Interview: The Founder Of Inscape On Rebranding Meditation For Modern Consumers

Interview: The Founder Of Inscape On Rebranding Meditation For Modern Consumers
Brand Activation & Immersion

Searching for a source of calm in a hectic world, retail CEO Khajak Keledjian turned to meditation, eventually parlaying his business acumen into his own immersive studio and mindfulness app catering to consumers' current needs

Avery McCaffrey
  • 8 november 2018

While meditation may be a timeless practice, its form continuously evolves to stay in synch with each era of practitioners and better serve their particular needs. One of the pioneers of meditation for today’s consumers is Khajak Keledjian, former owner of women’s apparel retailer Intermix and founder of Inscape, a studio designed to confront misconceptions about meditation and rebrand it for more dubious consumers, making it palatable and accessible to the many people in need of its centering and calming effects.

During the opening of the first Inscape meditation studio, in New York’s Flatiron neighborhood, the brand simultaneously launched its successful meditation app, to carry the experience over into digital for those who can’t physically visit the space. PSFK spoke to Keledjian about his strategies for growth across physical and digital channels while maintaining a dedicated Inscape community.

PSFK: Khajak, Could you explain your inspiration for founding Inscape?

Khajak Keledjian: I used to be the founder, CEO of Intermix, the fashion brand. I had an office, people lined up outside, phones ringing, messages coming, T.V. screens, MSNBC running on the stocks, stock market going down. Who would know such a terrible time is going to come in 2008? I just didn’t know what to do. I almost was going to have a breakdown.

A friend recommended me that I should start meditation. Of course, I couldn’t find the right place. Where would you start? Where would you go? There were no apps in existence or really modern contemporary places. I used to go kickboxing. I had quite a healthy lifestyle, I started doing Kundalini yoga. When I started doing yoga I started becoming more aware of things.

I remember after I sold part of my company the first time, the friend told me that, “What you’re looking for is not going to be on the external world. It’s going to be on the internal, in your heart.” I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. I said, “What’s wrong with my heart? I have a very healthy heart. I kickbox. I’m energetic.”

He had a bet with me that I couldn’t sit still for 15 minutes. Actually, it took me six months to find somewhere I could sit for 15 minutes. I remember I found a church. I went inside. I sat down. It felt like the longest three minutes. Then the second time around it was seven minutes. I was on overdrive. I thought that that was New York, that everyone here was like that.

That led me to realize that there is a void in the marketplace. First, I did a 10‑day silent retreat, called Vipassanā. That’s when I really had the clarity to say, “I have to detach myself from everything so I can feel free.” So I sold Intermix to Gap.

Several other things happened. I got married, which was grounding. Then, I went to Burning Man. That was very inspiring to see the temple of Burning Man. They sit in there. They meditate. They let go. They write on the walls. They burn it the last day. I told my wife, “Look, I’m getting this feeling here. How come there’s no place like this where we can go in New York?”

Then, in November, my father passed away in Armenia. While he was hospitalized, I had started visiting. Armenia is well‑known for third‑century monasteries, early churches. We went inside one that is inside a cave. When we went inside the cave, I saw this thing. There’s a little hole. There’s a light coming through. When you lit up a candle you see the water underneath reflecting. I had the same sense again.

That was kind of an a-ha moment.

When I got back to New York, an article came out [about me]. It was in “Wall Street Journal.” It was supposed to be on our expansion. The whole article shifted into “the secret to the CEO is balance,” and how can you maintain that balance lifestyle?

When that article came out my phone was off the hook. People that knew me texted me, on Facebook like, “Where do you go? How do you do?” I wanted to find out where to send them. But I realized that there wasn’t anything that was more cool, modern, like a fitness studio but for meditation or for people to relax, for people to let go of everything at the front door.

It’s almost like reimagining meditation. There were a lot of misconceptions. At the same time, I knew that the app world was growing. Technology was getting advanced. How can we create a tool as well, besides the sensory experience here, that people can actually take it home with them? That’s how the app came about.

We were supposed to have a little section here for candles, books. But [retail] became a large component of the business. People just loved that the product is so well curated. I wanted to buy people gifts that it would give them an experience. Now we even have e-commerce.

Can you tell me about the business model and how you integrate the retail space and the app?

Some people find us in New York. When they’re visiting they come and see the location. The app you can download anywhere on iOS from here to Australia. We’re in over 160 countries. Vice versa with the physical. Sometimes they come to the physical space, but they don’t know we have an app.

Often when you tell them we have an app, they think it’s a booking app, which you can do on the web platform. But it’s the same experience—you can also have it in the app. We finally realized that. From there we added the retail component and the ecomm. This way, if they don’t have the time to come over here physically, they can shop on the ecomm.

It sounds like you’re enabling the experience wherever consumers are.

I believe in that because this is a big category. Wellness is getting big. It started with the juices with food, fitness. Nowadays, you walk outside, a lot of people are in their gym clothes.

Where do you see Inscape in the wellness market?

Currently, the goal here is that we’re providing self‑care.

Even though it’s audio‑guided, this is not like someone just giving you guidance and talking to you. The whole thing is a production, just from how the sound is. It’s more vibrational where you want to enjoy listening to it rather than feeling like, “Everyone is telling me that I should meditate.” I wanted to create something that is much more engaging, that you actually enjoy doing it while you get the benefits of it.

It has to be entertaining and enjoyable rather than feeling like another to‑do. People have so many things to do that the last thing they want is something else to do. I figured, “How can we make it where they’re actually going to enjoy that 15 minutes? That they look forward to it?”

Would you say that the Inscape consumer is a particular age or is it for anybody?

We have a wide range actually, a little heavier on the female.

The World Health Organization has recognized stress as the 21st century’s epidemic right now. Everyone has stress: big, small, rich, poor, everyone has that challenge and the technology is advancing so fast.

I get caught up myself in that. Often I end up somewhere, next thing I know I’m on Instagram. That’s not what I came in for and you don’t get more minutes in a day. You get what? 1440 minutes. How do you want to spend it? The benefit to this is that you sleep better and you’re more mindful in everything that you’re doing—the way you eat, the quantity that you consume.

You don’t need to be eating a lot and running to the gym five, seven days a week. You just slow a little bit down and you get the sense of the quality of it. People say, “Feeling good is the new looking good right now.”

People are looking for experiences. You notice people, what they see on their Instagrams—they want to go somewhere, they want to take pictures or they want to have a sensory experience. That’s becoming much more valuable than something that is tangible because the tangible may not necessarily last long. We all know that when you buy something and you’re excited for a few hours or a few days, eventually it just fades away.

How are you reaching consumers, either to come in and experience Inscape or to download the app?

We got lucky with the app. We were in the ‘Apps We Love’ section in the top five app recommendations. We’ve done a lot of partnerships with different venues. Here, mostly they bring their friends or word of mouth. That’s your best way of referral, when somebody has a great experience.

We get people coming in on a first date, which I would have never thought. If you really think about it, to come somewhere quiet, it’s a great way to get to know someone. To reset, they come in after their workouts. They come for when we’re doing events.

I believe that you’re your own teacher: You just need the tools so you can access that within yourself. This way, you’re not focusing on a thing that is outside of you. It’s everything happening in you—we’re always like your mirror. It’s much easier for you to realize that, “Oh, today, this is how I feel about myself.” You can’t blame anything outside of you.

Which is what has helped us with the technology. Things are moving in that direction. Today, you have cars that don’t have drivers. There are pizza trucks that make the pizza on the way to you. We want to leverage off of that so we can create that consistency.

Your intention shows in every aspect of this experience.

I can wear several hats in the sense of having the magic and the logic between the business and the creativity—you need both to be successful.

I meet people that are like, “I use your app every day.” I’m like, “Wow, every day? It’s 30 days.” When you look in the database, they’ve used it 10 times, but in their perception it feels like every day. Why? Because when they need it, it’s there for them. I realized that what matters is the perception. Reality doesn’t matter. It’s what people think and how they’re feeling toward it.

Where do you see your company, say, five years from now?

You learn mindfulness in meditation. I’m going to give you that answer rather than the business answer. You’ve got to live the present moment. At the moment, really we’re working on making what we have even better.

The app has huge potential: Anyone can download it anywhere so it has the biggest, fastest outreach. With the studio model over here, every day we’re trying new things, experimenting with new things, so there is a growth. My intention is not just opening one after the other just for the hell of it.

I’ve done that with my previous business. I want to make sure that we’re curating it while we’re perfecting it. Then I’m sure it’s going to be available in many places.

For the location of this first Inscape, why did you choose the Flatiron district?

I’ve always said that if you want to cater to a demographic that has a little bit of the hip edge of the downtown neighborhood and has a little bit of the uptown luxury, it’s right in the center. You’ve got Union Square, you have Flatiron, you have the NoMad area, you have a lot of fitness and yoga studios over here. You get the weekend crowd, you get the weekday crowd, and I knew the neighborhood. I knew those blocks very well.

Inscape

Brands like Inscape are driving success by listening to consumers and responding to them with products and experiences in dialogue with their needs. For more from similar inspiring retailers, see PSFK’s reports or newsletters.

While meditation may be a timeless practice, its form continuously evolves to stay in synch with each era of practitioners and better serve their particular needs. One of the pioneers of meditation for today’s consumers is Khajak Keledjian, former owner of women’s apparel retailer Intermix and founder of Inscape, a studio designed to confront misconceptions about meditation and rebrand it for more dubious consumers, making it palatable and accessible to the many people in need of its centering and calming effects.

+analysis
+app
+brand activation & immersion
+Features
+Grocery
+Health
+immersive
+Inscape
+Interview
+Meditation
+mindfulness
+new york
+Shopper education & assistance
+store experience & design
+Virtual Commerce
+wellness

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