Certified organic perfumes are few and far between but they are to the scent market what "free from" skincare products are to cosmetics. The most striking thing about natural perfumes is their fragrance. They smell very different to mainstream perfumes because they are the creations of individuals, not of laboratories, explains Joan Woods, founder of west Cork-based organic perfumery Waters + Wild.
“If you look around any duty free or department store, all you can see are shelves of fragrances from hundreds of brands. What most people don’t know is that a small number of ‘noses’ [the people who design perfumes] create most of them and they all work from a similar selection of industrially produced ingredients,” says Woods who took herself off to Grasse in France to learn her trade. She was supposed to stay six months but she left long before that because she was so disillusioned by what she saw.
“For me, it was all about pure natural ingredients; for them it was all about synthetic manufactured compounds and I was told in no uncertain terms that you can’t make a long-lasting organic perfume – which is not true, by the way,” says Woods who now has four organic fragrances in her range, with two more on the way. “Lots of perfumes claim to be ‘natural’ but there are often only one or two natural ingredients and the rest are not. One of the reasons people have reactions to perfumes is because their skin is irritated by the chemicals.”
Following her French experience, Wood realised she was on her own if she wanted to pursue the organic option and that it was going to be trial and error until she cracked it. She then spent about three-years deciding what kinds of fragrances she wanted to create, sourcing ingredients and experimenting with different combinations until the alchemy was perfect. “My inspiration comes from the sea, from nature and from the flora of the beautiful area where I live, and I wanted to reflect this in my perfumes,” she says. “It’s a slow process because you try lots of different combinations and everything has to be very precise. A tiny drop can make all the difference. The best ones get put away in a dark place for month or so, and you have to wait and let them mellow. After 4-6 weeks, you get a fragrance that’s deeper, richer, and utterly different to any commercially produced scent.”
The ingredients in Woods’s perfumes include rose and tuberose, frankincense, sweet basil, bergamot, cedarwood and oud – a fragrant dark wood – and she says both men and women are using them. To add to her revenue stream, Woods also produces a facial serum and wash, soap and eco soy candles made with essential oils. Perfumes cost €35 for a 10ml roll-on and €98 for a 50ml bottle.
Woods estimates that the cost of bringing the first four fragrances to market has been about €100,000. She has received some funding from Clonakilty LEO while Enterprise Ireland has supported the company with trade and marketing backup. Woods says one of the most daunting aspects of launching her business was finding herself side-by-side with the big names at the major perfume trade shows. "It was a real challenge to feel confident enough to be there but very reassuring to see that our branding as well as our product could hold its own," says Woods who started her business from home but has since relocated to a retail premises in Glandore. The company's products are available online and in selected stores in Ireland and the UK and a distributor for Spain and Portugal has recently been appointed. However, for now, Woods's main focus is Germany where the organics market is already well developed.