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These tiny toiletry containers have developed a cult following. Here’s why

Steph Hon spent years designing these sleek capsules. Two years after launch, Cadence has sold more than half a million.

These tiny toiletry containers have developed a cult following. Here’s why
[Photo: Courtesy Cadence]

Most people aren’t emotionally attached to their travel toiletry bottles. But most travel containers don’t look like tiny works of art.

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Steph Hon, the founder of Cadence, spent years developing a small, hexagonal capsule that makes it easier for people to store their things when they’re away from home. Since launching in 2020, the brand has found a cult following, grown to a team of 24 employees, and secured $400,000 in seed funding from a bevy of successful female entrepreneurs, including the founders of ThirdLove, Away, and Mejuri. And this week, the brand launches a collaboration with artist Araki Koman, who has created images to decorate the capsules.

[Photo: Courtesy Cadence]
Hon, a former dancer and video editor, had the idea for Cadence six years ago. Like many New Yorkers, she spent very little time in her tiny apartment. She spent nights at her partner’s place, traveled abroad whenever she could, and frequently took cross-country road trips. This meant finding a way to take her personal care routine on the road, but all the travel containers she encountered were less than satisfying. Buying travel-size toiletries contributed to the growing plastic crisis, and refillable containers were leaky—and ugly.

She began dreaming up the kind of container she’d enjoy using. “I was inspired by art and design,” Hon says. “If you’re going to use a product so frequently, shouldn’t it be beautiful as well as functional?”

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Over the next two and a half years, Hon prototyped more than 200 containers, eventually landing on a small hexagon made from ocean-bound plastic. The capsule is embedded with magnets so that the containers easily attach to one another. On top of the capsule, there’s a magnetic tile that can be customized to help identify what’s inside.

Hon wanted to create a container that could fit inside someone’s pocket or purse, which meant Cadence’s 1.8-by-1.5-inch capsules are smaller than most on the market, with a capacity of just .56 ounce.

[Photo: Courtesy Cadence]
When Hon tried to transform the idea into a real product, she ran into roadblocks from the start. She says that 10 engineers told her it would be impossible to make. The 11th, Graeme Greenwood, was willing to try, and Hon quickly hired him as Cadence’s head of engineering.

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But manufacturing was also a challenge. Factories said it would be too complex to build the capsules, especially if Hon wanted to source ocean-bound plastic. Eventually, she found one manufacturer in Canada and another in Thailand that were willing to create the product. Her initial seed funding also allowed her to buy a warehouse where the company could customize the tiles and ship products quickly.

Hon was aware that creating a new supply chain to redesign something as basic as a travel container didn’t strike most people as a great business idea. But since launching in 2020, Cadence has sold upward of half a million capsules, even as travel came to a standstill during the pandemic. (The capsules are sold on Cadence’s website and cost $76 for a set of six.)

At first, people bought them to carry around sunscreen and sanitizer on walks, but as travel picked up, the brand grew quickly—dovetailing with the rise of the wellness industry and customers’ desire to take their supplements and elaborate skincare rituals on the road.

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Now Cadence is working on a pipeline of new products that will go beyond the capsules. “Our design process is slow,” Hon says. “But I think our attention to detail is worth it, because customers can tell the difference.”

[Photo: Courtesy Cadence]
In the meantime, customers can enjoy the new collaboration with Araki Koman, an artist known for her minimal, unvarnished style. Hon says Koman instantly understood the value of the capsules: Her ancestors came from Guinea and Mali, but she was born and raised in Paris. She has lived in many countries, from Iceland to Indonesia, and is constantly on the road. She created six tile icons designed to represent pills, jewelry, sunscreen, and more.

Hon is a fan: “I like the idea that these capsules are little works of art that can bring you joy while you’re away from home.”

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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