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Ethical and natural personal fragrances inspired by wildness.


A Photo Blog of Firn explorations.


3: Ethical Perfumery

Lisa Lindner


Mandy Aftel, Queen of Natural Perfumery, has been credited with the phrase "Fragrance is a luxury." If fragrance is a luxury, then it must also be nonessential. To take it a step further, one could say it's superfluous (and even wasteful). As an environmentalist who loves, dreams about, and experiences the world through scent, I struggled internally with this in a pretty big way. Maybe you have, as well.

Using natural products isn't enough these days. It's definitely good... but it's not enough. And besides, something can be both natural and detrimental. Consider the humanitarian and environmental controversy behind natural diamonds; it makes those lab-manufactured cubic zirconia look a lot sexier, IMO! Many natural products are a greater threat than synthetics, which don't have the same impact on natural habitats.

Ever think about where natural products come from? Yep, duh: NATURE. We humans often rob Nature to create goods that will connect people with, uh, Nature. It makes no sense! (Scents... well, sure. But not sense.) Our planet is already showing signs of degradation in irreversible proportions caused by the production of consumer goods, and the indie perfume industry -- synthetic and natural -- is no exception. With the Internet at our fingertips, ANYTHING can be in your hands and often with free two-day shipping. As an emerging niche perfumer, I'm also complicit in this fantastically enormous global economy. The contents required to create a single natural fragrance (such as essential oils, resins, absolutes, floral waxes, infusions, macerations & other miscellaneous ingredients, glass bottles, carrier oils, perfumers' alcohol, labels, and packaging materials like padding, boxes, and tape) are shipped all over the world to the perfumer's studio where they are re-imagined and assembled into a singular and cohesively branded unit, and then shipped back out again to the patient hands of the excited customer. So you have the resources that go into harvesting, manufacturing, and transporting these things, and then you have the fuel that's required to move them around yet again. Cottage industries like this one are creating millions of products that are being dispatched from little factories all over the planet (i.e. studios, work shops, and in some cases, private residences).

This didn't (and still doesn't) sit well with me. How could I reconcile myself with "loving" the earth but actually pillaging it at the same time? How could I feel good about applying marketing tactics like fancy plastic-y labels that would later get stuffed into the earth's crust via landfill? I felt so uneasy about it that I almost quit perfuming earlier this year.  It broke my heart to think about the destruction I was causing, just as it devastated me to think that I might be leaving my beloved pastime in the past in order to live within my values system. I was completely conflicted inside. Thankfully, after some soul searching and crazy dreams, I learned that this was not the end of my passion; it was actually an opportunity to explore solutions to an industry problem and evolve my passion!

A few mornings ago as I was waking up, I heard myself mutter a slurred phrase that sounded like "minibelljars". (I'm a serious sleep-talker.) In a groggy epiphany, I fumbled for the lamp switch next to my bed so that I could write down this urgent subliminal message. Later in the day as I pondered its meaning, I decided that my subconscious was trying to say: "Reuse already existing glassware! Cut back on plastic-y labels! Stop buying so much new garbage from China that harms the planet and factory workers, wherever and whenever possible!" Later that very afternoon, I set out to find vintage glassware in my local community, and I was surprisingly very successful. What this revealed to me is that luxury and morality aren't mutually exclusive. We can still enjoy finer things in life in ways that are far less destructive.

Therefore, I've improved my mission to not only continue to make 100% natural personal fragrances, but to also operate within the intersection of opulence and awareness; to seek better, kinder, and gentler treatment of the environment at all times. I call my new pursuit ethical perfumery.

To meet this goal, I'll be transitioning away from my current system of buying whatever I need on a whim. Going forward, essential oils, absolutes, and resins will be carefully researched and selected for their sustainable and humanitarian manufacturing. If there's an ethical option, I'm going for it. Always. If there isn't, I'll no longer use that ingredient anymore and simply file it with synthetics under "Off Limits, Might As Well Not Exist". I'll move away from plastic adhesive labels and start etching the Firn logo onto glass vessels instead. I'm also going to add to my line sanitized vintage glassware and adapt them for perfumery. For these, biodegradable cork and local beeswax will be used to seal fragrances to prevent leaks during their voyages home to customers. Packaging tape will be 95% biodegradable and safer for landfills or compost/yard waste bins.

Some things will not change: Most of the other packaging materials will remain reusable and recyclable. To cushion fragrances in transit, I'll still harvest lichen that has fallen from local trees to the ground below. I'll also keep on personally delivering local orders. And a percentage of sales for certain items will also continue to be donated to nonprofits that protect natural spaces and resources.

Of course, this will be a transition. I still have some supplies to get through, but I'm so excited to get to that point where I can say that I create consumer goods that are good, and in all facets, and especially when it comes down to doing what's right vs wrong.

I was starting to feel guilty about smelling good, but those days are getting further and further away. Now I feel good about smelling good. I could pitch this to you as a marketing tactic ("Why My Products Are Superior to Everyone Else's"), but what I would really like to see is for other indie perfumers to join in and help reduce our impact on the very thing that inspires us.

I hope that you'll take some of these thoughts with you, and when you're out in the world considering a possible purchase (of anything -- not just fragrance), think about what kind of energy went into putting that product together. Who was affected by its cultivation? Were landscapes marred to access it? How many centuries will the package it came in sit in a mile-wide crater of trash that's off-gassing or leaching chemicals into the water and food supplies of nearby communities?

Just know that all Firn products will be made with two tied priorities: being luxuriously high-quality, as well as minimally impactful on the environment.