Disrupting the Beauty Binary with Matthew Herman of Boy Smells

Play episode

The world often wants to put people into boxes, to sift everyone into categories. It just seems easier sometimes: rich or poor. Successful or not. Worth listening to or worth tuning out. Right or wrong. Male or female. But there are people who are pushing back on those categories – people who believe that life can be richer without harshly-drawn lines. Matthew Herman of Boy Smells — a rapidly-expanding queer-owned personal fragrance and product brand — is trying to change that. 

“For us, it’s just about showing up… whatever way you want to show up, it’s right,” Herman said. “And you can show up differently every single day, because you are whoever you want to be. And that’s great.” 

Herman cut their teeth in the fashion world, working for innovative brands like NastyGal. When they talked about the issue of binary luxury with friend and business partner David Kien, they discovered a hole in the industry: a place where comfort was non-binary. 

“We had been talking as individuals — or even men — who weren’t shopping at Levi’s or these kinds of more rugged, stereotypically-masculine stores,” Herman said. “We thought, ‘It’d be great to have this store with home stuff, but fashion and all sort of other things.’  And then we were [said], ‘Well, let’s start with one thing. Let’s just think about like candles.’”

The result was Boy Smells, a brand focused on identity, specifically its concept of genderfulness. This idea implores a new kind of consumer — namely the 18-25 set — to harness their power across the gender spectrum and oppose traditional marketing nomenclature like “genderless” or “gender-neutral.” On this episode, Matthe explains what it all means, how he worked to create this concept from his own kitchen, and what it took to ship and scale during a pandemic.

Main Takeaways:

  • Follow the Curiosity: Sometimes, the path to success isn’t as linear as we’d like. It has winding detours and setbacks. But if you find something you’re passionate about – something that makes you excited and curious — you can find yourself at the threshold of opportunities you never would have seen had you played it safe.  
  • Roll Up Your Sleeves: As we all know very well by now… the world can change in an instant. You might not think you’ll be in charge of certain aspects of a business, but be ready to jump in when you’re needed. Helming an endeavor means being ready to handle things that you never thought you’d be handling, and mastering skills you never thought you’d have to learn. 
  • Don’t be the smartest person in the room: Great leadership is the leadership that has wise counsel, and takes into consideration the thoughts of others. Bring people in. Ask questions. Take advice – your business will be better for it.

Key Quotes:

“We really want to create through scent a world where it’s good to explore all aspects of who you want to be. The binary constructs that hold us back don’t exist in Boy Smells. Showing up in your best and baddest and freakiest and most expressive way is something that should be celebrated and encouraged versus being cautioned and suppressed.” 

“We started to mix together and poke holes in the binary and ask, ‘What if we mix musks and fruits and all different aspects of our personalities can be represented by our scent preferences and what we like?’” 

“I really believe that Boy Smells is only as strong as who works at it… the inclusion of more perspectives is good for a brand.” 


In 2016, Boy Smells began as an experiment in candle-making in the Los Angeles kitchen of co-founders and real-life partners Matthew Herman and David Kien. Herman and Kien began by making the things they’d want to use themselves on a daily basis, products that were fluid and essential. Their unique backgrounds struck a balance between design and production that reflects the balance of identities that come through in Boy Smells products. 

Prior to founding Boy Smells, Herman was a veteran of the fashion industry, previously serving as a design director at NastyGal. Herman is Boy Smells’ scent creator whose eye and olfactory palette are finely honed to tell the brand’s story. He is passionate about expressing the brand’s purpose and translating his vision into Boy Smells’ aesthetics, from the smallest label to an entire retail space. His vision is the brand’s creative range.

Launching Boy Smells was an exercise in self-acceptance for both founders, and their process manifested products that reflected themselves and their values, products that re-imagined personal care. Starting with a line of candles wrapped in pale pink and subversively named, they disrupted the limited, binary-based labels found in the personal care market. Since then, they’ve expanded into intimate apparel (Boy Smells Unmentionables), all designed to be avenues for every kind of individual expression.

This season of the Journey is produced by Mission.org and brought to you by UPS. To learn how UPS can help your small business, go to UPS.com/pivot.


Episode 113