Creating the Skincare Company Monastery
Designing a modern, natural skincare company from the ground up
To create a high-end skincare line for a health-conscious, urban woman.
Consumers are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about the brands they support. Following the Whole Foods movement, there is now a market for truly natural, ethically made skincare products. While many brands claim to be natural, the industry lacks a transparent, high-end brand that also meets rising consumer standards.
Co-founder and Creative Director
1 – Naming a distinctive brand
We needed to find a memorable name in the saturated beauty industry. After auditing hundreds of competitor brands, I mapped patterns in their names and positioning. Founder names, nature references, and invented words dominated the space. This work led me to develop several criteria for our name. To build a trustworthy brand in an otherwise deceptive industry, the name needed to evoke quiet, nature, discipline, and strength. For memetic fitness, the name needed to be a single, easily pronounced, common word with a powerful first letter. Finally, the name needed to carve out a category of its own among the namesakes, nature references, and invented words. The word that met my many criteria and carved out a new architectural category was “Monastery.”
2 – Writing the brand story
As we tested the name Monastery with customers, people consistently asked about its meaning. While we both had inspiring experiences discovering monasteries in nature, these stories did not adequately explain our brand. I began experimenting with poetic styles that might give us more flexibility. Monasteries bridge both man and nature and old and new worlds. These places are free of distractions and cultivate calm. I wrote several drafts hoping to capture these qualities and contemplate the search for calm in the modern world. Below is the completed story.
A monastery rises from an isle on the sea.
This place is both modern and ancient: It bridges man with nature. Here, distractions fade away.
What if we could discover a deeper, quieter part of ourselves?
Here is an aromatic escape.
Here is the essential.
Here is monastery.
3 – Designing the core product line
I went through several cycles of formulation, testing, and feedback. I experimented with product texture, fragrance, and efficacy for different skin types in over four hundred trial recipes. For consumers unfamiliar with a brand, cleansers and skin-type specific products are the most accessible. Therefore, the iterative process was applied first to three cleansing oils targeting dry, oily, and normal skin. I gathered feedback from an active customer base and learned that the best way to evaluate something as personal as fragrance was to sell product and wait for a response. If I never heard an unsolicited, enthusiastic response, I knew there was more work to be done. After perfecting the three cleansers, we chose our two strongest hydrating products to round out the line and give customers a clearer sense of our suggested routine.
Here is a sampling of several iterations—
4 – Packaging the products
To design distinctive packaging within our budget, I started by working with our glass dropper bottles. These bottles were chosen for their apothecary aesthetic and affordability. I used clear glass and silkscreened the bottles to allow customers to see the naturally vibrant oils. I then experimented with eye-catching boxes of different geometric forms. While these experiments were unique among competitors, I found that they constrained the brand system in unnatural ways: for example, in one instance, the best placement of our logotype was at an awkward angle. To avoid these unnatural constraints and to keep costs down, I opted for a simple rectangular folding carton.
Here are several experiments that show the packaging evolution—
5 – Building a brand identity
I sought to create a brand with a sophisticated, modern feel that would appeal to 20- to 40-year-old women. To create a clean foundation with lively accents, I paired Metric, an engineer-inspired typeface with Gloss Drop, a loose, hand-painted script face. With its context-dependent clusters and forms, the script changes the usually simplistic Latin character set into something reminiscent of Burmese and Arabic letterforms. It connects perfectly to the multiculturalism of monasteries and their history of hand lettering. The rhythm and movement of the script give an organic feel to the brand, which reflects the wild-harvested ingredients in the products. To make the packaging distinctive, I developed a color palette and hierarchy inspired by both our natural oils and the Hozoviotissa monastery on the Greek island of Amorgos. The palette captures a confident femininity and modern naturalism while the hierarchy prevents the palette from conforming to earthy or “eco” design tropes.
6 – Designing our web presence
To align our website with our brand styles, I created a simple site with a webshop on the landing page.
7 – Photographic styles
To create fresh content for our social media accounts, I designed a framework for our photographic compositions and a constrained pattern to our posts. Each photographic composition is made up of a single subject traversing two distinct backgrounds. To create a dynamic rhythm in subject matter, the photos cycle through five categories: the color of our natural oils, external product packaging, organic material, staged product photo, and found photography. This series injects rhythm and dynamism while still maintaining a polished, structured feel.
8 – Environmental design
For trade shows, we built a white faux brick wall as a bright, modern backdrop, reminiscent of something handmade. I then prototyped a few layouts of our space and visited other craft fairs to see which layouts were most engaging to customers in this setting. Our original plan was to have one table at the front of our booth, but I noticed that in these settings three customers would often fill that space and prevent others from approaching the booth. I therefore decided that having a perpendicular or L-shaped table layout would give us more flexibility for people to flow through our small space. The layout also allowed for us to cover more customers and set up additional stations where people could experience, smell, and feel our products. Finally, the addition of a variety of potted California sages added an aromatic, natural feel to the experience.