Zents and Sensibility
THE STORY OF ZENTS BEGAN MORE THAN A DECADE ago when a cataclysmic event changed co-founder Cord Coen's life. A car accident left him with chronic pain; back, shoulder, neck, and hip problems; migraines that lasted for days; and a cognitive brain injury. He spent time in and out of rehabilitation with little success. Frustrated with the prognosis that he would never fully recover, Coen decided to look for answers elsewhere.
Growing up in Boulder, CO, Coen was surrounded by artists, healers, "health nuts," and a large Tibetan Buddhist community. Inspired by people who had tried Tibetan medicine with incredible success, Coen decided to move to India and explore a totally different world of healing. He went to the mountains of Dharmasla (where the Dalai Lama lives) and was given a year's supply of herbs by a Tibetan doctor. He then went to Varanasi and dove into yoga and meditation, devoting as many as 11 hours a day to his practice and embracing herbs, aromatherapy, and multiple daily massages with essential oils.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Co-founders Cord Coen and John Curran in front of the majestic Taj Mahal in Agra, India; co-founder Michelle Nemcek-Lobo (with her daughter, Ava Sophia) was integral in the development of the Zents Body Care Collection; Coen with a sadhu, or Hindu monk, named Babaji; Curran in a Rajasthani village, flanked by local children
Gradually, Coen began to heal. No western doctor had been able to provide the improvements he was experiencing using plants, meditation, and yoga. For almost a year, Coen focused on his physical and cognitive recovery in India. The power of these treatments profoundly transformed his health and the way he looked at life. Coen returned home a different man. "I still practice and hold true the lessons I learned there," says Coen. "I'm healthy and strong and grateful for the experience that life gives us." But his journey to India proved fortuitous in an unexpected way as well.
Zents co-founder John Curran accompanied Coen on his travels in India. An artist with a passion for travel and language, Curran had lived in Denmark for a time, where he was greatly influenced by the simplicity of design ever present in Scandinavia. Dynamically different from Denmark, India flaunted comparable art, culture, and artistic inspiration, except it was decadent, not stark. Both styles would eventually influence the look of what was to become Zents.
Snake charmer in Pushkar
While Coen focused on healing, Curran satisfied his curiosity about yoga and Indian philosophies while studying the Indian language and culture, gathering creative inspiration. His natural proclivity for languages provided him with a working knowledge of street Hindi—something that eventually came in handy.
Putting the Pieces Together
Upon returning from India, Curran and Coen brought back some perfume bottles hand-carved out of betel nut for friends and family. Coen started to take classes on aromatherapy while working at a local health food store. It was here that Coen and Curran met future Zents co-founder Michelle Nemcek-Lobo. Her background in herbology, naturopathy, aromatherapy, and European skincare helped Zents evolve from being just another beautiful gift line to a truly therapeutic collection of products.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Curran on a desert safari in Rajasthan; Coen by a street elephant in Jaipur; a hand-carved betel nut bottle, which was Zents's first product and what catalyzed the creation of the company; Nemcek-Lobo and Curran
One day, the buyer for the health food store where Coen and Nemcek-Lobo were working saw the betel nut bottle and asked to place an order. Just like that, Coen and Curran were off to India to get more bottles, and Zents was born.
All three Zents co-founders say that they really knew nothing about business or sales. Their first step was to rent out a foot of space in a friend's trade booth. A buyer for a nature company loved the bottles and placed an order for 160 stores. Curran set off to India again, asking local village artisans to enlist their friends to carve bottles as fast as they could. To make matters more complicated, it was monsoon season, so there was no electricity anywhere. While Curran investigated import/export protocol, Coen and Nemcek-Lobo began production back in Boulder and approved graphics, printing, and displays. They produced thousands of bottles by hand in their kitchen.
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Coen on camelback in the desert; jungle elephants on safari in India; the holy city of Varanasi, where Coen and Curran called home while in India
Curran designed the look of the collection by pulling inspiration from the clean simple lines found in Denmark and the color and identity of India, making Zents reminiscent of both cultures and styles. They began to produce essential oils and eventually created a line of 10 complex scents, blending the fine art of European perfumery traditions with aromatherapy and essential oils. The name Zents came from the combination of Zen and scents, meaning mindful, pure scents. Before long, they created a spa line, which debuted at Henri Bendel and Fred Segal. Top spas also began carrying the line, such as at the Spa at The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay in California, the Spa at Four Seasons Whistler (Canada), the Spa at Peter Island Resort and The Spa at Little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands, The Centre for Well-Being at The Phoenician (Scottsdale, AZ), SpaHalekulani (Honolulu), and Willow Stream Spa at Sonoma Mission Inn (Sonoma, CA).
"We were very young," says Coen. "We didn't know anything about business, but that was partly a blessing because we jumped in like children with total enthusiasm." The three friends started Zents with their life savings using free space Coen's parents lent them in an old barn. "We started in a field with birds, foxes, horses, wildflowers, and a view of the rocky mountains," says Coen. "Pouring perfume into bottles in our apartment was fun," says Curran. "I loved answering the phone as if we were a huge company while it was just Cord and me in a tiny apartment."
The Zents collection continues to grow with Coen, Curran, and Nemcek-Lobo responding to the requests of their customers. Body lotion, body wash, soap, and other products came from demand that brewed among devoted fans of the line. After having learned much while working for Dr. Hauschka, Nemcek-Lobo offered invaluable expertise in creating the best quality natural bodycare formulations for healing and results. "The skin is the biggest organ on our body," says Nemcek-Lobo. "We should care for it with the purest, highest quality products we can find." The company just introduced a spa-grade collection of candles in each of their high-design scents. "Spas appreciate that our candles are made with 100 percent natural soy wax and cotton wicks for a clean, healthy, petroleum-free burn," says Coen.
The spa business continues to be a focal point for Zents, with the introduction of an amenities line, backbar products, and new spa treatment products, such as massage oils, available at spas such as The Spa at The Broadmoor (Colorado Springs, CO). "Spas can create signature aromatherapeutic rituals with our line and offer the option of having any Zents scent or scents incorporated into a treatment," says Coen. The Zents co-founders also say that incorporating their scent options into spa offerings allows people to purchase products in the scent used in their treatment and be brought right back to their luxurious spa experience and state of mind. "Our pure essential-oil-based scents are so sophisticated that a person could wear a scent that was used in their massage treatment and relive that feeling of wellness and relaxation anytime he or she wishes," says Coen.
This is why scent remains at the heart of the line. The trio updates the collection of 10 scents from time to time. "We believe that incredible art is born out of love and inspiration," says Coen. "Each one of our scents is a liquid memory and has been created for a person or place that moved us. We find inspiration everywhere—nature, people, love, travel—all the experiences of life."
Nearly a decade later, the company holds on to its original vision. "But it's also important to allow change and evolution through lessons and time," says Coen. "You have to allow life and business to develop into new visions—the best brands never stop breathing."