This week, we sat down with our founder JJ Vittoria to discuss sustainability in the fragrance industry and some of the ways Olfactory NYC is doing our part.
What is Olfactory NYC? Could you briefly describe your brand and what it stands for?
Olfactory NYC is a really exciting new concept in fine fragrance. We were founded 5 years ago in SoHo on the belief that fragrance should be more fun, and more accessible. By eliminating costly bottling, packaging and licensing fees, we can focus entirely on the quality of fragrance itself and make the art of master perfumers more accessible, especially in terms of pricing. Our scents are designed to be fun, complex and engaging, allowing our customer to explore a new side of fine fragrance. Customers can also tinker with their scent by adding specially designed accords to create a custom scent that is personal and unique.
How would you define sustainability in your own opinion and how it relates to Olfactory NYC?
I think that there are two parts to sustainability for us as a small business. On the one hand, you want to encourage customers to be more intentional about consumption both in terms of quality and quantity. On the other hand, you want to incorporate sustainable practices within the company that benefit the environment, the customer, and ultimately the company as well. We do away with excessive packaging, and part of that has to do with the fact that we bottle everything on site in our store. This minimizes waste by requiring less preservative packaging (i.e. plastic), allowing us to focus solely on the quality of the product itself. We also source locally as often as possible—for example, our fragrance boxes are made in Queens, as opposed to China. The only plastic packaging we use is for our body washes and lotions but we try to close that consumption loop by offering a 40% discount on refills.
What are some intriguing facts about sustainable beauty products, particularly in fragrance?
In fragrance specifically, there is a misconception about completely natural ingredients being the best not only for the consumer but for the environment, when in reality the focus on naturals often comes at the expense of sustainability in the fragrance industry. Not only do natural ingredients often not function very well in terms of strength and staying power, what people don’t realize is that lab-created fragrance ingredients are actually often more sustainable for the environment. So for example, many “rose” scents in the fragrance industry are sourced from roses in Bulgaria or Turkey, and many vanilla based scents are derived from Madagascar vanilla, but a lot of these places are suffering from overfarming. Plus, using molecularly designed ingredients when possible reduces the carbon footprint required to actually farm and ship these ingredients. These molecularly designed ingredients are still 100% safe for the consumer.
How has consumer demand changed over the years? What do consumers care most about when it comes to beauty products?
In fragrance we’ve seen a market shift from expensive, traditional, celebrity-led and mass marketed designer fragrances to customers wanting more creative and niche, ingredient focused products. What we do differently from say Le Labo and Byredo—which are incredible new brands in the industry— is we have found a way to make our products way less expensive and accessible without compromising on quality. I think there’s also been a market shift where people want to have custom products, things that are tailored to them, and that’s also what makes our custom fragrance process so unique.
What are the challenges you’ve experienced or seen in the fragrance industry in the US?
With fragrance I would say that in the US–culturally–people don’t know as much about fragrance as consumers do in other regional markets. In the United States, fragrance is seen by consumers and designer brands as an accessory product, something of an afterthought or extension of their line (e.g., Chanel). Whereas for example in the Middle Eastern market, the culture of fragrance is much more integral and people have a much better concept of different fragrance notes, etcetera. So to us one of the biggest challenges is breaking out of the traditional misconceptions and lack of knowledge about fragrance within the majority of our market.
What do you think we need in order to have more transparent and trustworthy sustainability standards within the beauty industry in the US?
The great thing is that consumers are demanding it more and more often. We’ve seen a hugely positive impact on brands and even consumerism generally so far, even though we have a ways to go. I think this is aided by how there’s so much more discovery available to consumers these days via the internet and social media. With perfume, the industry has traditionally been shrouded in a bit of mystery–especially when it comes to ingredients–but that’s not out of malicious secrecy. The perfumers have no incentive to make something harmful. Transparency can seem low but that’s because perfume is an incredible art form and as such, perfumers guard their ingredients and formulas closely (BTW - our fragrance oils are sustainably sourced and contain ingredients certified safe by IFRA - learn more here). There’s also just generally a much better awareness about sustainability and carbon impact within the fragrance industry than there is in, say, the skincare industry.
How do you think consumers can influence the market?
I think just continuing to demand more sustainable practices from the brands they love and care about! Social media has proven to be a great way to raise awareness about not only what’s being done right but what’s being done wrong, and brands are really quick to address or adjust when they’re called out for bad practices. There are also so many great sustainable and small businesses out there now that consumers have access to with a click of a button and a bit of research and I think that extra bit of due diligence when possible benefits not only the consumer but the small business and the environment. And again, just shopping consciously in terms of quality and quantity when possible. For businesses I think it’s a matter of figuring out how to marry business advantages with sustainability advantages in a way that benefits the business, the consumer, and the environment.
Want to learn more about our sustainably sourced ingredients? Right this way!