Today I’m talking with Kim Brookes of Perfino. Kim started her business in 2020 after working for many years as a business advisor so she has lots of useful tips for would-be entrepreneurs.

You can watch the video of the interview (15 minutes long) on YouTube by clicking the image.

Alternatively you can read the transcript below (which contains affiliate links):

Tell me a little bit about Perfino and what kind of business it is

I founded Perfino about a year ago, it’s a natural scent jewellery business. It provides people with an alternative way to wear scent, without putting any synthetic chemicals on their skin.

There are scientific studies now that show that about a third of us are intolerant to fragrance, that’s fragrance in a very wide context, in washing powders as well as perfume. But the fragrance industry is self-regulated, the perfume element that goes into fragrances is self-regulated by the industry.

And I wanted to provide an alternative, so that people could wear fragrance off their skin. So what I sell in the Perfino box is, there’s the Perfino necklace and then you get ten little lava stones. You put one of those in the necklace, you add one drop of an essential oil blend, of which I’ve blended three, onto the necklace, and wear it.

Image of Perfino necklace package

The necklace is either solid recycled silver or 18-carat gold vermeil. So what it does, is it gives you a lovely fragrance within your own environment. It’s like the antithesis of a perfume, which is sent into the room. This is very much for your own wellbeing and your pleasure. And, it’s going really well. We did a crowdfunding at the beginning of the year to give us some money to do some digital marketing, as we were largely digital at the beginning. And we’ve been doing some pop-ups and fairs, and the business is growing in awareness because it is a new concept.

So that’s what I do.

So you started this up right in the middle of the pandemic?

Well, it’s kind of a long story, really, because I’ve always been a bit of a fragrance addict. I’ve always loved perfumes and smells. I mean, very few people don’t have a smell that they love, and that doesn’t make me particularly unusual. I love perfumes and I did a lot of research into perfume, looked into the industry, did some perfume-making courses so I understood a little bit about how it was composed. And as I did that, I came to the realisation, actually, perfume is a synthetic substance.

It has to be because obviously, if you’re selling a perfume, whatever it’s called, and it’s going out year after year after year, it’s got to be exactly the same. So the only way you can achieve that is by putting synthesized or synthetic ingredients in there. So you know exactly what’s going to be in there and exactly how it’s going to smell.

But if you go back to the origins of perfumes and smells, they originally come from essential oils, from biomass and plants, roots and leaves, for example. I grew to appreciate those origins a little bit more and then started working with natural fragrances, which basically means the essential oils and not something synthetically formulated.

It’s very difficult to make a perfume that stays the same year on year with natural oils, because obviously, the harvest is different. Take rose petals, for example, they are picked early in the morning, but it depends what the season is like when they’re picked. And then there’s a whole distillation process for actually getting the essential oil out. So essential oils will change a little bit the whole time.

That’s the beauty of a really. If you wanted to make something that was the same the whole time with an essential oil, you couldn’t do it. What I wanted to do was make something that was natural, authentic, but would generate a nice scent. So it’s very different to perfume.

That sounds absolutely wonderful. I expect you’re looking forward to this Christmas season

I am. It’s interesting. I’ve been doing pop-ups in London on the Kings Road and last week in Covent Garden, and it’s a great opportunity to actually get out and talk to people, because obviously when you’re doing something from home, you have an idea, you talk to your friends and family and they will say “that’s great”, or most of them probably will say “that’s great” because they love you and they want you to be successful.

And it’s really good to go out and validate your idea before you put too much money or effort into something by talking to complete strangers, and getting your thick rhino skin on. So you don’t mind if people say “that’s rubbish” or “there’s already something out there”. You can just take on board everything that you hear. I did that for a while before I actually got the product commissioned and made, so that I was sure that I was delivering something that people actually wanted and there was a market for it.

But once you’ve got the product, and you’re out there talking to people, it kind of corroborates what you were thinking. I’ve had people from all over the world saying, “this is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it”. And then obviously they can smell the three blends as well, which tells you that they’re going to go well, that’s very difficult to do remotely.

So that was a really useful experience. When you start a business at home, you’ve just got to really put a lot of effort into research and then a lot of effort into validation before you really go down the road of putting money in will resource into your business.

It sounds like you’ve got a lot of good tips for startups. Is there anything else that you would say to our readers that are thinking of starting a business at the moment?

Well, yes, I was saying to you earlier on, Debbie, that I’ve been working with advising and supporting graduate start-ups for over ten years. And then we set up an incubator about four years ago for these startups. I’ve spent many years telling other people how they should do it. So it’s now really interesting to actually put what I’ve been advising into action. And the main ingredient is passion, obviously, because setting up a business takes an awful lot of time and effort.

It’s hard work, really hard work, and you will get the ups and the downs. Obviously, that’s what makes it so interesting and so thrilling when the ups come. But you’ve got to have the passion for what you’re doing to get you through the downs, particularly if you’re doing it on your own and it’s good to have a good support network around you. But if you’re doing it with somebody else, you need to have a really solid relationship so you can be frank with each other. But the passion has to be there.

And I think the passion is often driven by doing something that you feel is really meaningful. With Perfino, we’re putting something out there that is good for the planet and good for people. And again, these are kind of straplines, almost hackneyed expressions, but if you think about good for the planet, you do not want to be putting anything out there that you’re suddenly going to wake up and say, well, I shouldn’t have that bit of plastic in it, or the world’s got enough of these. You want to be really driven by the fact that you’re delivering something to the market.

But in the case of Perfino, we’re providing an alternative to a mass industrialised process, something that’s much closer to nature, and with one drop can provide the smell that something that a billion-dollar industry has been created to produce. But I think it’s also good for people as well.

So you might be doing a consulting business, something where you’re helping people. So again, you want to be buoyed up when you go to bed at night, if the day has not been a good day thinking and I know why I’m doing this. I believe I’m doing this for good and that’s good for people and for the good of the planet.

So the main tips for people setting up a business, there’s obviously the research validation. Make sure you’re really passionate about it so your passion will take you through the downs, make sure you know why you’re doing it, that you’re doing it for the good of the people and the planet. And that will make you enjoy it.

At the end of the day, you want to look back after five years or whatever and think, yes, it’s been hard work, but I’m really glad I did it and the outcome has been really positive. Even if it hasn’t worked out, some things don’t work and you move on to something else, that you’ve learned a lot and that’s driven you to the next step in life.

So we say it’s not a race. It’s a marathon kind of thing.

And you evolve – always keep an open mind and that’s where talking to potential customers is just so great, because they may point out things that aren’t great about your product. I had one of the investors who came to the Covent Garden store and he loved it. He’s a big supporter. He said, “I think on your website you should do this, that and the other”. And again, you need to take it all on board, you know, never bristle at any negativity because you really want that feedback.

Every now and then you’ll get one old grouch maybe, and you’ll think, “Well, I completely disagree with that.” So maybe wait till you hear it a couple of times. And I think, well, because I’ve heard it a couple of times, they are probably right, and I need to reassess where I’m going or what I’m doing or how I’m doing it. But on the whole, it’s a very fulfilling experience. It’s not an easy option, but it’s great, I love doing it.

I feel very driven by Perfino. We’ve got great feedback and it is a complete, unique product. So that drives me.

Do you work directly with the essential oil producers or where do you get the oils from?

So this is another thing I am quite passionate about. I work through an Essential oil wholesaler who is a family business based in Yorkshire that has been around for generations now. They work with about 50 farms or producers around the world. Essential oils come from amazing, intriguing places around the world and there’s a lot of fakery out there. Again, it’s easy to synthesise things these days. You can deconstruct an oil, and then reconstruct it just with chemicals. So you really need to be sure that you’re getting it from a good source so my wholesaler is in Yorkshire.

They know, they have relationships, and they regularly visit all their suppliers. So I trust them implicitly. Sustainability is very critical to their business. They have relationships with all the suppliers, so they know the labour conditions they know whether things are organic, which isn’t always the case, because for example, if you’re collecting, bark from a tree in a forest, you don’t need to go through the organic certification process. Just because an oil isn’t “organic” doesn’t necessarily make it any worse.

But they know these places really well. So they get very good quality oils and I source directly from them. So by the time the customer buys one of my oil blends, the supply chain is basically me, the wholesaler, and the farm, which might be somewhere in Haiti where they’re digging up vetiver roots or Somalia where they’ve got the frankincense trees growing.

I know that they are taking care of all necessary certification, because you have to make sure you’ve got the certification to know that you’re not taking things from places where they are being protected. So a reliable supplier is really important. I don’t have the time or resources to go to these places. I would love to, as they are in the most amazing locations, but the oils are top quality, and I would work with nothing else.

If you’ve got a product and you’re dealing through suppliers, and you aren’t able to actually go out to wherever it is, it’s really important to have a good, strong relationship with those suppliers so you can hand on heart know where your product is coming from and how its made.

That is a lot of really good and helpful points. So just to finish off, if somebody’s listening to this and they’re very excited by your product, where can they go and get it?

So I sell online, which is at www.perfino.co.uk (affiliate link) At the moment, I am not selling through any third-party suppliers. Anthropology were in discussion about maybe stocking a few sets over Christmas, but that’s very much putting the toe in the water. So it’s mainly online. I’m going to be at the Spirit of Christmas Fair, which is 1-7 November at Olympia. If anyone is local to London and that will be a good opportunity to actually come and I’ll be there every day and you can smell the oil blends.

And the other thing is, if people aren’t able to get there to experience it first hand, I do send out scent samples in a completely sustainable way. Every month I will do a new blend, but also I have scent samples on the website, which you can get with a discount code, which is sample. And it’s just a blotter card with the sample of oil on each of the corners, put into a compostable corn starch envelope. So you get it, you smell it enjoy the fragrance for as long as it lasts, and then you compost it.

That’s another thing that I’ve done that really goes against what normal perfume samples are – revamping the little glass vials, which are quite difficult to pull apart and recycle properly. Sustainability is a big, big driver for Perfino. I wouldn’t be comfortable bringing out products if it wasn’t completely sustainable.

You can find Kim and Perfino on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/perfinouk/

You can buy the necklaces at www.perfino.co.uk (use code PERFINODEBBIE to get free shipping to the UK)

You can get a scent sample here https://www.perfino.co.uk/collections/blends/products/mini-scent-samples

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