From medical care to mattresses, industries everywhere have been transformed by technology and shifting consumer preferences. An exception is the funeral – now also known as death care – industry, where traditional practices reign supreme. Perhaps it’s because it is just about the only field where the experience of the end user isn’t documented – or because death, despite its inevitability, isn’t something many like to contemplate in their spare time.
However, spurred on by personal, less-than-optimal experiences with the funeral arrangements of others, several entrepreneurs have birthed new ideas of what death care should be like. Working with industry insiders, these creative folks are breathing new life into a trade as old as time by reimagining the after-death experience in various ways – from what funeral homes should look like to how a loved one’s remains can be immortalised.
Leave it to a serial restaurateur and culinary reality show judge to mastermind a funeral home that, at first glance, looks like the latest cool cafe on the block. When the father of Irish F&B entrepreneur and Great British Menu judge Oliver Peyton passed away unexpectedly six years ago, he had very little knowledge of funerals other than attending them. He found the experience bewildering and kept thinking: “This is not how I want my funeral to be.”
This led him to open Exit Here in Chiswick, a trendy London suburb, last year with third-generation funeral director Barry Pritchard. Lined with glass windows, the storefront is stylishly calming in white and blue, setting the stage for an enterprise that aims to offer a positive and personalised approach to marking the passing of a loved one.
As part of its list of bespoke services, Exit Here works with chic British florist Nicky Tibbles and Savile Row tailor Richard James to help the bereaved bid a fashionable farewell to their dearly departed. Additionally, the one-stop funeral parlour offers services ranging from catering and burials to customisable caskets and urns. These include ornate, hand- painted Day of the Dead-themed coffins and ceramic urns in a choice of solid colours.
As Peyton says, “We want to transform the way people approach celebrating the end of life.”
TEXT LYNETTE KOH PHOTO (GARDEN OF PEACE) NEA
An urn that looks like the sleek packaging for a tech gadget? Yes, this is what you can expect from Solace, an online direct-cremation service based in Portland in the US, and started by former Nike executives Keith Crawford and David Odusanya.
While cremation is commonplace in land-scarce Singapore, it is gradually becoming more popular in the US, where the cremation rate is about 50 per cent and expected to rise to 63 per cent in 2025.
Promising a flat fee with no hidden costs, Solace carries out the collection of the body and the cremation, and then returns the remains within seven to 10 days. It also provides a 24-hour concierge service online or via phone.
BACK TO NATURE
Instead of setting out to sea or keeping them at home or in a columbarium, Singaporeans will soon be able to legally scatter the ashes of loved ones in the Garden of Peace. Slated to open this year at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, it will feature ash scattering “lanes” set amid natural, landscaped greenery, and will have wheelchair-accessible areas for the bereaved. Green burials such as this are gaining traction worldwide as space becomes scarcer and more people seek eco-friendlier alternatives to traditional burials.
For those who wish to keep the ashes of a loved one close by, there are alternative options to an urn. While some companies can turn one’s cremated remains into a diamond, an artificial underwater reef or memorial fireworks, here’s an idea for music lovers: live on as part of a working vinyl record.
Founded by British music producer Jason Leach, AndVinyly (say it out loud!) specialises in one-of-a-kind records that incorporate the ashes of a late individual. During the production process, about a teaspoon of ashes is pressed into a 7- or 12-inch record.
Depending on individual preferences, each ash-flecked record might play music and voice recordings or simply crackle because of the irregularities on the record’s surface that are caused by the presence of the ashes. The optional finishing touch to each of these unique mementos is custom album art. Leach’s friend, portrait artist James Hague, incorporates the ashes of the deceased into the paint he uses for their portraits. Now, that’s certainly one way to continue rocking on.”
TEXT LYNETTE KOH PHOTO (GARDEN OF PEACE) NEA