Generally, we all like to smell as nice as we possibly can in our day-to-day lives. And while trying to attain that pleasant personal aroma it’s a serious Brucie bonus if while doing so while using all-natural products, rather than those filled with nasty chemicals. In the latest of our Meet the Brand series, we speak to Steve Foulkes, founder of the lovely craft perfumery Elementary. They’re a fairly new company that are ticking all the right boxes with their gorgeous fragrances being made from all-natural ingredients and featuring some of the most stylish, eye-catching packaging you’ll see. Without further ado, it’s time to Meet the Brand.
The MALESTROM: We’re all about championing brands we love here at The MALESTROM, why don’t you tell our readers a bit about Elementary and how the business initially came about?
Steve Foulkes: Elementary is a craft perfumery specialising in all-natural scents. We make totally original unisex fragrances that are very bold and distinctive. Basically we’re just trying to approach the whole thing from a different kind of perspective. In a way that we think is a bit more cool, interesting and aligned to our values and tastes.
We launched only late last year and since then so much has happened! Things have really taken off in such a short space of time. We couldn’t be more grateful! The conception of the idea was a bit multifaceted (messy). I had been switching to more natural products in loads of areas for quite some time, just trying to go a bit more “Eau Naturelle”. I saw benefits from these simple switches pretty quickly. I’ve had a couple of mild skin conditions for many years, and natural products just seemed to suit me better.
I was also already very interested in the incredible beauty and benefits of natural smells in our daily lives. I’d looked around for natural fragrances in the past, but there had never been anything that resonated with me or ticked all the boxes. I tried a few out but they were pretty bland, boring and had very fleeting staying power (which seems to be a lot of people’s experience of natural fragrances in fact).
At the time I was still using a mix of designer and budget-type synthetic scents which are still the default choice for most people on this front. It’s crazy really because there’s so much more interesting stuff to indulge in and experience, particularly when it comes to natural fragrances.
I also noticed that almost everything was branded in the same way. To me, it was all just a bit lifeless and boring. They all used the same kind of over-the-top wasteful packaging concepts, the same flowery language, the same kind of general aesthetic, and I just wasn’t into it.
In most other areas of my life, along with a lot of people right now, I’d started experimenting with smaller, more indie, “crafty” brands. Interesting brands that represented what I was into more closely than the mass-market drivel. I know it sounds all “hipstery” but I think it’s just the way we’re evolving towards being able to enjoy and embrace our more unique and varied tastes, if we want to of course.
Rather than everything just being “okay” to everyone, it’s surely more fulfilling and fun to find new stuff that you might bloody love, or hate of course. It’s way more interesting than everyone just settling for the same middle-of-the-road crap if you fancy a little more excitement and colour in your life.
I’d started running my own business for a few years at the time and I was open to the idea of beginning a new project. I didn’t exactly have tonnes of spare time to begin a new project, but the reality is we can always find time for something we really want to do. I immediately brought on board one of my absolute best buds of fifteen years Becky Stacey as co-founder and the rest is history.
TM: What are some of the pitfalls you’ve faced along the way?
SF: In most industries, there’s normally loads of predetermined ways you’re “supposed” to do things, and these conventions confront you at every stage of the creating process. Perfumery is no exception. The scents, the packaging, the model, the branding… trying to diverge from the norm is a challenge.
First, there’s the pressure/temptation to conform to the easier/more established route, and second is finding the right solutions once you decide to go against the grain. It’s more of a pain-in-the-ass yes, but well worth doing. We’d have totally regretted not sticking to the original vision if we’d have buckled under the pressure in the early days.
I guess another sort of pitfall was underestimating the initial demand. We thought we were all set to go with enough sample packs to see us through the first six months, but we sold out within about a month. Luckily we noticed quick and began brewing our next batch right away, but it still meant a good few weeks being unable to ship any orders.
There’s no surefire way to absolutely prevent this kind of thing so we just saw it as a blessing that was out of our control. At the end of the day, a lot of the planning you’re doing in the early days is total guesswork (pretending it’s not is delusional) so all you can do is work it out as it happens.
TM: What is your ethos? And how important is it to the brand?
SF: First and foremost we want to make and introduce people to bolder and more genuinely interesting fragrances, and we want to show that it can be done with purely natural, plant-derived ingredients. That’s the basis of our purpose, but then we’re also absolutely intent on doing all of this in our own style. We just want to do it in our way and incorporate our own personalities.
Most perfumes are made for the masses. Kind of like a bland tasteless lager, they’re designed to be as inoffensive to the most people as possible. But a craft beer wants to be a bit more distinctive and is made to appeal at a much deeper level to a much smaller group of people. We’re into that concept.
Another key thing was wanting to do everything without all of the usual frivolities and excess that normally accompany fragrances. Stuff that adds to the cost but doesn’t add much real value. The excessive packaging, the celebrity ads, the retail mark-ups. We realised if we get rid of all that, we can spend more on the stuff that matters.
Value is really important to us. I’m a bit of a stickler for seeking out genuine value. Not cheapness, just bloody good value. The whole “fundamentals of highfalutin perfumery without the faff” is about the fact we want all of the beautiful benefits of the most fancy-pants fragrances out there, but without all the peripheral crap. Our stuff, in terms of the ingredient quality and concentrations, are genuinely similar to other perfumes that cost so so much more, and we like that.
Of course it’s also been super important to incorporate our own personal values into the brand. Everything is vegan, cruelty-free and zero-waste. We are, however, very conscious of not letting these values alone define us. For example, we’re vegan ourselves, but we desperately don’t want to be one of these exclusively vegan businesses. That just seems crazy to us because it says “if you’re not in our club you can’t play”.
I prefer the approach where we focus on making something we think is actually cool and different, and if we incorporate our values, and we think what we’re doing is positive then surely it’s a step in the right direction for anybody who’s into it to get involved. It’d be nice to get to a point with this stuff where these “causes” are just obvious. The norm. We’d like to see these things progress beyond being USP’s or competitive advantages. They should be mainstream. We want them to be standard, so we needed our brand to be about more than just that.
Saying all this, the market is not there yet. So we really did try to create something that fixed all the things we didn’t like because we know there are other people out there now, seeking out stuff that aligns to these values. That’s great though because demand is where it all starts. On top of these basic values is where the substance hopefully is though. Something that incorporates artistic beauty, and is executed in a way that represents us. Making something that we love that is super appealing to our tastes.
How important is the natural element to your products and also the packaging from an environmental standpoint?
SF: Being an all-natural brand is super important to us. It means we don’t use any synthetic aroma chemicals that make up most of the fragrance element of most perfumes and aftershaves. We’ve made it our mission to showcase the potential, the benefits and the absolute beauty of natural scents, so it’s at the heart of everything we do.
Designing the packaging to be zero-waste was just an obvious one for us. It’s what we try to seek out ourselves wherever we can when we buy stuff, so it was a no-brainer. We’ve tried to make the packaging functional, reusable, minimal and beautiful.
I really do believe that it’s the responsibility of businesses to help make it easier for people to do the right thing. Everyone wants to do the right thing at the end of the day, but it’s gotta work and be right. The key is showing that these kinds of choices can be better. Not just “as good as”, actually better. Otherwise, there’s just not enough incentive to switch. But it’s there where you’ll find loads of opportunities, as demand rises for these kinds of concepts and bigger businesses fail to deliver or respond.
TM: Tell us more about your products?
SF: We launched with three fragrances. They’re all wildly different from each other and distinctly different to the average kind of fragrances most people will be used to. Our stuff is also handmade in small batches in the UK. There’s Unscheduled Wander; quite a dark, deeply woody brew. Lowbrow Jazz; a huge burst of spice and sweetness. And Lazy Sage, a herbaceous cocktail of greenery.
We make high concentration parfum, which is way more intense and far better value than the weaker eau de toilette or eau de parfum varieties. This is one of the things that helps our fragrances have that staying power that many naturals lack. All of this means that our price point is higher than some, but we think it’s very relative as we’re offering something of far more value than the cheaper, mass-produced, synthetic fragrances.
We’ve tried to offer more genuine value than fragrances priced both lower and higher than ours, and one of the main reasons we can do this is because we’ve chosen to avoid the retail model and go direct only. As we’re online-only, you can purchase a sample pack to try them out, and then you can get the price of the sample pack back off any full bottle purchase. We also sell some pretty cool A3 prints of our label artwork which people seem to
TM: How important is it to stand out from the crowd in such a crowded market?
SF: I guess it’s pretty important, but just “standing out” isn’t the focus exactly. Of course, it can help get you noticed but you have to keep peoples’ attention with something that’s actually cool and exciting. More than standing out I think, is just making the right impression with the right people and not worrying too much about the people it’s not for.
What might be cool and exciting to you, won’t be to someone else, but that’s ok remember! Our style and aesthetic tastes are clearly different to what most people currently go for in the fragrance world, but that’s good, because not everyone is into the same thing!
TM: What’s the most popular item right now?
SF: Definitely Unscheduled Wander. It seems to always be the big favourite right out of the gate. We’re not totally surprised as it’s an incredibly indulgent, deep and beautiful scent. Lazy Sage is probably our most easy-going scent so that does pretty well too. Lowbrow Jazz could be considered a bit “harder work” than the other two (for want of a better phrase). It’s full-on, and can be a bit too much for people on the first smell, but once they wear it and experience it evolve over time, a lot of people fall in love with it.
TM: What does the future have in store? What are your aims?
Our plan is to continue to introduce new fragrances. We’d like a range of core scents that are available all year, and then we’ll mix it up with seasonal special editions. We’ve got some exciting plans for some new stuff later this year so watch this space!
TM: What advice would you have for anyone thinking of starting their independent business?
SF: Begin. It’s the hardest part of any project. Just get going, and work it out as you go along. Be true to who you are and do things your own way regardless of what you get told along the way. The idea is not to be different to everyone else for the sake of it, but to be unique because that’s who you genuinely are. People can tell. Be you. It will take longer than you think. You’ve heard that before I know, but it’s just a fact.
There will be things in the process outside of your control, so don’t get wound up, just control what you can and stay positive. With the benefit of hindsight, there were many advantages that came from things we saw at the time as huge problems/setbacks. Launching much later than we’d planned gave us way more time to grow our following and be a little more prepared. Things will happen when they’re meant to happen.
TM: How important is it to engage with other like-minded brands?
SF: It’s lovely to engage with other brands that we are interested in. We haven’t really ever considered it as “important” particularly, but I guess it kind of is. The same rules apply here though… just be true to who you are and engage with people you want to, ideally because you actually think what they’re doing is cool. Don’t get too strategic about it, just be genuine.
TM: What’s your favourite independent brand? Who would you nominate for us to feature next?
SF: There’s a few sorry… Primal Suds. These guys are a perfect example of how being genuine and doing your own thing can pay off. A great small business with lots of great values behind the brand. I’ve been following Andrew and Jen since the early days and they have achieved so much. It’s been awesome to watch.
First Chop make amazing gluten-free and vegan craft beers in Manchester. We love their stuff and they’re definitely one to watch for the future! Graveney Gin is also a big fave. We love vintage/second-hand stuff too. Rokit are a great indie brand that have grown from a market stall in Camden to a full-on business with multiple locations.
One for the ladies is Stay Wild Swim, started by two amazing women we love. They make gorgeous womens swimwear from recycled ocean plastic. The perfect birthday gift. Not so much a brand, but Fashion Revolution is a really great project to check
out. They’re doing an incredible job of helping people make the connection between the clothes they buy and where they come from. And lastly, a band rather than a brand sorry, but it’s our bezzie mate Joel Nicholson’s project Butcher the Bar. Check them out.
TM: How can people track you down?
Click the banner to share on Facebook