After finding himself stuck working in retail and ‘in-between situations and feeling uninspired’, Junior Adesanya created Cremate. ‘There was a period where I wasn't really sleeping and one night, when I was up burning incense [sticks] in my room, I wondered how they were made,’ says Junior, who has since traveled all over the world to learn about the craft of incense, from bathhouses in Japan to an abbey in rural England. ‘I'm completely self-taught. It's quite simple to make incense, but so many are single-note scents, so I look to blends that are more inspired by cologne or perfume. I taught myself natural perfumery and then applied that practice to incense.’
It wasn't until he took his testers to a Carhartt WIP clothing store, where some of his friends worked, that people began to take notice. ‘Customers would come to the [Carhartt WIP] store because they wanted to buy the incense – they were persistent. It seemed like this could be something, so I did all of the usual things, set up a website and started branding some tins.’ It was then that Cremate was born.
After launching in 2019, it wasn't until the pandemic came around that sales really took off. ‘Lockdown hit and I got made redundant, so I was just sitting around until the day I couldn't pay my rent. Then, one day, I woke up – the orders started to come in,’ he says. For Junior, that's when the real work started. ‘Each time you level up, you have to analyze the surroundings: what sort of decisions do we make? What sort of customers do we cater to? What do we need to do to ensure our continued existence and growth?’ Junior now has his childhood friend Danny Byrne around to help out when the production cycle gets busy.
Cremate isn't just about products for Junior – it's about the ritual of lighting an incense. To keep it simple, Junior makes just two scent blends: Mary Mother of God, which has notes of lemongrass, lavender and frankincense, and Middle Way, which smells of cedar wood, cinnamon and grapefruit. Both are available as sticks or cones, with Middle Way also offered as a room spray. There's also branded merch, from tote bags and stress balls to a neon-green lighter. All of Cremate's packaging is recyclable and reusable, and each tin of incense offers instructions on how best to set the mood before you burn it, so you can immerse yourself in the experience.
‘It can be about taking a moment and appreciating that. It's an automatic process for me so, any time I have a moment to sit down with a cup of tea and chill, there's an incense stick or cone. Even in my off time, it's always present. I'm always trying to evolve incense as a product, so there's a lot of trial and error in what I do. I don't even want to call it a product – it's a conduit to an experience that shifts your mental state,’ says Junior. He's found that customers have begun to adopt those principles of mindfulness and ritual through Cremate's products.
Cremate has changed Junior's life beyond just giving him a way out of working in retail. ‘I feel like I have a lot more freedom, which is a given but, past that, I also have more mental freedom. When you're caught up in work, it's hard to take the time to check in with myself. I'm able to nurture my relationships a lot more and it's helped me to be more mindful of my surroundings and the people in my life. I feel like it's had a 360 effect on me – I had to change my lifestyle in order for other people to buy into Cremate and what it's about. Community is becoming a bigger part of what we do and, as we go forward, I want every aspect of the business to feed into that. The product eventually will take a back seat and the lifestyle will be the priority.’
‘I grew up in south-east London but live east now. I like to walk from my place in Bethnal Green to the Cremate studio on Brick Lane when the weather is nice. I go out of my way to grab a coffee from % Arabica in Broadway Market because they've got great coffee and they know my dog. I always bump into faces I know along the way.’
‘I stay close to the studio for lunch and head to Spitalfields Market. Danny and I love Cafe Caribbean, and Ricebrother is also so good. Then we put a record on and work all afternoon. I listen to certain things at certain times – if I'm in a chilled-out mood, then I'll play some Sade or something along those lines. When I'm working, I listen to a lot of grunge and dream pop like The Smashing Pumpkins, Mazzy Star and Sonic Youth, and I could listen to punk and metal any time of the day. I grew up listening to Nigerian folk music, as both my parents are from Nigeria.’
‘As soon as we're done for the day, we head to the pub. The Bricklayer's Arms is the best pub there is – the people are chill, the drinks are good. I always change my order, which annoys the bartenders. I either go with a spiced rum and coke, a gin and tonic or a pint of Camden Hells. When I get hungry for dinner, I like going to Morito Hackney Road or On The Bab for Korean food. I don't cook much, but when I do, it's usually things that are quick and easy – but I do appreciate the ritual of it all. When I have cooked, especially during lockdown, it felt ritualistic and similar to how I would create incense. As I've got older, my creature comforts are staying in bed at night and watching YouTube videos [and looking at] Reddit threads or infographics. I'm really just a big geek.’
A version of this article was first published in Courier issue 47, June/July 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.