Pillow Talk: Gabar co-founder Phway Su Aye’s night-time routine

We sit down with Phway Su Aye, the co-founder of fragrance brand Gabar, to get the lowdown on her nighttime routine. Su Aye co-founded the brand alongside Susan Wai Hnin back in 2020 during the pandemic, as they looked to create a brand that would wrap up their South East Asian heritage and homeland Myanmar with Buddhist concepts of mindfulness and living slowly. Now, four years later, Gabar has found incredible success and continues to innovate in the industry, recently opening an entirely digital store in the Metaverse. Here, we unwind with Su Aye and talk about all things sleep...

Can you sum up what you do in five words? 

Scent maven/boss and creative director!

Why did you start your business – what gap in the market did you spot? 

Gabar was started in March 2020 literally in the throes of the pandemic in my shoebox apartment in New York. At the time, I was planning to move out to London, and plotting with my now co-founder Susan the creation of a brand that would touch on all of these global creative currents we were seeing in a fresh way – a brand that was raw, authentic and dynamic, and clashed these old world values we cared about with a new, contemporary aesthetic. There were tons of scent and beauty brands on the market, but we thought that none actually captured a generational shift in consumption and creativity that we were seeing, and also none that were leading the charge with an Asian female-centred perspective. We felt the world of Gabar and the medium of fragrance could bring all these exciting undercurrents together in something not quite seen before!

What’s next for your brand?

More fragrances and more geographies! We spent the better part of the first two years focused on building out our Gabar world and investing in super-deep roots for our community. Now we’re finally ready to start expanding in a more rapid way, with two new major fragrance collection launches on the horizon and our first proper dabbling into Europe and beyond. We just launched our amazing Scent of the New World incense in collab with London-based incense brand Cremate, and are now about to launch our first Urban Collection of fragrances, inspired by the energies of big-city living. 

Being an entrepreneur can be tough! How does your workload reflect in your unwinding/self-care routine? 

To be honest, my co-founder and I make it a thing to really prioritise our self-care first. We’re never ones to be slaving away or exhausting ourselves for the sake of anything, even Gabar – taking care of our health (emotional and physical) comes hand in hand with the needs of the business, so we take a pretty radical approach to really investing in ourselves. I’m a big sucker for simplicity with self-care (also because I can get really lazy…), meaning I love all the tried and true, easy methods: walks, listening to music, cooking simple meals, lying in bed with a cup of decaf (I don’t drink caffeine!), or just cuddling my little Sphynx cat Del. That said, I’m a huge skincare fanatic and have been since I was in my early teens, so I love to take long, proper moments to take care of my skin. I also do kundalini yoga (a special type of yoga that incorporates breathwork), pilates, meditate when I can, and am a total bookworm so end up resorting to reading as a form of main self-care.

On a scale of 1 – 10, how much do you love your sleep? 

10! My fiancé can 500% attest to this. I always tell people one of my favourite hobbies is sleeping. I can’t quite function without a proper 8 hours at least. More on the longer side if I can afford it. Sometimes I feel like I’m still a teen in that sense.

What time would you ideally like to go to bed, as opposed to what time you really end up in bed? 

My fiance’s a pretty early sleeper and riser so I’m pretty shackled to his bedtime routines (reluctantly, haha!). We sleep at about 10pm (I think I’d push this to 11pm-midnight if I could though!). I guess I have the opposite but probably a good problem with sleeping earlier than I’d want. 

What’s your usual reason for going to bed late? Work… scrolling through Instagram? 

Usually when I’m buzzing with excitement about an idea or something happening with Gabar. I usually get too much adrenaline and end up staying up late not being able to relax because of it. Other times, I’m betraying all nighttime routines and TikTok scrolling (usually #PerfumeTikTok), reading my Kindle, or binge-watching a true crime drama that’s naturally making me stay up all night, playing through all the murder scenarios in my head – as you can tell, not great for sleep hygiene (or good dreams!). 

What side of the bed do you sleep on? 

Left side! 

What kind of sleeping position do you normally find yourself in? Do you sleep on your back, or are you more of a fetal position kind of person?

Fetal and/or as if in a coffin! I usually find myself sleeping super still and flat on back with one hand on my chest and the other on my belly. Maybe in a past life, I was some kind of medieval guard or something…

What is your bed setup? Silk/bamboo sheets or something more simple? 

Super simple, linen sets, minimal pillows! I’m a no-fuss kind of sleeper. 

Light sleeper or heavy sleeper? 

Very heavy…

Morning bird or night owl? 

Neither! I wake up late and sleep early, but am hyperproductive during my work hours.

How do you unwind before bed? Can you walk me through your routine…

I love to read. I’m usually unwinding by getting into a very good book. Then I will usually get up to do my teeth and skin-care routine (double cleanse, tone, Gabar Face Oil, serum, moisturiser) and use some aromatherapy oils on my wrists and temples to help me sleep better. I’m super sensitive to stimuli, so I’ll try my best to not eat anything close to bedtime, or do anything too active like exercise, and will be really gentle on my body. If I’m aching or have been still for the day I’ll give myself a massage, usually with our Gabar Body Oil, or do a light stretch. It’s a bit cheesy but I also love vision-setting when I’m in that hazy period where I’m half-asleep/falling asleep, imagining where I want Gabar to be, or certain things I want to bring into life. A bit of sleepy manifestation I suppose.

What products/items are on your bedside table?

Water bottle, Sofia Coppola archive book, my Kindle, Gabar Body Oil, pen and journal for late-night ideas or strange thoughts. 

What’s the weirdest thing next to your bed? 

Spare balled-up socks sometimes… I get really cold feet!

Do you sleep with your phone next to you? 

I do, though I know it’s naughty! I try and keep it flipped over and away on the floor though (and always in silent mode) so I’m never reaching for it unless I really have to.

What can’t you go to sleep without doing? 

Wearing long pyjamas! I’m that weird one who gets so cold at night, that I’m usually sleeping in a full-on winter outfit. It’s very attractive. 

Do you always take off your makeup before sleeping? 

Definitely not always! After a very long day, sometimes all you want to do is ditch all of your routines and just curl up into bed.

Favourite way to remove your makeup?

Soft balm cleanser! I’ve been using one from a sister brand Muihood and it does wonders.  

How does your nighttime routine change when, say, you’ve been out late on Friday night?

It usually all goes out the window! I’ll try at least to take off eye make-up though, so it doesn’t go all over the sheets, and if I’m alert enough, try and do a light cleanse, but sometimes waking up with panda eyes is totally just worth it if I can get into bed a little earlier.

Can you walk me through your nighttime skincare routine? (The more detail the better!)

I’ll usually double cleanse – a first cleanse with Muihood’s Cleansing Balm or a more generic Cerave Cleanser, then a second exfoliating cleanse with my Amore Pacific Enzyme Peel Cleansing Powder. I love this second step because I can genuinely feel my skin smoothen and soften. Then I’ll use my Biologique Recherche P50 Exfoliating Toner (I’ll only do this every other day though to keep from stripping the skin too much). After this, I use my Gabar Face Oil as my main base. It’s so soothing and luxurious and makes me feel like I’m in some kind of mini forest. I feel like I’m giving my skin a much-needed green juice. Then if I’m feeling intense, I’ll use my BeautyCounter Countertime Serum which I picked up in my old neighbourhood in Nolita, New York. I also just got myself the Augustinus Bader “Cream”, which has been doing wonders to keep my skin super moisturised. Things like jade rolling or gua sha, I’ll only do in the morning time, and things like masks or anything additional, I’ll usually do when I shower. Additionally, I know this is a luxurious treat, but I’ve also been using Swedish brand Selahatin’s Eucalyptus toothpaste and it’s been adding such a divine touch – the scent is so gentle but really elevated. I went to the Barbara Sturm skin clinic at Frieze London this year and their scanners told me my skin age was 10 years younger than my real age, so I guess something’s working. Though I honestly still think so, so much of good skincare is managing diet, sleep, hormones and stress!

Favourite products to use before bed? 

Gabar Body Oil, Millepertuis Oil (got this in a Swiss pharmacy for anti-inflammation), London Honey Co Balm by Montamonta for the lips (picked this one up at the cutest Popham’s Bakery in Islington), and Gabar Swim Candle (smells so insanely beautiful!).

What do you do if you can’t sleep? 

Try and tire myself out by reading or being up in another room, take a long, hot bath, doing some housework or something gentle like cooking or prepping some food for the next day, which usually bores me into wanting to sleep!