Do you know what’s in your perfume? Before writing this I had no idea either. Turns out, a lot of bad stuff.
OK, this blog post is about a professional natural perfumer and female entrepreneurship, but let me first preface with WHY natural perfumes are different than traditional perfumes: Most perfumes on the market are made up of synthetic chemicals. 95% of chemicals used in synthetic fragrances are derived from petroleum (crude oil). These chemicals include a slew of known toxins that are capable of causing cancer, birth defects, nervous-system disorders and allergies, migraines—some of which are cited on the EPA’s hazardous waste list. Environmental Working Group (EWG) researchers found more than 75% of products listing the ingredient “fragrance” contain phthalates which have been shown to disrupt hormone activity, reduce sperm counts, and cause reproductive malformation, and have been linked to liver and breast cancer, diabetes, and obesity. In researching the dangers of synthetic fragrances for this post, I am now seriously considering tossing out my collection of perfumes (which include Chanel, Marc Jacobs, and Bvlgari, and cost me a pretty penny$$).
Described as a “sensory adventure into divinely pure botanicals” Veyali is the lovechild of natural born entrepreneur Gina Benedetto. Using only pure botanicals, Veyali just launched after several years of research and development. It’s a process that took everything she had to create because there are NO: petrochemicals, preservatives, parabens, phthalates, GMOs, fixatives or any of those synthetic fragrances almost no one can pronounce.
Gina’s ability to capture scents, images, design and beautiful words is nothing short of magic. Check out this description for her scent, Oliya: “Soft curls of incense rise into the air, mingling with lush layers of narcotic blossoms. All senses are aligned as juicy grapefruit intertwines with spicy ginger. Oliya is a meditative blend that lures you in with its intoxicating alchemical afterglow.” Umm, Yes please! The warm scents of her natural perfumes can only be matched by her equally warm personality–charming, passionate, humorous. Gina is a born business woman and teacher. I sat with her sipping green tea lattes, entranced by her hysterical sarcasm and exotic perfumes, and getting her take on what it takes to be a woman in business. Her story is inspiring not just for female entrepreneurs, but for anyone looking to follow a dream to fruition.
Have you always been an entrepreneur?
It’s all I know. My dad is a famous and well respected guitar maker. My mom handled all of the marketing and bookkeeping aspects of the business.
How do you describe yourself as a woman in business?
I don’t have fear behind my initial decisions. I was always encouraged by my parents in everything I tried and in all the chances I took. That encouragement gave me confidence to try new things, without fear of possible failure. Plus, I’m a thorough planner, I fully research everything and don’t just start a business on a whim without having a solid foundation first.
Where did your entrepreneur journey begin?
During college, I studied photography and ran an art gallery. After graduation, I realized it was not for me. Fine art as a career was just not what I wanted anymore. It was an “uh-oh” moment when I realized what I studied and planned to be was actually not what I wanted as a job. Yet, I never freaked out or questioned it, b/c it’s all apart of our evolution.
I was then given a job teaching Photoshop at a local art college. I showed up and was told, “By the way this is Advanced Photoshop.” I barely had basic Photoshop skills, so, needless to say, I was NOT prepared. So each week, I studied and learned the lesson one week before I taught it. I completely “faked it till I made it!” I really had no idea what I was doing, but taught myself a valuable new skill. But, by the end of the semester, I was one of the students’ favorite and most effective teachers.
I simply did not let fear overtake me.
Tell me more about that “evolution” into a business owner.
Because I had learned Photoshop and had a great eye, I moved into graphic design. That’s when Kymera happened. I wanted to create, to design, to help people. We do all the front-end design for a business and the web development. Branding and completely custom websites is our bread and butter. We’ve been fortunate that all of our new work comes from clients referrals, so we haven’t had a need for a social media presence.
Is it hard having many clients out of state?
I can work anywhere. All I need is my laptop and a internet connection. Ideally we like to meet face-to-face, but if we can’t, it’s no problem. We’ve formed great friendships with clients we have yet to meet!
And, 14 years later, Kymera is still going strong. So, what changed?
Kymera is a very quiet bubble, very chill. But for years I heard this voice in my head wanting more. I have always been into holistic healing. I was a massage therapist for a time and used essential oils in my practice, well before they became “mainstream.” But massage was just too hard on my body, too much wear and tear. I knew there was an end-game for it. Somewhere along the way, there was a seed planted in my mind that just lingered…..
Why did you start a new business when you were successful, happy, comfortable?
Three years ago that “urge” came back. I always wanted to design for myself. I wanted to create for myself! But I thought, ‘where do I even begin?!’
So where did you begin?!
I read an article that suggested write down a list of all the things you love. After five minutes, study the list. See what patterns, similarities, parallels emerge. So I did just that.
I made a list. I wrote down everything that I LOVE. After 5 minutes, I stopped and looked at the list. My pattern was clear: I have a strong desire to make people feel good. I am deeply passionate about relaxation and things that heal the body, and in a natural way. So I said, ‘ok, I’m going to make natural spa products.’
It was love at first sight, but with an idea.
When I stumbled upon natural perfumery (which is totally different than aromatherapy), it was love at first sight, but with an idea. I KNEW I wanted to be a natural perfumer.
How important was the research?
It was everything.
Step 1. Learn the Craft.
I believe in TONS of research. I spent several years researching before I felt confident to launch. I threw myself into any information I could find. I took a course on natural perfumery. I considered it a valuable investment. I read all I could about the beautiful art form that was my new passion. I was also fortunate to study under one of the female pioneers in the reemergence of natural perfumes, Anya McCoy.
I am not a natural at this. Having a “good nose” is a skill I developed. I built up sophisticated scent memories and honed my abilities. I can tell when “something’s off” in a perfume, but it takes time. I wanted to be GREAT at my craft. Natural perfumery is an ancient tradition and I have an immense, deep-rooted respect for it.
Step 2. Study the Market
I thoroughly studied my competitors. I scoured the industry. I ordered their products. If there was a natural perfumer within a two hour drive, I’d go to the shop, sample the perfumes, research the packaging, the store. Knowing what I was up against gave me confidence and helped me determine: Where can I fit in? How can my perfumes be different?
Step 3. Quality over quantity. My ingredients are very high quality. They are expensive and exotic, and I am in awe every time I blend with them.
Tell us about Veyali’s gorgeous packaging. What is the importance of branding and packaging?
I wanted a luxurious, custom look that represented the luxurious contents within. So, again, I researched! I spent one full year researching just bottles and caps. I found the right bottle, but I didn’t like the roller ball. So I found another company with a better roller ball. There are SIX components in the packaging: bottle, roller ball, inner cap, outer wood cap, sticker label, printing. It was WORTH the effort for a custom look.
Where there road bumps you had to face during this journey?
There were so many instances where I could have given up. So many times I felt frustrated and defeated. My passion for this is the only thing that kept me going. I didn’t even realize at times how close I was, but I just kept at it. Natural perfumery is a complex process; blends can be comprised of upwards of 20-40 oils depending on the desired scent. I had to keep going and adjusting and taking notes and experimenting until I found the scent I loved. It was a very long, difficult process that at times was very discouraging.
What was the biggest obstacle?
I have always been around wood, so I knew a wood cap would be perfect for my bottles. Advice: There is a guild for almost every trade (even natural perfumery! National Perfumer’s Guild), so if you need a vendor for your business, look up the guild!
I wanted to collaborate with a local business owner, so I found a local woodworker. His prototypes were perfect and I loved them. We set everything up, they said it would take two weeks to complete the order, and I was to call closer to launch date.
[Now listen: They said two weeks, I gave them two months. Another piece of advice, give vendors PLENTY of time.] Two months before launch, I placed my order according to our previous meeting.
Weeks went by, I hadn’t heard anything. I didn’t want to “micromanage” or be “bossy.” After all, I trusted this carpenter as a professional. Two weeks before launch: nothing. No finished caps.
What did you do?
It’s launch time. I have no caps.
Jan 1 was my decided launch date. After three years, I had everything in place for a successful and smooth launch. I sent out Instagram, Facebook, emails to family and friends. I didn’t think I was going to be getting orders right away, so I had some cushion time.
The caps were finally ready the day after I launched. Filled with excitement, I went to pick them up from the vendor. To my horror, they were NOTHING like the original prototypes. The wood was the wrong color, and half the batch were different sizes! I simply could NOT use them. It was terrifying. Here I was, at the proudest moment of my life, that I had taken years to arrive at, unable to push my product at the total mercy of a vendor, who had never once apologized, acknowledged the mistakes, or even seemed to care about making this business relationship right!
Any tips on dealing with vendors?
Rule #1: See it all for yourself in person. Keep detailed notes at all meetings and phone conversations. Follow up with confirmation emails.
Rule #2: Don’t launch your business until you have all of your products IN HAND, in stock, ready to go.
One day, while on a plane to visit my parents, I got an email saying there was yet another delay. It’s now 10 weeks since I placed the order. I almost broke down. When talking to my dad about it, he said, “I’m retired now. Why don’t I make the caps?” My dad stepped in and saved the day.
Within five days, I had a bag of caps in hand: beautifully handcrafted wood for my perfume bottles. Crisis solved. My dad makes all the caps now!
How did you handle such a massive vendor screw-up?
We are all human. We all make mistakes, especially in business. How you handle the mistake is the biggest thing. Admit your mistake. Be receptive. Be willing to try to make things right. Communicate to the vendor that you value their work and their craft. It’s the right things to do and goes a long way professionally.
I expressed my frustration, but never once did I go off on the vendor, even though I felt I had a right to. It wouldn’t have solved anything at that point.
“I am a firm believer in not burning any bridges.
You never know what referrals I might get from a vendor one day.”
How did starting a business affect your marriage?
My husband and I are firm believers in therapy, individually and collectively. We worked through most of our baggage in our 20’s–laying a solid foundation that we enjoy to this day. Starting Veyali definitely tested me. But my husband was always 100% supportive. His belief in me, when I had little or none myself, is what often kept me going. I could have done it without his encouragement, but it would have been a lot harder. He convinced me to really trust the process.
How did you come up with your brand, and what is your advice?
I literally sat in a dark room and imagined my brand. I had to picture what I wanted my product to look, feel, and smell like. I put blinders on to the outside world, I stepped away from trends and wanted something classic, timeless.
How did you come up with your name, Veyali?
Finding the name for my company was THE hardest part of the process. I found a local trademark lawyer and hired him do a world-wide search of my first name idea, VEYA. (Google is just too limited a search). SURE ENOUGH, the results revealed an Irish company named VOYA that was making seaweed spa products. I was heartbroken. I had come to LOVE the name Veya and did NOT want to part with it.
Once again, I made a list. I wrote down all kinds of names I loved, and there it was before me: VEYALI. It’s perfect and, since I trademarked it, it’s all mine.
My perfume Cielo is my homage to Southern California. “Cielo” means sky in Italian. If you imagine stepping outside, smelling the clean desert, seeing the bright sky, that is what I want my natural perfume to capture.
What is your advice to other female entrepreneurs?
Crisis is PART of owning a business. Perseverance is what separates successful businesses. The universe will throw challenges to those who are on the right path, in order to weed out those who are not ready, not willing, not committed. Road bumps and crises, like the drama with the caps, is a challenge, a test. Because I am now on the other side, I know that the signs I thought were telling me to quit, were actually signs telling me to KEEP GOING. Creating your own business is doable, but it’s much harder than you’ll ever imagine. Just keep going! Persevere and see it through, because it IS possible.