The MCO might still be in place but that doesn't mean you can't give your car that (overdue!) olfactory makeover with a Malaysian twist. From cendol, milo packets to teh tarik, Fresco Freshner's scented pouches not only look and smell good, but also remind us of time in mamak stalls and cafes that we hope to enjoy soon again. Below, we speak to founder, Emir Ashraf, on the brand established in 2019 on what Malaysian culture represents, their creative process and more.
How did the idea first come about?
I’ve always spent a lot of time in the car, and I quickly realised how important that was to my creativity, sanity but also to my overall mood. We learn and value more about the meaning of everyday life through everyday items. I wanted to incorporate these elements into a creation that’s recognizable. On most occasions, your car’s your best companion; at times it’s your sanctuary, a space built specially for adventure as one rolls through life. And so I thought, car fresheners would complete the entire experience. I make sure to have at least 2 in the dashboard just in case!
Can you share with us your creative process behind your products such as how you choose the scents, the designs, concept etc?
It always takes a few months, a ton of trial and errors and believe or not, the team would have an allocated day to really vomit out any ideas we have and any idea is never a bad idea - this would range from mood boards, saved Instagram posts, memes and even
references from our friends and family. Most of the creative process really starts from talking about it, then we would plan and get down to business.
Our range of scents are pretty direct, as we lean towards what people are really familiar with. Read: Vanilla, Black Ice, Lavender. When we released our second volume, someone thought that our designs would match our scents and I thought that was super interesting. But I eventually made a mental shift and accepted that I had to stick to what I expected of a car freshener to be and what the company would be able to accomplish.
What's been a challenge for you as a brand and how did you overcome it?
Consumers are different, but always seeking. Immersing in the tastes, likings, wants and
needs of our supporters can be challenging, but it’s an interesting and a worthwhile learning process. There’s also been a lot of waiting due to the pandemic. On top of that, competition is undoubtedly inevitable, branding yourself is ever-changing, and the notion of executing fresh ideas every so often is held at a high regard; pursuing in a new direction while having to stick to staying original and in par with our main concept hasn’t been the easiest.
For example, most of our friends are highly passionate about streetwear. Although initially in fear of the inclusivity involving Malaysian culture hanging by a thread, we’d cater to that and continue working in harness. Retaining that sense of originality and uniqueness would be an obstacle, but all that we put forward/present is recognised and does represent us as a community. Interacting with the world and unlocking your creative side means you’re constantly hustling, seeking and giving what’s best for your brand. We won’t always get a consistent response, but, being open to new approaches and managing expectations will unleash the magic that will help sustain Fresco.
In your opinion, what makes Fresco products unique?
To some, it might be a disadvantage that our scents don’t match the accompanying visuals. But, it gives our brand character. We’re unpredictable and a lot of people seem to appreciate the Malaysian aspect of it, nonetheless. So there’s space for conversation.
The simple enjoyment of a scent influences a sensation that brings joy. There’s a sense of familiarity and togetherness and it’s a nice reminder that it will always exist within our community.
We learn and value more about the meaning of everyday life through everyday items. I wanted to incorporate these elements into a creation that’s recognizable.
We love that many of your designs are local-inspired! What does Malaysian culture mean to Fresco as a brand and why was it important for you to include it?
It really means the little things. We can clearly see this movement from Apom. A few
moments that spring to mind would have to be seeing people hang their air ikat tepi on the rearview mirror, or having milo kotak in the car. It’s actually the essence of what Fresco is.
This is a complex world where you’re encouraged to embrace the unknown, every
unexpected thing will direct you to fulfill your purpose and potential. An extension of myself and I'm sure to many people would be our culture. Maybe at this moment it doesn’t necessarily encompass the entire branding of Fresco but it’s something we’re trying to work on. I do believe in the power of objects to tell our stories.
What has been the highlight of Fresco so far?
By expanding the team. We started with a team of 3 and now we have agents and stockists all over Malaysia carrying our products. We try to always keep up with them on a regular basis because I’m constantly looking for ways to work together to not only sell the products but to also create new designs that might interest them as a consumer.
The point right now is to really show up for each other. It is Fresco’s first time having a big team and I think that’s always going to be a highlight, period. It’s a privilege to be able to get people to believe in your vision while working with you towards that direction.
How are your products sourced and made?
We work hand in hand with a manufacturer, exchanging ideas and ways to create the
perfect paper air freshener. Our team strives for durability, long lasting scents and also
creatively designed fresheners to suit our customers’ liking.
What do you want your customers to feel when they use your products?
I think in some ways, when I look at our products and how I’d like people to feel would be the same way people utilise air fresheners at home before starting their ritual. It would be the same for ours in this context. My fiancé started her own magazine and I saw the impact that the magazine had for people. That personal narrative inspired me to create something tangible that people could have their own definitive reasons to put it to good use. Some hang it in the car, some hang it in the room - it works anywhere!
Lastly, what are your goals and visions as a brand?
The goal is to grow a better digital presence while envisioning Fresco Fresheners to be the leading freshener company in Malaysia that could provide better quality, design and long lasting fresheners.