Whatcha know about incense bruh?
For those who don’t know, Kuumba International is a Japanese lifestyle brand that specialises in producing premium quality traditional style Japanese incense. Whilst there are many high quality Japanese brands that do this, Kuumba differs in its attitude to incense. Kuumba has collaborated with streetwear heavyweights such as Supreme, Stussy, and CLOT. It was collabs like these that made me aware of Kuumba and when I heard Goodhood were going to start stocking Kuumba in 2014 I decided to try some out. My addiction started from there.
On a recent trip to Tokyo, I happened to meet the Founder and Owner of Kuumba. Whilst our conversation revolved around the recently opened Kuumba du Falafel – the best falafel place in Tokyo, which was opened because ‘falafel is my shit’ – it was clear where Kuumba’s eccentric approach comes from. All of the scents are produced on site in the basement. Kuumba does produce a core of recognisable scents (with personal favourites being Grape, Vanilla and Green Tea); the majority of the range is not quite so immediately identifiable. Below is a small sample of full range, which includes well over 300 scents:
For people starting to get into Kuumba now, it can be a little daunting. For example, it’s pretty hard to imagine ‘Crunk Juice’ incense. When I first picked this up I assumed a loud, sharp scent rather than the relaxing floral scent it actually produces. This is where ‘Incense Corner’ comes in. Started in late 2015, Incense Corner is a website and Facebook Group dedicated to all types of incense. For first time burners or people looking for a new type to try, it’s an ideal place. The recently launched website has an ever expanding Kuumba catalogue to advise people on just what to expect from Thug Life incense. The website also includes a blog, along with reviews of Kuumba, Kuumba collaborations and general incense reviews.
I caught up with the group’s two admin (Louis and Kyle) to ask them just what it is about incense (and specifically Kuumba) that they love!
What got you into incense, why do you like it?
I grew up with incense as my mum used to burn it when I was just a kid. At the time, I wasn’t a big fan as I found it quite smoky, but visually I found it appealing. It wasn’t until 2014, when I started looking into meditation and Buddhist culture, that I really wanted to get involved with incense. I bought some Nippon Kodo Morning Star and the rest is history.
Shortly after this, I started to see the incense and streetwear connections and it fuelled my love even more. It combined both of my loves into one: that’s where the collecting process started to form.
Growing up, my mum burnt a lot of incense in the house, so my love of it definitely stems from her. Once I moved away from home and into my own place, I started to venture out and experiment with different types to find what suited my taste – I just love the versatility of it! Whether you’re chilling out alone watching a movie or relaxing with friends and enjoying a beer, you can find a scent for every occasion.
Why do you feel streetwear and incense seem to go hand in hand?
There are numerous reasons for the connection. It stems deeper than just collaborations. You need to look further back to when you used to buy streetwear from skateboard stores and they would often burn incense to mask the smell of weed for example. Also, by nature, the stores that you buy streetwear from offer a different shopping experience to the high street. They are often run by a close knit, chilled-out family of like-minded advisors. Naturally burning incense in store makes the shopping experience more pleasant and allows you to take time whilst you make your choices.
The most recent example of this for me is remembering back to shopping in my favourite store in England – The Hideout (R.I.P). The vibe was always chilled and there was always some beautiful Kuumba burning which meant you could smell the store before you even found it. The vibe I got from The Hideout was something I wanted to capture in my home. Incense was the key.
I think for a lot of brands, it’s about the connection with their customers. Brands want their shops to be more than a place you walk into, buy your item, and then walk out – they want them to be places where people can hang out, socialise and get to know each other. In order to achieve that, they have to create pleasant, welcoming environments. Walk in to any of the big streetwear shops and you can guarantee that most of them will not only look great, they’ll smell great too. For a lot of people, visiting some of their favourite stores is all about the experience, and brands take notice of this.
What is it that attracted you to Kuumba, is there anything that sets Kuumba apart from other brands for you personally?
A main thing that attracted me to Kuumba as a brand is the huge variety of scents available (that and their witty naming conventions). With over 300 scents ranging from traditional (sandalwood, jasmine) to the downright crazy (pink pussy, stuck on the blunt) they have something for everyone. It’s really difficult not to be intrigued by a scent named Paris Hilton. They’re a fun brand, but they also take what they do very seriously. Their products are all very premium and very distinctive. They don’t smell cheap and they have a great burn time – I think that is what sets them apart from other brands. They’re great at what they do, but they have fun whilst doing it.
I first saw Kuumba for sale on Goodhood (also one of my favourite stores). Seeing it for sale there assured me that it was going to be a premium brand as that is their specialty. Priced at £8 a packet for 15 sticks, it definitely wasn’t a cheap option, but I knew it was a brand I wanted to try out.
I then checked out the Kuumba website directly and wow! With over 300 scents to choose from I was blown away. They also name a lot of their scents with unique (hilarious) titles leaving you guessing as to what it could possibly smell like – that aspect really drew me in!
Is there anything that sets Kuumba apart? Well, for me, every single packet of theirs I have burnt (60+) has been of such a high quality. The burn is premium and the scents are simply amazing! Of course there will be the odd questionable scent, but we all have different preferences. You KNOW when Kuumba is being burnt – it has a presence to it.
What would you recommend as a good place to start with Kuumba?
I’d say, at first, go with a scent that you’re familiar with – something that you know you’ll like and then after that – go crazy and pick a few that you just like the name of. My first ever pack of Kuumba was a scent called ‘Back In The Day’ and I picked it purely on the name. I imaged it being a really musky, old school scent and that was enough for me – just have fun with it! Some of my favourite packs are the ones that I just picked because of the name. If you really want to play it safe then Apple Pie, Mountain Dew and Sweet Rain are 3 very popular scents amongst the incense community and would be great ‘first time’ packs.
My recommendation for 3 scents of Kuumba to introduce you to the brand would be Sweet Rain, Krispy Kreme and Mountain Dew:
Sweet Rain is the number 1 best seller from the Kuumba brand. It offers a beautiful gentle scent, which is arguably the cleanest scent you’ll ever be treated to.
Krispy Kreme is a smooth, creamy scent, which is so good you almost find yourself wanting to take a bite out of the smoke clouds.
Mountain Dew is a zesty, fruity scent bursting with life. Being a Mountain Dew drink lover myself I think Kuumba have captured the scent amazingly!
Kuumba X Wtaps ‘Agape’
Kuumba X Radiall ‘Sweet Smoke’
Kuumba X Blackscale
Top 3 standard – Kush, Thug Life, Yolo
Top 3 Collaborations – WTAPS ‘Agape’, And Wander ‘Tangerine and Basil’, Radiall ‘Sweet Smoke’
Kuumba is obviously a very popular incense brand – are there any others you’d recommend to someone on a budget or wanting to try out incense in general?
The great thing about incense is that you don’t have to spend a lot to get involved and enjoy it. In fact, I’d probably recommend picking Kuumba up at a later date so you could build yourself up to it.
Most people start with the Satya brand, which is an Indian incense brand. People often buy their classic Nag Champa scent. At £1 a box they are very popular. However, they are not my first choice when it comes to budget friendly incense.
Instead, I’d recommend either checking out the Wildberry brand, which is an American brand that offers loads of variety. They are clearly inspired by Kuumba as they offer wacky scents and feature the wooden core (which isn’t common amongst Japanese brands).
The other brand to check out and this would be my top recommendation would be Nippon Kodo (specifically their Morning Star range). £2.99 a box gets you 50 sticks of traditional Japanese incense with lots of different scents to choose from. This is the same range that originally introduced me to incense.
There are some really good brands out there who are putting out a lot of really interesting scents, but one brand in particular that always deliver is Nippon Kodo. They produce traditional Japanese incense and have a budget range called Morning Star, and for the money (£3.00 for 50 sticks) the quality is incredible. From cinnamon to sage – the collection is big enough for you to find something that you like, but not so big that you’re unsure where to start. Wild Berry is another brand putting out great scents. It is similar to Kuumba in terms of some of their funky names etc, but at a fraction of the price. The quality is spot on for the cost too.
Could you give a brief description of incense corner for those who don’t yet know the group?
Incense Corner is a community. We are a family of incense lovers with a variety of backgrounds and interests. The streetwear connection is very prominent in the group but the focus is ultimately on incense. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t burnt incense yet, have a £1 box or a collection worth £1000+. We accept everyone and offer hints, tips and helpful advice to anyone that wants it. We also do competitions and giveaways. We are a Facebook group, but also recently launched our official website which contains a variety of in-depth reviews and blog entries.
Incense Corner is a place for people who have a passion for incense to go and share that passion with other like-minded people. Whether you’re posting photos of your latest purchases; seeking the advice of others; giving a review of your favourite brand or just want to see some photos of people’s collections – if it’s incense related, there’s a place for it in the Incense Corner. There’s no hierarchy; there’s no judgement; there’s no negativity – we’re just a community of people who share a love of incense.
How has Incense corner changed your incense taste or use?
It’s opened my eyes to just how vast the world of incense is. Before Incense Corner, I was happy with burning the select few brands that I knew I liked, and that was enough for me, but now, I’m constantly looking for something new. I’ve become a lot more interested in traditional Japanese incense and have started to look at Tibetan incense. The Japanese stuff is really interesting. I find myself burning it more when I feel I need a bit of down time. It’s fairly low smoke and the aromas subtly fill the room. I’ve also started looking into 100% natural incense.
Thanks to Incense Corner, my eyes have been opened to new brands and scents. I have also participated in lots of incense swaps where we exchange incense with other members.
With us having over 800 members, there is a lot of knowledge and different tastes, so we are always discovering beautiful new incense.
What does the future hold for Incense Corner?
It’s still quite early days. Incense Corner isn’t even a year old, but we have a lot planned and can’t wait to bring all of our ideas to life. The website is up and running and content is coming in thick and fast, but we want to make it more interactive. We want more member spotlights and interviews etc because, after all, we’re a community above everything else. We also have a lot planned in terms of merchandise. We’re fortunate enough to have some really talented people amongst the group, and we’d love to get them on board to help bring our vision to life. Beyond that, we’re hoping to have a presence at events around the UK next year and we’d love to work with the Basement on some sort of collaboration. At the end of the day, all we really want is for the community to grow and thrive.
Incense Corner is still young. I only formed it back in October 2015 and I am very proud of how far we have come and the community we have created. Kyle and I are always bursting with ideas and cannot wait to get them put into action.
This year we will see the website grow further with the introduction of merchandise. The merchandise will be high quality and well thought out – reflecting what we believe in!
Into next year, we hope to start coming to some events such as Crep City and looking to work with anyone that shares our values and interest for incense.
The focus will always remain the same – community and incense.
You can check out the group here.
With special thanks to Louis Gale and Kyle Birkett.
Words by George Robertson.
Edited by Darren Stoddart.