Advance Copy

St Rose on the Slow Art of Growing a Conscious Fragrance Brand

13.10.21, USA

This conversation is available to enjoy on Apple Podcasts & Spotify.

Inspired by Mother Earth, Australian-born and US-based Belinda Smith saw a space in the fragrance market for a conscious, luxurious and long-wearing fragrance brand rooted in the art of nature. In 2018, Belinda launched St Rose and set out to steer the industry towards a transparent and gentler future. Working closely with environmentally-aligned suppliers, the St Rose fragrance is kind to your skin and the planet.

We speak to Belinda about the realities of crafting your own brand, her deeply ingrained commitment to ethical ingredients and sourcing, and why giving back and looking at things holistically is key to the sustainability conversation.

Advance Copy: Belinda, we’re excited to have our first perfume brand on Advance Copy. St Rose is so in line with everything we discuss on this platform, in terms of growing a courageous, independent brand and having a conscious approach to the industry. And on a personal level, we’re excited to find out more about the world of fragrance.

Belinda Smith: Thank you and what an honour to be the first one. And we do say that fragrance is such a fashion-adjacent category.

AC: We have pieced together a one-liner from your Instagram and website to introduce the brand to our readers: “St Rose is a conscious, unisex, luxury fragrance rooted in the art of nature”. Could you expand on this top line: the symbolism behind St Rose and the thinking behind the brand?

Belinda: We’re named after the patron saint of gardeners. Our fragrances are on average over 97% natural and [made from] naturally-derived ingredients. And we are really conscious. It’s a slow art and we really slow things down to be incredibly mindful of where we’re harvesting our ingredients from to create these really beautiful, sophisticated perfumes that don’t sacrifice the complexity or sophistication that people are used to.

AC: And what about yourself? Who is Belinda Smith? What did you do before starting St Rose?

Belinda: I moved to the US when I was little, but originally, I’m from Australia. I think that gave me a unique perspective; growing up between two worlds and two beautiful homes and countries that I adore.

I spent my career in fashion in both the luxury and the high street fashion space, seeing so many gorgeous products come to life and hit the shelves. I love the perspective of both being in the luxury world and then also high street or fast fashion, and the beauty and the ugliness of both sides.

“We really slow things down to be incredibly mindful of where we’re harvesting our ingredients from.”

AC: What made you leave a stable income and position in fashion to pursue creating St Rose? In your podcast, you also explain being an outsider in the perfumery industry.

Belinda: Totally. I was feeling kind of burned out, to be honest. I had spent over a decade really chasing that corporate ladder and was feeling exhausted by the grind of it. It was 2017 when I left the corporate world and was about to get married and just thought, you know, I never did that post-high school moment where you take time off and see the world. I’ve always had a side hustle of helping friends, family, and extended circles doing marketing, so I thought I can have a little bit of a side hustle and just take a breath and the corporate world will always be there for me if I want to come back. It was a great leap and I think to totally listen to that intuition and give yourself that reset can be a beautiful thing. I was lucky that I did have my side hustle doing freelance to have a soft landing. I wasn’t completely out of work which definitely made it really palatable and easy. I’m very thankful for it because it gave me the breath I needed to see this opportunity and this wide space in the fragrance market. As a consumer I thought, “Hey there’s something here,” and gave myself a little bit of a side project just for fun to pour my creative juices into. I just started dabbling in it, “If I were to have a brand, what would it look like?” And it’s taken shape to here, where I feel lucky that other people have seen that there’s something for them as well.

AC: Thank you for mentioning that, and for encouraging people to maybe explore the idea of taking that step out of an industry career and follow their intuition.

Belinda: And you’re right, I’m so thankful that people have championed me and St Rose, and it was our community that told me to keep doing it. I think if you’re falling asleep and waking up dreaming about something that’s not what you’re doing, you absolutely have to do it.

“To totally listen to that intuition and give yourself that reset can be a beautiful thing.”

AC: Which takes us on to my next question: how did your idea to create clean perfume shape itself into a tangible company? As it seems like a big and brave step away from your career in fashion.

Belinda: I never really saw myself creating something – my own brand. I’ve led creative marketing teams in my career and really loved the storytelling and the content development, and sharing the craft that goes into these beautiful products and so to have one myself feels very special. It’s been a lot of fun to truly make it my own. And that’s basically how the St Rose journey started. As a customer, I wasn’t able to find something that I was looking for, which was a clean and transparent brand that was sharing, specifically in the fragrance space, where the ingredients were from and also what they were. And so, out of that frustration of finding myself at a dead end, I created what I wished existed. And honestly, it started very small. Actually, in the very early days of St Rose, I was making things on my own in my kitchen with essential oils. It was rudimentary and by no means am I a perfumer. Now we work with these incredible artists that have been in their craft for twenty, thirty years and they’re just truly some of the best perfumers in the world that we’re lucky to work with.

I didn’t expect it to really take off and then friends and family loved it and I actually got a purchase order from an amazing, very well-known wholesale doorway and turned it down because it wasn’t the brand that I could see myself launching with. That gave me the first push that there’s something here that people are looking for. And so, I went back to the drawing board and we launched the current collection in October 2019.

“It’s important to know that we are going to the origin and that’s always been the first goal for me.”

AC: Would you mind giving us a glimpse into the nitty-gritty of the research and preparation stages? Were you taking care of these aspects yourself?

Belinda: We did start out as a one-man band, but it does take a village. There are so many beautiful people as part of the St Rose family – our fragrance house and our incredible manufacturers and those that are on the farms where we source our ingredients from. They’re all such an important part of the St Rose family. I’m so thankful for everybody that showed up to help launch this and to get us to this point and for propelling us forward too.

I had this idea and realised in the accidental beta test, that people were loving it. They found me on Instagram and I thought, gosh, if I were to do this… let’s reset and think about what is the brand that I really want this to be. I reached out to my contacts and they put me in touch with an incredible fragrance house. I was also thinking about the products themselves and had always loved sandalwood, so I wanted sandalwood to be that kind of first signature product. It’s a beautiful note and is one of the most popular in the industry. It’s such a lovely one to work with. I wanted to give people full transparency of our ingredients and to share the traceability. I started hunting where we were going to source this gorgeous aromatic note from and realised very quickly that although India is the main – and has been the dominant – supplier of sandalwood for the market, the sandalwood tree is in danger there because of over harvesting and not having sound practises. And so, I shifted to see where else in the world you can find sandalwood and came across Australia and was so proud as an Aussie. It’s a very grounding note that speaks to my roots and the brand’s roots. I came across this gorgeous farm in Western Australia that is 50% indigenous-owned and started chatting with them and became good friends of theirs. They won the United Nations Equator Award for their environmental stewardship, which is incredible. So that’s one beautiful story. We source our citrus from a fifth-generation family-owned farm in Calabria, Italy, which is just stunning, and they have won European environmental certificates for the way they are handling and repurposing water back into the soil. Our vetiver comes from a Fairtrade cooperative in Haiti, which is empowering women there. It’s important to know that we are going to the origin and that’s always been the first goal for me.

“It’s hard to make conscious decisions when we don’t have the information to do it.”

AC: As we’re discussing ingredients, could you explain the possibly unsustainable or even toxic elements of industrially made perfumes?

Belinda: What you’ll come across with a lot of, let’s call them traditional or conventional perfumes, and there are so many beautiful ones to pick, but what I found back in the early days of starting St Rose as a consumer, is that you’ll just see a place holder for fragrance and it’ll say ‘alcohol, water and fragrance’ and then a list of the allergens. ‘Fragrance’ can serve as a placeholder for potentially hundreds of ingredients and it’s there really to protect brands and their intellectual property, but it doesn’t help the consumer to understand what they’re applying to their skin.

It’s hard to make conscious decisions when we don’t have the information to do it. That’s really where I come from and we’re proud to share all of our ingredients; we list them online transparently. Our definition of clean at St Rose is that it does have to be good for you and good for the Earth. There’s a lot of ingredients that have not necessarily been ticked off the list by the FDA, so they’re still available to be used in consumer goods products but we decided not to [use them] because there has been some concern that they are bio-accumulative. Certain synthetic musks can accumulate in nature and pose risks to oceanic life, for instance.

Our products are over 97% natural and naturally derived. We love to work with naturals because they’re fragrances on their own because they’re so rich and provocative and powerful, right from Mother Earth. I also love how Mother Earth colours these perfumes and so we don’t add any artificial colourants either. If you look at our bottles, they’re all different hues from light and clear, all the way to being really dark and that’s just nature doing its own thing.

“Our definition of clean at St Rose is that it does have to be good for you and good for the Earth.”

AC: What did you have in mind when you launched the brand in regards to the aesthetic aspect of the bottle, the packaging, marketing, social media and the language around St Rose as a whole? This was your chance to do this for yourself and as you said you were your own client.

Belinda: I think it just comes from what I’m personally inspired by and it’s really fun to lean into the beautiful images of the Earth. We say we’re rooted in the art of nature and there’s such powerful imagery right there. I also listened to the customer, and what was resonating with them. But it’s always the nature images that I think transport people the most, which is just boundless inspiration. Fragrance is so transportive; when you smell a certain fragrance it makes you think of spring, or of your grandmother’s garden or a beautiful trip to the beach and then you’re rushed with all these other nostalgic senses and that’s really fun to play on. I try to really invite the customer into our world and let them dream with us.

“And I do think slowly but surely more and more brands [will be] held accountable and will also want to create change themselves.”

AC: As the Founder of a young independent business, how do you go about managing your time and resources?

Belinda: I love that question. Especially as a new mum because my world has been rocked. I am really curious by nature, which can be a blessing and a curse because I always want to dive in and when you’re wearing so many hats you can’t necessarily keep doing that. There’s just not enough time in the day. I am having to draw back a little bit there and have people fill me in rather than doing all the research myself. Being able to identify the important aspects of the business that you can entrust and outsource as soon as you can, I think, is a really important part of taking a brand from crawling in its infancy and then growing and starting to run. You need to know where your time is best spent. Starting as a one-man band you need to be really good about what activities are going to drive the needle the furthest.

AC: This question also stemmed from the impressive amount of quality information on St Rose’s website about your commitment to ethical practices. It’s still quite rare to see a sophisticated brand instil an equal amount of energy into aesthetics and responsibility.

Belinda: I feel like we no longer have the luxury of not thinking that way. But what I love about artisanal brands and brands that I look out for, is that they are like-minded and we are being really conscious from a very holistic perspective about not just the ingredients and packaging, who we’re working with, but also [about] giving back and offering our platform as a vehicle for other people to share their stories. We’re really excited to be partnering more with our indigenous not-for-profit that’s associated with our sandalwood farm, allowing them to share their beautiful stories and art through the St Rose humble-but-growing platform, which is going to inspire us and other people. It’s time for all of us to be living more consciously. And I do think slowly but surely more and more brands [will be] held accountable and will also want to create change themselves.

This interview has been condensed and edited by Ria Jaiswal.