“Starting a company is pretty stupid,” says Kristoffer Vural. “Starting a business after having a stroke is stupidity multiplied by two.” Of course, in matters of the heart, logic rarely triumphs – and Selahatin, Vural’s luxurious line of artisanal oral care products, is a project that the 36-year-old Swede is deeply committed to.
Vural suffered a stroke at the age of 25 that rendered him paralysed for a year. “All of a sudden, I lost feeling in my arm.” “I lost feeling in my legs and couldn’t move my left side,” he explains. “I tried getting up and fell to the floor.” Vural was in the hospital for a year, undergoing physical therapy to regain his ability to move.
Vural’s stroke resulted in a stranger, more mysterious change, as well as a loss of mobility: his sense of taste and smell were heightened. Brushing his teeth became nearly unbearable as a result. “[Toothpaste] tasted too synthetic, chemical, and strong,” he says.
Vural also developed synesthesia, which causes him to perceive taste and smell as colours. “When it first started, I was like, ‘Oh, this tastes too blue, it should taste more red.'” And everyone looked at me as if I were insane.”
Inspired by his own experience, Vural set out to transform the mundane act of brushing one’s teeth – a routine he came to dread in the hospital – into an enjoyable experience. For Vural, the market gap was obvious. Oral care is dominated by conglomerate-owned behemoths, none of which deviate from mint-flavored toothpaste and mouthwash packaged in cumbersome, plasticky bottles adorned with frumpy green swirls and illustrated molars.
Selahatin (pronounced Sel-AT-in) challenges everything customers expect from a toothpaste brand. The products are presented in aluminium tubes and glass bottles, giving them a distinct premium feel.
Rather than “fresh mint” or “alpine breeze,” Selahatin’s toothpastes, mouthwashes, and mouth sprays have poetic names that describe their unusual flavours and aromas. “Of Course I Still Luv You,” with bergamot, verbena, and pine; “Hypnotist,” with anise, honey, and peppermint; and “Blue Forever,” with citrus, lime, and licorice.
“What we’re doing is essentially perfume for your mouth,” Vural says, referring to the natural connection between taste and smell. “That’s where the crossover to fragrances is very natural,” he explains. Flavours are framed as olfactive notes, and mouthwash and mouth spray – dubbed “Eau d’Extrait Oral” – are funnelled into elegant glass vials.
Selahatin manages to romanticise the unglamorous act of brushing your teeth by speaking the language of luxury perfume. Vural also believes that Selahatin’s offerings have an emotionally transportive effect, similar to how fragrance can evoke people, places, and emotions. “You can use them to forget about everyday life… “Just escape for a moment to a magical place,” he says.
Selahatin’s approach is luring customers to better oral health. According to Vural, loyal customers report cleaner, whiter-looking teeth. “When people use our product and visit their dentist, the dentist says, ‘Your teeth look a lot better.'” ‘What did you do?’ If you enjoy using the products, you will use them for 30 seconds to a minute longer each time.
Over the course of a year, the [change] is significant. You have a much more positive experience, and your teeth become much healthier as a result.”
Selahatin may have Rick Owens as a fan, but it remains a relatively niche brand. Nonetheless, Vural is confident that the oral care industry will eventually recognise his vision of an elevated, magical, and entirely enjoyable tooth-brushing experience. “Something’s just missing in the product,” Vural says of the toothpaste industry. “Major corporations do not change unless they are forced to… I believe we will lead the charge and be the company that transforms this category and makes it sexy and cool.”
Vural compares himself to the Steve Jobs of toothpaste. Selahatin concludes, “It’s like what Apple did for personal computers, or what Tesla did for electrical vehicles.”