FHT Professional Development Conference:

Q&A questions Karen Gilbert from Fragrant Alchemy

[Image of Karen Gilbert]

1. Tell us a bit of background about yourself… (Why and how did you get into the industry? What did you do before?)

I fell into the industry by accident back in 1990 when I got a temp job on the promotions team for the Shiseido launch in the UK. I decided to train as a make up artist at The London College of Fashion but realised that I actually preferred the behind the scenes formulating in the lab. My tutor got me work placement at a large fragrance manufacturer (IFF) and it opened up a whole new world of fragrance that I didn’t know existed. I’d always been interested in essential oils for wellbeing and aromatherapy but it wasn’t until I started working full time for that same company that I learned about the sense of smell and how powerful it is as a tool for wellbeing. I then went on to work in product development and training for Neal’s Yard Remedies before leaving in 2004 to start my own business.

2. Are there any challenges you have had to overcome since joining the skincare and perfumery industry? How have you overcome these?

Totally! One of the most common myths is that you can’t make perfume unless you have been industry trained or been handpicked by one of the elite perfumery schools. One of my aims in my business is to show people that they can create a successful artisan perfumery business without training for 10 years in France.

3. What interests you outside of work? (How do you normally spend your spare time?)

As a Londoner all my life I never dreamed I would move to the country, but in 2016 I upped sticks and moved to The New Forest. Being surrounded by nature every day has been so good for me and outside of work (which I honestly don’t think of as work really) I am generally to be found hanging out amongst the trees or tinkering in my perfumery studio.

4. What is your seminar about and what can viewers expect to come away with?

When we think of scent in wellness products, we automatically think of essential oils and their aromatherapeutic benefits. Whilst the active components of natural aromatic materials play their part, we often overlook the psychological benefits of scent and how it ties into both wellbeing and creates a powerful connection between the client/customer and your product or service. In this seminar I’ll share some fragrance industry secrets as well as the science behind creating scents that make your customers feel good and keep them buying your products and services.

5. What is it about your topic that appeals to you and why is it useful for people entering the industry?
Smell is one of the most powerful tools we can use to bypass our cognitive thought process and link us straight to a memory of a time we felt good. ​It is more powerful and immediate than anything I have ever experienced before. ​I learned about aromatherapy when I was quite young and always blended my own scents to make me feel better. When I fell into the fragrance industry by accident, I discovered that there was real science behind it.​
There is so much research that goes into the development of fragrance, beauty and wellness products. This research is used in the development of fragrances for both products and environments in retail stores, hotels, spas, and restaurants. Understanding this is essential if you are thinking of selling or using scent in any way in your business.

6. What would be your one piece of advice for individuals wanting to start their own perfume business?

Start small, and don’t think you need to produce a whole product line before you start selling your products. Get some training so you know what you are doing especially around the safety aspects of selling cosmetics and start by creating bespoke one-off scents for individual clients. This will be easier on the purse strings and help you to test your ideas and get more confident before manufacturing 100’s of bottles to pitch to retailers.

7. What do you consider to be the most important traits for an individual to have when starting their own business?

A solid work ethic and resilience. Running your own business is rewarding but can be tough if you are the sort of person who gives up easily or is sensitive to criticism. Don’t expect to be an overnight success and don’t compare your year one to someone else’s year 5 in business.


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