Meredith Smith is the one woman show behind Sweet Anthem, a Seattle based micro-perfumery that specializes in 100% vegan fragrances. I first came across her beautifully branded handmade goods via pinterest . Her ascent from a moonlighting etsian in a tiny one bedroom to a brick and mortor shop owner in popular West Seattle is truly an inspiration. For more on Meredith’s delectable fragrances and small biz ethic, keep reading!
What are the inspirations for your fragrances?
My inspiration comes from everywhere, but largely they are inspired by music, history, literature, and pop culture. There are at least four that have been inspired by The Velvet Underground, having been something of a music nerd for most of my life (I was a college radio DJ, and played in several mildly successful indie bands in high school and college). And being a perfumery by the sea, many of our fragrances have something of an easy, breezy feel to them. Often times a fragrance note will be the starting point – I finally found a vegan-friendly beeswax recently and that became the jumping off point for my latest perfume, Joan, which was inspired by Joan Jett, whose “I Love Rock and Roll” was the #1 song the week I was born. Seemed fitting, to say the least.
How has the transition from an etsy shop to an actual brick and mortor location been? What do you find more challenging to manage?
The transition has been a little intense, and I don’t think I really quite understood what I was getting myself into. I had a 10-6 day job (Seattle doesn’t really do 9-5) for so long before making the leap to full time perfumer (which was in 2010) and hadn’t worked retail since my record store job in college. I never took a single business class in college, but I guess it was in my blood to own my own business – so many of my family members have been the ever-ambitious self-employed – and there was a bit of a learning curve on things like licenses and taxes (hooray for my mother, who is a CPA, is all I can say). I have also had to triple production in order to accommodate all our current sales channels. I’m still getting used to it all, but luckily, there are apps out there like StitchLabs that have really started to streamline the inventory management for small businesses like ours, and I have so many lovely friends who come in to lend a hand every now and then.
One of the coolest features that I found in your store is the custom perfume bar, can you explain the alchemy of fragrance and how your delicious blends come to be?
I spend soooooo much of my time finding just the right ingredients for our custom perfume bar, which is pretty much where I have the most fun. I’ve found that the West Coast is sort of like a Garden of Eden for perfume ingredients – I don’t actually source anything further south than Northern California, and very little outside of Washington state. When certain ingredients aren’t quite to my liking, I’m more than game enough to blend it on my own.
When customers come in for a custom perfume, there are about 200 notes to choose from. It works sort of like going to a conveyer belt sushi place, where your bill is determined depending on how many plates of certain colors you pull – the basic price includes 3 fragrance ingredients (one each Head Note, Heart Note, and Base Note), and then additional notes can be added on a scaling fee depending on the color of the ingredient (Bronze, Silver, and Gold notes). We blend custom perfumes in the exact manner as we do our ready-to-wear line, following the basic principles of perfume volatility, which determines how long notes last in the air and on your skin. Perfume is all about entrances and exits – and the proper ratios of most volatile notes to least volatile notes will help your perfume last as long as it should regardless of your skin type. I always tell my customers that the Base Note is the one you want to truly love, because it will be with you the entire day – it’s the one you’re going to wash off late at night!
As a beauty store, I find my customers palette to be SO DIVERSE, are there any fragrances that you would say everyone loves?
I find it varies seasonally, really. Sometimes there are certain scents that everybody wants in their custom perfume – when I teach perfume making classes, it’s always fun to see what the standout of the day is. This past weekend, it was Linden Blossom – which is a sweet but not heavy floral note that seems to resonate even with the so-called floral-haters. It blends beautifully with just about everything, and my lovely customer Netta made a blend of Vanilla Bean, Linden Blossom, and Mango on this past Saturday that was just to die for. Another one that almost everyone seems to want to use is Sea Salt – it’s so clean, but not necessarily fresh or soapy, more in a marine sort of way, and tempers a lot of the big florals like jasmine so that they aren’t quite as overpowering. I worked on a Beeswax, Hay, Neroli, and Sea Salt blend for one of my Canadian customers not too long ago.
Out of my RTW fragrances, there are a few clear crowd-pleasers – Annabelle, which uses the aforementioned Sea Salt, is a blend with Jasmine, Osmanthus (a lovely flowering tree that has peachy overtones to mask the heavy floral sweetness), and White Amber that is relatively intoxicating and quite marine. Madeline, which has long been a customer favorite, is Black Currant, Immortelle (a wine-like floral note – what I like to call a non-floral floral), Cognac, Sandalwood, and White Ginger. It’s just a nice, clean fragrance without being too sweet on the citrus notes that works so well year-round.
What is your key to sticking out in a crowded natural beauty market?
For us, our packaging, branding, and photography has really made an impact in getting us noticed – as well as getting us into high traffic craft shows and markets (and then the scents keep customers coming back, of course!). With my design background (I started out as a designer and editor on my high school newspaper staff and have since worked for everyone from Microsoft to KEXP, and I still do a lot of branding work and development for other small businesses), I’m able to take my vision and communicate it in a way that matches the ideas and mixology behind our fragrances so that everything is very consistent. I’m a bit of a type A, detail-oriented control freak, but I think that has helped launch us to the next level.
Besides that, the #1 comment I seem to hear is, “I’m so glad you’re vegan!” Even if a customer isn’t a vegan in their daily diet, so many are looking for alternatives to the mass-produced, over-packaged beauty market. They want the brand’s values to match their own, and they want to feel good about supporting small businesses who care.
Is there any thing you would like to share?
Just wanted to clarify quickly that while we use a lot of natural perfume ingredients, our blends are not 100% botanical or always 100% natural – it’s almost impossible to be completely vegan and avoid the use of notes like musk, beeswax, or honey in perfumes. We do strive to use carbon neutral materials whenever we can, and source as locally as possible to minimize our own carbon footprint. We also have a generous recycling program for our customers, and take great care to source wild harvested and organic materials when possible.