Portland Oregon and built a highly successful perfumery, laboratory and store. On returning to the UK I decided to see for myself and booked a flight out to Portland to witness first hand their drive and determination at taking on the mammoths of a little-understood industry.
As soon as my plane landed in Portland I wasted no time and head straight to the Maak Lab store where I met Taylor and Anoria as they finished up work for the day. After a little small talk about the flight and my plans for the next few days, I grabbed a freshly brewed cup of Portland's finest Stumptown coffee, sat down at the shop counter and wasted no time in beginning our conversation about the Journey to Maak Lab...
“I started to design the packaging and going door to door saying ‘hey! Would you like to buy some of our products?”
Taylor started by explaining how their journey began ”We moved to Portland in 2009, but i’d say the very beginning was in 2008...Economically that time wasn’t great, everybody was in debt and it was a hard time to find jobs. We initially thought to go to Grad schools to pursue our respective careers (Architecture; Taylor, Psychology;Anoria), and so we went to see what the campuses looked like to see if that was exactly what we wanted to do. Driving back we had a kind of epiphany. It seemed such a waste of money to come back and apply to school, and to finish with $60,000 dollar of debt. Why would we do that? So we just thought why not just invest in ourselves”
Anoria continued “Before we left Phoenix, We used to do a farmers market on Fridays. It’s like a street art fair and we made a couple little things to sell one was Love Jellies, which are a crochet jellyfish, very cute, but the second was born from our curiosity surrounding the palm oil industry and its environmental impact, hand-made soap.”
My first through was that this was the big ah-ha moment, the one that set them on the path, but Taylor and Anoria both explained that at the time this was always a side hobby or “creative outlet” as they figured out what to do next. Portland was an inspired move for them both, and in 2009 they left Phoenix to continue exploring their creativity.
Anoria joked “Our first idea was building our own house, buy an old farm Silo just outside of Portland and convert it into a home...We started to design and test ideas but it quickly turned into a monumental task.” All the while both Anoria and Taylor would spend their evenings away from their day jobs developing soap. This began to snowball when in 2010 as Taylor describes “I started to design packaging for the soap and going door to door saying ‘hey! Would you like to buy some of our products?” As we talked it became apparent that every aspect has gone through the same steady evolutionary process of learning and investment, from puchasing equipment and ingredients. This steady journey of iteration and experimentation has enabled Maak Lab to grow from a small side gig into a successful business.
Maak Lab's business is run between two buildings in Portland. On the east side of the river, you’ll find their flagship store where they showcase and sell to a steady stream of both local and international customers, on the west side is their laboratory space where they craft all their incredible products. After talking about their start up story and exploring the store, Taylor and Anoria suggested we continue our chat over at their new Laboratory and production facility so we could see the whole operation.
We quickly arrived at their West Burnside Laboratory. The space is feast for the eyes, with production and testing all happening under one roof and for me is what separates Maak Lab from the competition.
How are we going to capture the smell of the rainwater and make soaps' that in some way capture the essence of Portland and tell a story to people."
As we perched on three stools surrounded by bottles of essential oils and I asked Anoria how they both describe their jobs “I think we consider ourselves like fragrance designers and developers” Anoria explains “we have to be quite scientific to achieve consistency on the products” Which led me onto discussing their aesthetic, which they desicribe as having a “cosmoceutical” design language, blending a scientific laboratory approach to developing their products mixed with an understanding of the artistic subjectivity of fragrance, texture and choice.
Taylor talking about how they draw design inspiration from a range of places “like a cool scientific catalogue or a butterfly set where each one of the pins has a little marketion. That why came up with the double logo idea and the aesthetic of our brand.”
It’s interesting how through an intense curiosity and passion for learning they find inspiration “Everything influences us, nobody is original 100% but we don’t look to another brand,” Taylor says, then Anoria takes over the answer to my question “We like to interact with our environment. We take a lot of midnights walks around our neighbourhood, picking ingredients, get inspired by the smells! Changing the environment is also the key, it opens our eyes to things that we didn’t see before and give us ideas like ‘how are we going to capture the smell of the rainwater and make soaps’ in some way capture the essence of Portland and tell this story to people." They have such a passion for their work that I was intrigued as to how this translates with their customers and the relationships they build with them.
“The retail shop increases our feedback to our customers. Before was only wholesale, but now that we’ve got space opens us to interact more with the people and enables us to educate them and explain our process,” Taylor explains “for example about the word ‘natural’. There isn’t regulation around this term and we think that is misused. Initially from a naive perspective we thought ‘It has to be all natural, that’s quality!’ but we started to learn more about ingredients, toxicity, bioaccumulation, what is synthetic etc. We learnt that natural doesn’t always mean healthy. There is a lot of natural stuff that you wouldn’t put on your body or how determinate concentrations of natural products can affect, for instance, the pigment of your skin. I would like to think that people come back to us for not only our quality but also our knowledge”
"For us the concept of success is more the satisfaction of what we doing, do it more and better”
Watching them throughout the day, it’s hard to dispute that they work symbiotically, through every task, working togehther as if telphatically and managing to seamlessly balance their social and work life. Anoria answered without hesitation “We were joking about that the other day,” then with a little laugh and a smile “he makes my world spin and I keep him his world stop to spin out of control, he is an idea guy without no limits but I’m a realism. Independently, we couldn’t do this as far we do.”
We’d been talking for over an hour and we could have continued well into the evening, but as a final question, I wanted know that through everything that they have achieved what lessons they have learnt. Anoria began “The keys to what we achieved so far are consistency and transparency. The persistence to deal with everything, and keep moving forward. I think is easier for us as a couple too, we deal with the bullshit together!" Taylor concludes "For us the concept of success is more the satisfaction of what we doing, do it more and better. It kind of snowball effect, it’s constantly evolving and growing. Right now we have more hotel clients but I’m sure that in a few years this will change” Maak Lab’s story is the real American dream, a couple who have pursued their passions, worked extremely hard, moved to lands unknown and taken on billion dollar industry giants. They have achieved incredible success all within eight years, transforming from an eager bedroom start-up selling their goods at local markets to creating a wide range of fragrances, candles and soaps for some of the biggest names in hospitality.
We can't wait to see what the next few years have in store.
To find out more about Maak Lab visit their store or website here.